The University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team suffered what could be the final blow to their NCAA Tournament hopes, losing 75-59 at Dayton on Tuesday night.
The first half for the Rams saw them jump on top of Dayton early, going up 16-11 on an E.C. Matthews 3-point basket, but would not hold on to the lead very long. Dayton would then fight back and go on a 25-12 run leading to a 36-28 advantage at halftime.
The main culprit for the Dayton spurt was the normally stout defense of Rhode Island struggling to contain the Flyers’ offense, allowing them to shoot 52 percent from the field. Most of the damage for Dayton was done by guard Jordan Sibert, who finished with 15 first-half points and connected on all four of his field goal attempts, while also cashing in all six free throw attempts he had.
“You’ve got five really good offensive players on the court at all times,” Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley said. “We have been a good defensive team all this year, but they’re a good team. This was a hell of an environment today. It affected our communication on defense. It was hostile.”
The free throws were also a problem for URI as they were called for 10 team fouls, allowing the Flyers to shoot 13 free throws, of which they made 11.
Leading the way once again for the sluggish Ram offense was Matthews, who had a team-high 11 points to go along with four rebounds and three assists in the first 20 minutes. Sophomore Hassan Martin finished with six points and five blocks in the half.
In the second half URI would not be able to close the gap on Dayton, failing to come closer than six at any point. The main problem was once again their defense, as they allowed Dayton to better their first-half field goal percentage, converting 63 percent from the field.
The Rams also registered 16 fouls, which sent the Flyers to the line 18 more times. Dayton would capitalize on those free throws, converting 13 of them. The Flyers committed 13 fouls themselves to send URI to the line as many times. However the Rams would only convert eight as their free throws woes on the season continued.
“You miss free throws – 12 free throws or whatever it was – and it is a totally different game,” Hurley said. “Things that have hurt us – shot selection with our guards, free throw shooting – hurt us.”
For once, though, the URI offense was not to blame as they bettered the Flyers’ shooting percentage to successfully make 64 percent of their attempts from the field. Despite their shooting percentage, no one on Rhode Island scored double-digits in the second half.
The 75-59 loss came off the heels of a 59-56 road win Saturday against conference bottom-feeder La Salle. Rhode Island was able to hold La Salle to just 38 percent shooting in the first half, which led to a 12-point halftime advantage.
E.C. Matthews scored a team-high 21 points, helping the struggling offense take advantage of an inefficient Explorer offense. La Salle was able to hold URI to just 35 percent shooting in the second half, but Rhode Island held on to the lead down the stretch.
The Rams will look to exact revenge on Saint Joseph’s University this Saturday for their Senior Day game at the Thomas M. Ryan Center at 7 p.m. The Hawks beat the Rams 65-64 on a 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds remaining and taking away Rhode Island’s chance at holding the outright lead in the Atlantic 10. Â The game can be heard on 90.3 FM (WRIU).
Bill Koch of the Providence Journal contributed to this article.