The University of Rhode Island ended a heart wrenching two-game skid, beating Old Dominion University, 51-39, in an offensively-anemic contest at the Ryan Center Tuesday night.
The Rams (6-3) looked to shake off a couple of road losses that saw their national ranking vanish, and their NCAA Tournament hopes dwindle a bit. The team returned home to face an ODU (5-3) squad that attempted to match the defensive prowess of the Rams with their own ample attack. The likelihood that the game would be a physical, low-scoring affair increased significantly following the news that URI big man and 2015-16 Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year Hassan Martin will be out indefinitely due to a quad injury. The absence forced head coach Dan Hurley to construct a different game plan that saw him unload his reserves at various times in the game.
The offense proved stagnant from tip-off, as both teams struggled to manufacture sufficient space for high percentage shots. The Rams started to pull away a bit with under seven minutes left in the first half, turning defense into offense to mount a 14-3 run that would give them a 31-17 lead at the break. The difference was URI’s ability to render the Monarchs utterly ineffective from the field, shooting 29 percent from the game. Freshman Cyril Langevine and junior Andre Berry did their best to fill the void left by Martin, combining for six blocks to keep the paint area clogged for most of the night. Turnovers did not help matters for Old Dominion, as they committed 11 in the first half, and 19 for the game. Stanford Robinson had a career-high five steals, maintaining the nuisance role he has assumed since his URI debut. Hurley was pleased by the multiple contributors, knowing how reliant the game plan would be on their defense.
“We wanted to be hungry dogs,” Hurley said. “We felt like the last two games – and it’s on me – that we didn’t get after people. We weren’t disruptive enough. We didn’t play the bench enough. We didn’t take enough things away. Our defensive numbers were spectacular today.”
The bench continued to log big minutes the rest of the way, with Jarvis Garrett and Kuran Iverson underwhelming due to foul trouble. E.C. Matthews regained his stroke, which had been failing him over the last few games of action, and hit a crucial 3-point basket as time expired in the first half. Matthews tallied a game-high 15 points, but endured a tale of two halves, as he failed to make a bucket in the final 20 minutes. No one was able to pick up the slack, Nicola Akele lead the team with five points in the second half. The Monarchs could not capitalize, making little headway into the Rhode Island lead. Both teams gave fans cause to squirm and groan, as they squandered their opportunities from the charity stripe. Old Dominion shot 50 percent (11-of-22) to URI’s 46.4 (13-of-28) in what turned into a poorly executed game on all fronts.
ODU cut the lead to nine with just under six minutes to play, but never gained enough momentum to pose a legitimate threat to the Rams’ chances of winning. URI kept the pressure which blanketed a thoroughly uncomfortable team that was unable to take advantage of the revolving door of substitutions that Hurley used to compensate for Martin’s injury. When the final buzzer sounded, the Monarchs would be unable to reach 40 points.
Despite the victory, URI as a whole found little success on the offensive end, shooting about 33 percent. Hurley, however, took great satisfaction from a balanced effort in which his bench scored 20 points. The game, while not aesthetically pleasing to those in attendance, was a much-needed excursion from an agonizing week of losses that saw Rams slide back into old habits on the road.
“This team had a tough week,” Hurley said. “Two road losses, two three-point games. We’re happy to get back here and get back on track.”
Rhode Island will go back on the road to visit the University of Houston in what will be another formidable test Saturday at 1:30 p.m.