The University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team continued to enjoy home court success, as the team overpowered George Washington University, 82-70, in a tense Tuesday night game that was closer than the scoreboard indicated.
The Rams (14-7, 6-3 A-10 Conference) looked to continue the goodwill they built in an impressive defensive showing against St. Bonaventure University on Saturday as they again took to the Ryan Center in front of the always rowdy Greek Week crowd the middle-of-the-pack Colonials (12-10, 4-5). The game featured fast paced offense from the get-go, and would stay the course for most of the evening.
The early game plan for both teams was get the ball into the paint. The battle of skilled forwards, which featured URI’s defensive stalwart turned all-around star Hassan Martin and GW’s perimeter-savvy Tyler Cavanaugh, remained a central storyline of the matchup throughout. Martin muscled his way through Cavanaugh and the Colonials low post area for 16 first-half points. The senior forward used a variety of weapons in his scoring arsenal, most memorably a smooth jump hook, to propel his team to an eight-point lead midway through the first half.
“I’ve had that shot since high school,” Martin said about his nifty post move. “That’s what got me here, my touch. I just keep ripping, and ripping and ripping and it showed up today. I finally felt like myself out there with my touch before I got hurt.”
George Washington however, responded with an offensive barrage of their own. Like Martin, Cavanaugh found his rhythm in the paint. He scored a team-high 21 points, with 11 coming in the game’s opening 20 minutes. It was a collective punch though, that was responsible for a swing in momentum, as the Colonials began to make URI a bit more uncomfortable on offense. Back-to-back 3-point baskets for guard Matt Hart gave the Colonials a 35-31 lead, which after a 4-0 solo run by Martin, settled back to a four-point lead to end the half. Both teams went into the break shooting well over 50 percent, treating the Rhody Ruckus to their first shootout in a while.
The Rams came into the second half just as hot as they were in the first, but so did their opponents. URI would threaten to regain control, but the Colonials continued to push the Rams back on the strength of their jump shooting. George Washington seemed poised to break the game open, building a five-point lead, but a costly technical timeout kept the Rams in swinging distance. Jared Terrell made it 60-57 at the free throw line, and the team further capitalized when Kuran Iverson, who was a game time decision, connected from beyond the arc to tie the game with just over eight minutes left to play. The crowd prepared themselves for a whirlwind next few minutes.
Both teams continued to be deadlocked with neither defense having much of an answer. The switch then turned on when the tension was at its most palpable. Jared Terrell and Kuran Iverson ignited to take the pressure off of Martin, whose game-high 23 points could have been even higher had he not missed three dunks. Iverson, however, was there each time off the glass, making sure no sure-fire buckets were squandered. His second-half surge, which included 10 points and three blocks, proved vital for the Rams down the stretch.
Terrell, for his part scored an overall 17 points, and went a perfect 9-of-9 from the charity stripe, with seven coming in the final nine minutes. The junior’s most memorable, and perhaps most important contribution, however, was a block on an attempted three by GW guard Yuta Watanabe which maintained a four-point lead for URI with under four minutes to go.
“Coach (Hurley) talks about it all the time, the last five-six minutes are winning time,” Terrell said. “Got to make winning plays, just do things that inspire the team.”
Everything clicked on the final run for the Rams, as they used their bread-and-butter, lock-down defense, to guide them to victory. The crowd, pace and rhythm all then fell strongly into their favor, with no chance for the Colonials to regain consciousness. The defense was able to considerably ramp up the pressure in crunch time, causing their opponents to shoot the ball 17 percentage points lower than their blistering 57.7 first-half outing. Head coach Dan Hurley knows full well that it is their identity as the constant on-the-ball irritators that will get them where they want to be going forward.
“We kind of had some breakdowns,” Hurley said. “We had some really stupid fouls which then limited how aggressive we could be defensively. It wasn’t looking good for us. We were down. Cavanaugh was making some tough shots. They were scoring in the post against some of our better defenders. Things were just trending in a bad way for us. We showed a grit and a fight that hopefully we continue to carry over.”
The Rams sit one game back of first place in the conference with three teams (Dayton, Richmond and VCU) above them. They enter the thick of their schedule now, beginning with a road matchup against the Davidson Wildcats on Friday, 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
“We showed a fight today that we need to show in these next nine one-game seasons we’re playing,” Hurley said.