AMHERST, Mass. — Rhode Island has mostly cruised to a string of big victories over the past six weeks. For the second time in two games, though, the Rams had to sweat out late drama to keep their winning streak going.
Jeff Dowtin had 19 points and 10 assists, and No. 22 Rhode Island escaped with an 85-83 win over Massachusetts on Tuesday night after the Minutemen botched an intentional missed free throw in the final seconds.
The Rams (18-3, 10-0 Atlantic 10) led by three with 1.8 seconds left when UMass’ Luwane Pipkins went to the free-throw line. Pipkins made the first shot and missed the second on purpose, but he was called for a lane violation while grabbing the rebound after throwing the ball off the front of the rim.
“I didn’t think there was any way they were going to miss that,” Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley said. “You’re not even allowed to do that on the school yard.”
Rhode Island has won 13 straight games, though this is their second straight tight one after rallying from 15 down to stave off Duquesne over the weekend.
“Our lack of defensive focus early kind of got them going,” Hurley said. “We had a chance to win that one comfortably, up 14 late in the game. That’s on me.”
Jared Terrell led the Rams with 21 points and fueled a 21-2 run in the first half, capped by E.C. Matthews’ 3-pointer with under eight minutes left. Rhode Island led 44-41 at halftime.
“To be able to get down and get back up, I think it shows what our character’s like,” Terrell said.
Pipkins paced the Minutemen (10-13, 3-7) with 27 points. He came in as the A-10’s third-leading scorer at 19.9 points per game.
UMass coach Matt McCall lamented a missed chance to steal a win against a ranked opponent with a limited roster.
“Our margin for error is so small,” he said. “You have to be able to make those plays, especially against a team like Rhode Island.”
Dowtin added a few key free throws late in the second half, and Andre Berry had 15 points for Rhode Island.
Rhode Island shot 81.3 percent from the field in the second half. They made 8 of 15 3-point attempts, led by three from Dowtin.
Rhode Island: The Rams have won 18 straight games against conference opponents dating to Feb. 18 of last year. No other A-10 team has won more than six in a row during that stretch.
UMass: Tuesday’s performance was the 10th this season in which Pipkins has scored 20 or more points. The redshirt sophomore point guard had only two such games last year.
The Rams have won by an average of 12.8 points over their past 13 games. They’ve averaged 77.7 points in those victories.
Rhode Island: The first-place Rams extended their lead atop the A-10 standings to 3 1/2 games while taking another step toward securing an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.
UMass: The Minutemen’s late-January slide toward the bottom of the A-10 continued. The loss was the team’s fifth in a row.
UMass: Hosts Dayton on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Rhode Island: Travels to VCU on Friday at 7 p.m.