It is something Dan Hurley has been promising since he first arrived in Kingston, Rhode Island, three years ago.
A big win against a top-25 team in the country, which has not happened since 1998 when the Rams defeated then-no. 25 Utah, 70-63. This was the same season Rhode Island would reach the Elite Eight and only months before E.C. Matthews’ third birthday.
Last night, weeks after his 19th birthday, Matthews helped lead the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team to a 66-62 overtime win against no. 21 University of Nebraska.
“It was a huge win,” Hurley said. Â “A huge win for our program, for our players [who] work so diligently. Â The preparation is so great. Â They’re so unselfish and committed to the program. Â They deserve a moment like this.”
The Thomas M. Ryan Center was flooded with 7,657, a sellout crowd, and 2,600 of them were students. They filled both student sections on each side of the baskets, from the first level to the bleachers. Â The chants began before tipoff and did not end until long after the game.
At the end of the final overtime, the dividers that separated the student section and the court were removed, and the students stormed the floor with Rams meeting them at half court.
“I’m extremely happy for our fans,” Hurley said. Â “The students, 2,600 came out strong tonight, which is a great, great number. Â It’s a night our fans have been waiting for a long time.”
In the first half, good defense and missed opportunities on both teams led to the low score of 23-19 in Nebraska’s favor. Â Rhode Island shot just 25 percent, and Matthews and freshman Jared Terrell combined for 2-14 shooting with four points combined.
Matthews could not get by Nebraska’s preseason All-American Terran Petteway, who had the same luck going the other way. When Nebraska switched on screens, Matthews could not find an opening around Shavon Shields either.
It was the Rams’ 10 second-chance points and their plus-7 rebound differential that kept them close at half. Â Rhode Island junior Jarelle Reischel was responsible for a lot of that, as he contributed eight points and five rebounds in the first half and many hustle plays that cannot be tallied on a box score.
The second half stayed just as close but more scoring on both teams. Â About five minutes in, Matthews reminded the crowd why he was named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year just a year ago. Â He scored eight in a row for the Rams, part of his 16 second-half points. Â Matthews was able to split the defense, whether playing man or zone, and get into the paint.
Then it was Terrell’s turn. Â His first points of the game came from a Nebraska turnover and a Matthews’ assist that left him open for a jumper. Next possession, same outcome, as freshman Jarvis Garrett found Terrell for back-to-back shots.
Meanwhile, Petteway was seeking attention from Nebraska’s medical trainer on the bench after rolling his ankle. Â He came back in, but it was Shields who seemed to be the Huskers’ only form of scoring. Â Shields answered nearly every Rhode Island bucket with his own, finishing with 25 points and nine rebounds on the night. Â Petteway was still able to get his 15 points, but it came at the expense of eight turnovers and 5-of-18 shooting.
Tied at 53, with 35 seconds on the clock, Rhode Island had possession with a chance to win it. Â Matthews got a good look that rimmed out, and sophomore Hassan Martin’s rebound and put back just missed as well, meaning five more minutes of basketball.
To open the overtime period, Terrell made back-to-back 3-pointers. Â His second one was with a hand in his face, in the corner off of a step-back move, which left the crowd yelling in anticipation for what that could be a potential upset.
“When Terrell hit the step back, that was such a tough shot,” Nebraska head coach Tim Miles said. Â “I don’t know if Shavon [Shields] was tired or not. Â The other play, I thought he was just a little late.”
That anticipation quickly changed to concern as Rhode Island sent Nebraska to the line three consecutive possessions, bringing the Huskies within three points with less than a minute to go. Â Rhode Island was able to get the ball in Matthews’ hands and he closed the game out by hitting two foul shots, giving the Rams a four-point lead with four seconds remaining.
“We’ve got a great group of young guys, some outstanding senior leaders, and this isn’t going to be our last moment like this,” Hurley said. Â “This is a big step forward for us, in terms of our confidence, and knowing what we’re capable of doing, finishing a game like that. Â It was an enormous moment for our program. Â It’s what college basketball should be like.”
Matthews finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds, while Terrell scored 12 and played 40 minutes, the most of anyone on the team. Â Rhode Island continued their impressive rebounding numbers, totaling 13 more than Nebraska with a 49-36 advantage.
“All the coaching staff and the players told me to keep my confidence and believe in my shot,” Terrell said.
The Rams will travel to Florida to take on no. 4 University of Kansas at the Orlando Classic on Thanksgiving. Â Kansas is 1-1, including a 32-point loss to no. 1 University of Kentucky last week. Â Last year, five of Kansas’ eight losses came to unranked opponents. Â The game will be aired on ESPN2 at 2 p.m.