The University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team fell to Providence College for the fifth consecutive year on Wednesday night, 68-60, despite sophomore E.C. Matthews’ 27 points.

“The outcome was disappointing,” URI head coach Dan Hurley said.  “I was proud of the way our young guys fought for us in the second half.  They gave us a great chance.”

Since the opening possession, Providence’s zone forced Rhode Island’s to be patient on offense.  Oftentimes, it took Rhode Island several seconds per possession to find the big men trying to cut to the open spots in the defense.  Rhode Island’s big men needed to play well to have a chance against Providence’s lengthy defenders.

In the first half, they did.

Rhode Island’s duo of sophomore Hassan Martin and senior Gilvydas Biruta held their own.  The Rams outrebounded Providence 17-10 in the first half, including five more offensive boards. Although Providence’s talented big men LaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris combined for 18 first-half points, they shot a combined 5-for-16 and grabbed just one rebound.

Matthews was the only guard for the Rams who could get through the perimeter and create his own shot.  No matter how well he was playing, though, Providence’s Kris Dunn was able to reciprocate.  He matched Matthews’ 10 first-half points and added five rebounds, two assists and three steals.

“This year, I’ve really become a fan [of Dunn],” Hurley said.  “He was sensational today.”

With both team’s matching up pretty evenly, Rhode Island’s five-point deficit at the half came from the miscues at the foul line.  The team missed five first-half free throws, a problem that has been hurting the Rams all season.

Rhode Island came out of the half explosive, looking to grab a lead.  Freshman Jared Terrell scored his first points from a fast break dunk that was set up by junior Biggie Minnis’ steal and assist.  The Friars answered right back with a dunk of their own to get the crowd on its feet.  URI responded, once again, with the same outcome as Martin soared for another slam dunk to take the lead.  PC responded with a dunk, this one coming from a baseline cut by Harris.

With about 13 minutes left in the game, Providence’s lead started growing. Their 7-foot-2 freshman Pashal Chukwu capitalized on an alley oop during a halfcourt set to give the Friars some energy.  The next play resulted in a Providence block and a Harris 3-pointer.  With nine minutes left, Providence up 11 and Rhode Island playing full-court press, the momentum switched.

“During that stretch, it was really debilitating and obviously we left points at the free throw line,” Hurley said.  “If we were a little cleaner, a little tighter that way, we probably would be looking at a bang-bang game the whole way.”

The press worked and with 1:46 left, Rhode Island found themselves down just five points.  From there, the differences between a young team and one that has been there before began to show.  Rhode Island missed free throws, open 3-pointers and committed a couple fouls late.  Providence did not make the same mistakes, as Dunn closed the game with a steal and an open-court dunk.

When asked why not to press earlier, Hurley said, “We didn’t want to get spread out with their size.  Leaving them one-on-one in the post scared us.  But in retrospect, in all three [nonconference losses] we should have had a more aggressive approach.”

Rhode Island missed 10 foul shots in the game, compared to Providence’s five, and committed more fouls.  Besides Matthews, the only other Ram to hit double figures in points was Martin, who had just four in the second half.  Providence had three players score at least 15.

“Rhode Island’s going to be a really, really good team,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said.  “E.C. Matthews could be one of the best players we have played up to this moment.  He can score it off the bounce and [he’s] really good around the rim over our length.  He’s a terrific player and gave us everything we could handle today.”

Rhode Island’s next game is Saturday afternoon against Detroit at the Thomas M. Ryan Center. The Rams are coming off an 83-44 drubbing of Delaware State University last Saturday.

“I’m not looking forward to going down [to the Ryan Center] next year,” Cooley said.