After a loss to Duquesne University on Saturday, the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team appeared in serious danger of a winless week when they faced an early double digit deficit to George Washington University on Tuesday night.
Instead, they rode a huge second half on their way to an 88-65 victory, getting back to .500 in conference play.
Rhode Island welcomed Duquesne to the Ryan Center on Saturday afternoon, looking to build momentum off their nail-biting 71-69 victory over La Salle University the previous game. Meanwhile, Duquesne came in playing well as of late, winning their last three games.
Early on, things went about as perfectly as Rhode Island could’ve envisioned on both sides of the basketball. Fourth-year guard Jaden House got out to a quick start with seven early points, including an effort from long range to make it a 16-7 Rhode Island lead. The Rams’ defense was also swarming early, forcing six turnovers in the first seven minutes of the game.
“Defense creates some offense,” URI Head Coach Archie Miller said postgame. “We got off to a little bit of a feel where the game was free flowing.”
Following a red-hot start from the field, shooting 7-9, the Rhode Island offense went cold as they missed their next five field goal attempts, before third-year forward Tyson Brown snapped the drought. Meanwhile, the Duquesne offense started to get hot led by fourth-year guard Dae Dae Grant. Grant made three of his first four baskets from beyond the arc and had nine of the team’s first 18 points.
Duquesne took a 23-22 lead with seven minutes left in the first half after second-year guard Kareem Rozier drained a three. Aided by an 18-4 run, they extended their lead to double digits with a little more than three minutes left in the half.
“Our transition defense broke because of bad offense,” Miller said. “Bad offense led to a disappointed group, which led to a disappointed defense.”
At the half, Duquesne led 41-31. Following the flurry of turnovers forced early on, the Rams’ defense only forced one turnover in the final 13 minutes of the half. Rhode Island was led by seven points from both House and third-year forward David Green.
Out of the locker room, Grant remained red hot for Duquesne and started to put them in total control. He made his first three attempts from beyond the perimeter in the half to extend their lead to 59-39. Grant ended up with 31 points on the game – one point shy of his season high – and made seven threes.
“He’s [Grant] one of the best scorers in our league, always has been,” Miller said. “He was fantastic today and we had no answer for him.”
House and Green started to spark a comeback effort for Rhode Island, as they combined to go on a 9-0 run of their own and cut the Duquesne lead down to 63-53 with nine minutes left. The run eventually got to 11-0 after Brown made a couple of free throws, bringing the deficit to single digits for the first time since the opening half.
However, Duquesne was able to respond right back with a 7-0 run and take control of the game. Duquesne shot well from the field all day, especially from three, where they shot 14-27 as a team. The frustration mounted for Rhode Island throughout the day as Duquesne continued to score with ease.
“I’ve never had a team really struggle like this defensively,” Miller said. “From an offensive standpoint, I know how much better we’d actually be if we could get some defense to offense.”
Duquesne stayed in the driver’s seat in the final few minutes and ended up with a 85-71 win. Green led the way for Rhode Island, scoring 20 points – his third straight 20+ point performance. House also added 17 points of his own.
Sitting at the halfway point of conference play following this one, Miller emphasized the effort levels of the team and what must be done in order to avoid big losses such as this in the latter half of the conference schedule.
“The only thing that will change are the guys in the game,” Miller said. “I don’t know who’s going to be in that game, but it won’t be the guys who continue to go out there and just go through the motions.”
On Tuesday night, Rhode Island looked to respond when they traveled to Washington, D.C. to take on George Washington University. The Rams came into this one shorthanded as they were missing their top scorer, Green, due to illness and second-year guard Always Wright due to a shoulder injury.
It was a quick start for George Washington, who jumped out to a 15-5 lead in the first five minutes of the game. Rhode Island continued to slowly chip away as the game progressed, cutting their deficit down to just one point when third-year guard Brandon Weston, getting the start for the first time in his career, converted an and-one with eight minutes left in the first half.
The Rams were down throughout the entirety of the opening 20 minutes, but they were well within striking distance at halftime, trailing 37-35. Third-year guard Zek Montgomery stepped up off the bench, leading the way with 11 first half points. This ended up being just the beginning of his night.
Rhode Island took their first lead of the game with 18 minutes left when third-year guard Luis Kortright knocked down a floater in the paint to make it 39-37. This was a part of a 7-0 run out of the locker room for the Rams. Rhode Island didn’t look back from here, as they never relinquished their lead.
Led by Montgomery, who remained red hot in the second half, the team was able to gain complete control of the game. Montgomery made his third three-pointer of the night with eight minutes left to get the lead to 67-54. Montgomery finished the game with 30 points on 11-14 shooting; he’s the first member of the Rams to reach 30 this season.
Rhode Island continued to score at will down the stretch and ended up outscoring George Washington 53-28 in the second half on their way to a 88-65 win. Along with Montgomery’s career night, House added 23 points and Kortright had the first double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) of his career.
Despite missing some key pieces, the Rams pieced it all together in this one with their biggest margin of victory of conference play. The win moves them to 11-12 and 5-5 in conference.
Looking ahead, URI will look to build off this effort when they stay on the road to play the University of Massachusetts on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Mullins Center. The game will be televised on the USA Network.