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UMass men’s basketball pulls away from Rhode Island

University of Massachusetts junior point guard Chaz Williams directs the team Saturday during its 75-66 victory at Rhode Island. Williams finished with 20 points and 10 assists. (STEPHEN SELLNER)

University of Massachusetts junior point guard Chaz Williams directs the team Saturday during its 75-66 victory at Rhode Island. Williams finished with 20 points and 10 assists. (STEPHEN SELLNER) Purchase photo reprints »

KINGSTON, R.I. — On Saturday morning before the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team played Rhode Island, junior point guard Chaz Williams had separate conversations with assistant coach Shyrone Chatman and sophomore forward Maxie Esho who both encouraged him to be more aggressive offensively.

After three straight games scoring in single digits, Williams took their advice. He was dominant in the second half as UMass pulled away for a 75-66 win to close the regular season at Rhode Island.

The win gave the Minutemen (19-10, 9-7 Atlantic 10) the sixth seed in the conference tournament next week in Brooklyn, N.Y. UMass will play No. 11 George Washington (13-16, 7-9 A-10) at 9 p.m. Thursday.

“I was being too passive the past couple of games,” said Williams, who had 20 points, 10 assists (one turnover) in the game and 15 points and six assists in the second half. “It’s going into tournament time. It’s time to start clicking on all cylinders. I’m just trying to get myself back ready.”

Williams was helped by another solid effort from Trey Davis. Earlier in the season, one of the Minutemen’s most effective lineups was a three-guard set with Williams, Freddie Riley and Jesse Morgan together. After Morgan went down with a season-ending injury in January, UMass coach Derek Kellogg rarely used three guards together.

But Davis has grown more reliable as the season progressed and most of his 21 minutes Saturday were with Williams and Riley also in the game. Davis had just five points and no assists or turnovers. But his play helped launch big days for Williams and Riley (18 points).

“At one time this season our best lineup was three guards with two bigger guys,” Kellogg said. “When other guys are playing three guards, it can be beneficial to match up with them. I thought the three-guard lineup helped us today.”

Davis said he’s trying to play like a veteran.

“I’m trying not to be a freshman,” Davis said. “I just try to come out and play like I’m a sophomore or a junior. I have a lot of confidence in myself and I think my teammates do too. Being out there I’m freeing up Chaz. When I got into the game it was much easier for him.”

Williams said he is proud of Davis’ development.

“He’s a great point guard. He helps us a lot,” Williams said. “He’s always in my ear always in my back pocket trying to learn.”

Cady Lalanne shook off a rough game in Thursday’s loss against Butler to finish with eight points and a career-high 15 rebounds.

The Rams (8-21, 3-13 A-10) came in with nothing but pride at stake, already eliminated from contention for the conference tournament. But they hung with the Minutemen for most of the game which was tied 52-52 with 8 minutes, 11 seconds remaining.

Williams hit a layup and then two free throws to give UMass a lead at 56-52. Xavier Munford (21 points) hit a 3-pointer to get Rhode Island within 56-55, but Williams answered with a 3 from the corner to stretch the margin back to 59-55 with 6:32 left.

After a miss by Jordan Hare, the Minutemen got the ball to Riley in the right corner in front of their bench. Despite being guarded tightly by Andre Malone, Riley looked at the floor like he planned to drive, but then elevated and knocked down his sixth 3-pointer of the game to put UMass ahead 62-55.

“I knew I was shooting a good percentage,” said Riley, who made six of nine 3-point attempts. “I was confident that every 3 I took was going to go in. I was fortunate that it went that way.”

The play gave the Minutemen some breathing room, but the Rams got within 64-62 with 3:38 left before Williams found Vinson for an open 3-pointer on offense and then blocked Munford’s shot at the other end.

Williams was called for a technical foul for taunting Munford after the block with 2:47 left. But instead of giving Rhode Island momentum, it seemed to spur the Minutemen. Munford missed both shots and UMass finished the game on an 8-2 run.

“Last year we came down here and they beat us,” Riley said. “We were trying to make sure we came out with some fire even though it was the last game of the season and they really didn’t have anything to play for. We wanted to make sure they didn’t ruin our season.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at @GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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KINGSTON, R.I. — The last time the University of Massachusetts won the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament was in 1996. If the Minutemen are going to break that drought this year, they will have to beat two rivals from that era. UMass clinched the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament with its 75-66 win over Rhode Island combined with … 0

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