Photo by Autumn Walter |CIGAR|
Pittsburgh – A regular season Atlantic 10 Championship. A program long seven-straight weeks in the AP Top 25. The highest ranking in school history in the AP Poll at No. 16. All on the way to the highest seed in an NCAA tournament at No. 7. What a run it has been for the 2017-18 University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team.
The historic season came to an end on Saturday afternoon at PPG Paints Arena. The Rams fell 87-62 to the No. 2 seeded Duke University Blue Devils in the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. “Duke went wrong,” Rams head coach Dan Hurley said following the game. “In terms of the level that they play at. We knew going in that if they played an “A” plus game it would be hard for us. With all that size and all that skill, shooting and inside play, we would have had to play a near perfect game just to get a sniff with those guys and the level that they played at today.”
In the end it was poor shooting from the Rams and the interior presence of Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. that proved too much for Rhode Island.
“They looked like an NBA team out there with their size and length, and our guys fought,” Hurley said about Duke’s big men. “We just couldn’t find enough ways to score and couldn’t find enough ways to stop a team that probably started five first-round picks.”
Bagley III, the reigning ACC Freshman and Player of the Year, finished with a Duke-high 22 points and nine rebounds. Carter Jr., added 13 points and six rebounds. The Blue Devils outrebounded the Rams 36-29.
Rhode Island had opened the game on a 9-5 run. With 12:16 left in the first half, E.C. Matthews hit a jumper to give the Rams a 12-11 advantage. That would be Rhode Island’s last lead of the game. Duke would go on a 34-16 run to finish the first half and head into the locker rooms up 45-28. Duke would then outscore the Rams 42-34 in the second half on route to the round of 32 win.
Rhode Island shot poorly from the field all game. The Rams shot just 25 of 63 from the field all game. Jared Terrell struggled going just four of 13 and one for five from three-point range. The Rams were led by senior E.C. Matthews would finished with a game-high 23 points and seven rebounds.
With the end of the season comes the end of five Rhode Island careers. Matthews, Terrell, Andre Berry, Jarvis Garrett and Stanford Robinson’s college careers come to an end.
There was a heartfelt display of emotions following the game. Hurley’s bond with his players, in particular the seniors, was on full display.
“For the record, he never cries. That says something ” Matthews, said when asked about an emotional embrace between him and Hurley following the game. “Just trying to walk off the court the right way. Just what we’ve been through for five years. Him as a coach and me as a player. We took this program to new heights.”
Hurley was emotional following the game. He reflected on the ride it’s been for his seniors. “When a couple hours go by and we are sitting on this plane tonight and wake up in the morning there will be nothing but love and pride what these kids have accomplished,” Hurley said.
There will be questions going into the offseason on Hurley’s future as the head coach of URI. He addressed the rumors and speculations at the end of the game.
“I could give a crap about whose got an opening,” Hurley said. “I haven’t thought about it for a second. I could care less about any other school in the country that’s looking for a coach or talks about me on social media. I could give two craps about that. My heart and my mind is with this program and these players that just lost a brutal game after having an amazing last couple of seasons.”
Hurley noted that he would take the next few days following the long seasons to relax and go into “hibernation.” “These five month journeys take a lot out of you,” Hurley said.
The book has now closed on the URI men’s basketball season. The 2017-18 team certainly left their mark on the history of the program. Until next year.