The University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team did not disappoint in their first National Invitation Tournament appearance since the 2009-2010 season as they handily beat the Iona College Gaels 88-75 to move into the pool of sixteen.
In a poor offensive showing in the Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinal loss to Dayton on Saturday, Rhode Island scored just 54 points. The Rams put up 51 in the first half alone against a very fast-paced Iona team that finished the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in second place and the best overall record (26-9).
The Rams started off cold against the Gaels and fell behind 6-0 within the first two minutes, but ended the half up by 14 and led by as many as 19. As per usual throughout the month of March, sophomore E.C. Matthews and freshman Jarvis Garrett made clutch plays throughout the game to keep Iona’s fast brand of basketball from making any real impact.
Garrett recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and assists. Matthews and freshman Jared Terrell led the team in scoring with 18 each. Matthews connected on 3 of 6 3-pointers and Terrell scored 11 second-half points.
“I’m obviously thrilled with the win,” Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley said. “That was an NCAA [Tournament] caliber opponent, a 26-win team… That was a high-quality basketball team that we were able to gain control of relatively comfortably.”
For the bench, senior T.J. Buchanan scored double-digit points for the fourth time in the last six games with 10. Junior Biggie Minnis also finished with 13 points, six rebounds and a steal in his best statistical game of the season.
For the last 29-plus minutes of the game, Rhode Island led by no fewer than nine points. In total, the Rams had 32 bench points compared to Iona’s 0. Outside of 54 points from A.J. English and David Laury, the rest of the Gaels’ starting five was held to just 21 points.
With such a dominant team performance on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, Buchanan said that he was fired up to get the opportunity to play postseason basketball with his team against a good opponent.
“We didn’t want our season to end today,” Buchanan said. “We’re just going to give it our all throughout this entire tournament. Hopefully we can make a run.”
The Rams will now play in Palo Alto, California, against the No. 2 seed Stanford University Cardinal, who beat the University of California Davis Aggies 77-64 in their first showing of the NIT. Rhode Island has not played Stanford since the 1997-1998 season. In that contest, the Rams lost in the Elite 8 79-77 after a late comeback from the Cardinal.
Like Iona, URI will have to slow down the Stanford offense in order to have a shot at winning. The Cardinal average 72.3 points per game, tied for 53rd in the nation. They are also 64th in rebounds with 36.6 boards per game.
Stanford is led by the play of Chasson Randle who is averaging a career-best 18.9 points per game in his senior year, as well as 1.3 steals and more than three rebounds and assists. He’s scored at least 10 in all but one game this season where he tallied 9 against Denver.
6-foot-6 forward Anthony Brown and 6-foot-11 center Stefan Nastic will be a challenge for Rhode Island’s big men as Brown can shoot from behind the 3-point line and Nastic has greatly improved his offensive output compared to last year.
The A-10 has been lacking tall centers so the tired Hassan Martin will have to adjust his game plan going into the matchup. Along with his average of 14.6 points, Brown’s seven rebounds per game will make him even more troubling along with Nastic’s 13.6 points and 6.4 rebounds.
Despite Stanford’s track record on offense, Coach Hurley said that he wants his team to take advantage of the shortened shot clock against a tough Stanford defense. The winner will face No. 5 Vanderbilt at home.
Broadcasts of tonight’s game can be found on ESPN U and B101 (101.5 FM).