The University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team opened up their season with a convincing win over American University, 65-42, on Friday night and a heartbreaking loss against Valparaiso University, , 58-55, on Tuesday morning.
On Friday, both teams traded buckets in the first few fast fast-paced minutes of the game, and then each endured offensive droughts. The Rams pulled ahead and took a comfortable 13-point lead into halftime following a key 13-3 run.
The Eagles had their opportunities to take the lead after they went on a run in the second half to cut a 15-point deficit to six. But, unrelenting defense, a staple for URI during the tenure of head coach Dan Hurley, held American to a modest 37 percent from the field. They turned defense into offense, converting the Eagles’ 17 turnovers into 25 points. The Rams surged again and outscored American 21-4 to end the game.
“Tonight took us a little time to adjust to the pace of their cut,” Hurley said. “That’s not an easy opener. To hold them to 42 points is a pretty good opening night effort by our team. It’s about how hard we played.
On Tuesday, it was a tale of two halves that saw both teams look anemic offensively. The Crusaders, although ahead for most of the first half, were ice cold from the field, including a near ten minute stretch without scoring a basket. URI was even more inefficient. The absence of E.C. Matthews was apparent as the Rams struggled to create good shot opportunities, shooting a deplorable 24 percent from the field in the half.
“That was ugly offensively,” head coach Dan Hurley said. “That was the one thing we knew would hurt us today – that guys would try to do too much offensively. We’re a paint-attack team and we need to have multiple paint-attack plays per possessions.”
Both teams were rejuvenated offensively in the second half, especially Valpo, who was able to take control through their size advantage. Senior Vashil Fernandez erupted, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the second half. URI found solace in the three ball, with Four McGlynn shooting 3-7 from beyond the arc.
Missed free throws further dug the Rams in a hole, as they followed up their opening night effort of 42 percent, with an improved, but still detrimental 54 percent. The Crusaders on the other hand did not leave many points on the line, going 11-13 from the charity stripe.
After being down by nine points with under five minutes left to play, Â the Rams fought their way back. Garrett, whose ailing knee made him a game time decision, missed two critical free throws that would have brought the Rams within one. Valpo’s Alec Peters made the Rams pay with a three-pointer that seemed to signal the end of the game. URI, however, kept their composure and after a quick timeout they closed the gap to one, following a difficult three by McGlynn and a Terrell layup with less than a minute left on the clock
With nine seconds remaining on the clock and URI trailing by three after two Peters’ free throws, the Rams looked to McGlynn for the tie. He came off a screen only to find himself surprisingly open at the right wing. It looked good, but rattled out. Martin got the rebound and sent it back to McGlynn for the second try, this time with his left hand, but again, no luck, leaving the Rams on the wrong side of a grueling basketball game.
“It was a tough loss,” Hurley said. “Obviously you lose games with the number of unforced turnovers that we had. When you miss 11 free throws it’s going to be hard to beat a team, who when march rolls around probably will be able to play with most teams in the country.”
URI (1-1) will continue to adjust without Matthews when they host Cleveland State University (1-1), Saturday, at 7:30 p.m.