The University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team is in preparation for its biggest gameÂ yet on the early season, and will face No. 21 University of NebraskaÂ tomorrowÂ at 7:00 p.m.Â atÂ the Thomas M. Ryan Center.
“They are going to be a challenge for us, but we’re going to come out from the jump and show them how talented we are,” sophomore point guard E.C. Matthews said. “This is the level of competition my teammates and I thrive in. I cannot wait”
During the majority of practice emotions were relaxed, head coach Dan Hurley, his staff and his players were all smiles and charisma following a week of preparation and hard work.
Rhode Island started off its season with a record of 2-0 after wins last weekend against Pace University, 94-54, and University of Massachusetts – Lowell, 72-56, going into Saturday night’s matchup with Nebraska. This is the first time URI will host a nationallyÂ ranked opponent outside of the Atlantic 10 Conference since the late 1990s with Lamar Odom and company.
“It’s going to be a fun one for us,” Hurley said. “[It’s a] big game because how often does any Atlantic-10Â program get a top-25 ranked team from a big conference with big time players to come to their building? This is a great opportunity for our team, fans, students and generally everyone involved in the university. It goes to show the progress being made for our program and this school that a national name like Nebraska is coming to town to give us a game.”
A major point of emphasis onÂ Saturday evening’s matchup is making life difficult for Nebraska’s All-American junior forwardÂ TerranÂ Petteway, who is averaging 24 points per game over two contests this season.
“He’s a very good player, especially with scoring,Â so it is going to be a tough time containing him,” senior guard T.J. Buchanan said. “If we do it as a team and make the effort to contain him, we know we’ll have an even better shot to get the win.”
Following Thursday’s practice, the messageÂ going into theÂ weekend’s matchupÂ spoken by both coaches and playersÂ is that the Rams generally are feeling more comfortable with their identity and style of play than they have been in past years.
Hurley said Matthews is an enormous source for this development, with his sense of maturity and his contributions to the camaraderie within the squad.
“For a kid like E.C. with all of the accolades and recognition he has already gained in only a yearÂ to be as composed and respectful as he is, you cannot ask more from one of your leaders and top players,” Hurley said. “Our guys feed off of his positive energy and this team has formed a bond that I love to be around and watch as a coach. It also helps that many of our top players are young and have time to continually improve. E.C. still has much more to accomplish here in his time as a Ram, but he is as humble a player any coach could ask for and is a great ambassador for Rhode Island basketball.”
Hurley said the team is hoping for a packed house on Saturday evening since this is the first time in years they are hosting an opponent of this caliber. Also, as was seen during their close loss to Providence College last season, a near-capacity Ryan Center can power the Rams to a strong effort on the court.
Posters and banners plastered around campus advertising the games, as well as e-mail notifications to students have served to recruit fans for the battle with the Cornhuskers. Additionally, free shirts will be distributed to the first 2,000 students that enterÂ in order to draw in a large crowd for the event.
“This place can get crazy in here when it is filled up especially for a game like this,” Buchanan said. “The crowd is important to us and we always feed off of their energy. In a collegeÂ atmosphere like this, it only adds to the intensity of the game, and it gets us going. We hope to make them all happy and get this win.”