The first game of the Dan Hurley era is in the books. But even after having a full day to think about it, we at Rhody Rampage are still feeling a little disappointed. Yes, it’s a young team and a new coach who is rebuilding a program, but even acknowledging that, this was a winnable game. Rhody held a modest 30-25 lead at halftime thanks to a strong defense and a slightly inconsistent but efficient offensive attack. But in a second half filled with metaphorical punches and counter-punches, the Spartans delivered the last blow as Rhody fell to 0-1. Now, about those positives and negatives:
Three Things to Feel Good About
1. Defense – Quite simply, this is how Rhody is going to win games this year. They put in relentless work on defense and on nights when they have trouble scoring, it’s going to keep them in the game. The Rams forced 13 turnovers and recorded eight steals, and it led to them having a 10-0 halftime advantage in points off turnovers.
2. Ball Security – Along with making Norfolk State give up the rock, Rhody did not allow the Spartans to get the ball out in transition off turnovers. The Rams only turned the ball over eight times, and the big stat was just ONE turnover for Mike Powell. Despite facing a strong defense that no doubt caused problems for them most of the night, URI was able to maintain ball control to give themselves a chance in this one.
3. Nikola Malesevic – What can we say about Nik? Yes, he’s still kind of a hot head. Yes, he had to be separated from Norfolk State players on two separate occasions for trash-talking, with one of them resulting in a double-technical. But the dude can play. He balled to the tune of a career-high 26 points on 7-15 shooting and 3-4 from three. Two of those three long balls came on back-to-back plays in the first half that turned a 12-11 deficit into a 17-12 lead. He also chipped in nine rebounds before fouling out late, but completely carried the Rams on offense all night.
Three Things to Be Concerned About
1. Shooting – So besides Nik, there were not a lot of offensive bright spots Friday night. In fact, some of the numbers were quite ugly. Notably, a 3-11 shooting performance from Andre Malone and a 3-19 (!!!!) night from Xavier Munford. After playing extremely well versus Coast Guard, Munford couldn’t find the ocean in this one, shooting 2-10 from three and only putting up eight points. As a team, Rhody shot a disappointing 28.3% from the field and 30% from three. This can’t just be the Nik show – other guys are going to have to score with efficiency to get the Rams into the W column.
2. Depth – No matter how you look at it, Rhody lost this game because they wore down at the end. They looked tired on both ends of the floor, and we wonder if this has to do with a lack of viable options. The bench was rarely used for the Rams (only FOUR bench points – all from Mike Aaman), and the starting five really ate up all the minutes. Hare, Buchanan, and Bigby were all used, but none of them produced anything in the way of offense. Nik, Malone, Powell, and Munford all played 32+ minutes in the loss. Is the bench not as reliable as we think? Can the Rams go all season with those four guys going for 30 or more minutes each night?
3. Free Throws – This goes hand-in-hand with items 1 and 2. With fatigue comes weak legs and poor free throw shooting. Rhody actually started off great from the line, burying their first 10 attempts from the stripe. But they shot 1-6 from the line in the final five minutes, and two of those misses were the front ends of 1-and-1’s. Would it have made a difference in this one? Maybe not, but it certainly felt like the threw away several missed opportunities from the line late in the game. For the night, Rhody shot just 63% from the line, with Powell (2-5) and Aaman (2-6) being the biggest offenders.
The time to dwell on this one is over. The Rams head to Virginia Tech to take on the Hokies tomorrow night in a quick turnaround, so it’s time to bounce back. GO RHODY!