The University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team (6-3) rebounded nicely after enduring a devastating defeat against Providence College, disposing of the formerly undefeated University of Houston (5-1), 67-57.
The offensive fluidity that was apparent on Saturday night diminished a bit, as they returned to their common identity of vitality through stifling defense and efficiency in the low post. The Rams pulled ahead early, holding Houston to 30 percent shooting compared to URI’s productive frontcourt tandem of juniors Kuran Iverson and Hassan Martin. They forced Houston out of their comfort zone and ended the half with a sizable 33-21 lead.
The second half saw the Cougars continue to struggle to find their groove and facilitate ball movement with just three assists to URI’s 12. They were also overpowered in the paint as the physically imposing Martin tallied fourteen points, two blocks and four assists. The team received further reinforcements off the bench in the form of senior Earl Watson, who has quietly become a valuable role player with an improved offensive game. His seven points in just 14 minutes helped allow the Rams to maintain their stronghold.
Despite having a comfortable lead for the majority of the game, Houston gave URI a couple of scares, none Â bigger than the 9-1 run they mounted to cut what once appeared to be an insurmountable deficit. Clutch free throws and a layup by sophomore Jarvis Garrett sealed Houston’s fate.
“Huge win for us on a number of levels,” head coach Dan Hurley said. “Two days removed from a tough loss. I feel great about our program’s response to what had been a challenging first eight games for us. These guys responded for me like they always do and I’m proud of them.”
Neither team was able to find success from beyond the arc, shooting a combined 3-26. The key difference, however, was that the Rams were able to attack the basket and shoot 50 percent overall from the floor. Despite a reinvigorated second half, Houston’s display of 40 percent shooting was the embodiment of Rhody basketball. The Rams were able to set the tempo early and take advantage of a lackluster effort by a Cougars team that came into the Ryan Center as one of the nation’s top scoring offense averaging a shade above 90 points per game.
“I think we defended them really well,” Martin said. “They are a very physical team and they have a lot of length and lot of size. We just played with toughness. I liked in the end how when they were down by four we just stayed together.”
URI’s chief weakness of free throw shooting showed again with them converting just 48 percent of their attempts. The poor effort was overshadowed by the victory, but had the Cougars made them pay and the struggles could have been costly.
“We work hard on our shooting,” Hurley said. “It’s not a problem if you win but if you lose you want to go home, sit outside and stare at the moon, turn into a werewolf. I don’t know, we work hard on our shooting. It’s a mental thing our guys just have to get over, maybe by seeing the ball go in a little more, breathing a little bit more.”
Rhode Island wrapped up the four-game home stand, taking all but one, and will now visit the vengeful Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-3) on Sunday at 2 p.m. The Cornhuskers are the same team that provided URI fans with the rarity of a court-storming celebration last season will likely be hungry for revenge.