The Rams knuckled down on the road Sunday and earned their fifth straight win against the Richmond Spiders 79-74 with help from E.C. Matthews’ 26 points and Hassan Martin’s 16 points and 16 rebounds.
With the win, the Rams moved into a tie for first place with Virginia Commonwealth University in the conference after the latter lost to St. Bonaventure on Saturday. The University of Rhode Island now holds an 8-3 record in the Atlantic 10 conference and is 16-6 overall.
Leading for almost 39 minutes, Rhode Island was able to keep late rallies from the Spiders at bay and hit key free throws and 3-pointers to seal the win. It was just the second time in school history that the Rams beat Richmond at its home arena, the Robins Center.
“It’s nothing but opportunity for us the rest of the way,” Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley said in his weekly conference call. “I didn’t think that we’d be in this position through 21 games.”
Matthews was able to reach his first 20-plus scoring game since Rhode Island’s loss to VCU at home on Jan. 13. The sophomore has been battling a foot injury for more than a month and hit three triples and shot 9-for-13 from the free throw line.
Martin’s 16 rebounds were a new career-high in the category and his two blocks increased his career total to 146, three away from third all-time in program history. He is also the only player in the country to have a game with 10 blocks and another with 16 rebounds.
Senior T.J. Buchanan also had a career-high in points with 15 and continued his streak of clutch free throws when he went 7-for-8, four of which came in the final 18 seconds. Free throw shooting was key for the team since Richmond began intentionally fouling with more than 2:30 left.
Despite giving up the second-most points they have all season, the Rams’ defense continued to be their strong point after more than a week between games. Rhode Island stopped several runs that brought the Spiders within as many as one point in the second half, and did so when it mattered most. The team is now ranked among the top 25 in the country in defensive e-field goal percentage (16th – 43.4 percent) and defensive turnover percentage (24th – 22.8 percent) according to KenPom.com.
“These kids, this team, they’ve done an incredible job this year and they’ve put themselves in position now to have a chance to play in more games that matter in the great landscape of our league, and on some level right now, even college basketball,” Hurley said.
The Rams remain tied following their 65-64 defeat at St. Joseph’s University last night. VCU’s double-overtime loss to La Salle allowed URI to remain in a four-way deadlock for the top spot in the conference.
Rhode Island will return home to the Ryan Center on Saturday for its final meeting of the season against Saint Louis at 2 p.m. The Rams defeated the Billikens, 65-53, on the road in their Atlantic 10 opener on Jan. 3.