The Rhode Island Rams took control of McNeese State very early on tonight, and were able to stave off a late burst from the Cowboys to pick up a 76-71 victory. Rhody saw a 21 point second-half lead shrink down to as many as three as things got quite scary down the stretch. Simply put, it should not have been this close as the Rams were in the driver’s seat for the entire first half, as well as the first eight minutes of the second half. After that… things got pretty ugly. But URI was able to hang on as they move to 6-2 on the season.
First off, there were some lineup changes tonight, as Dan Hurley played the hot hands a bit. Both Biggie Minnis and E.C. Matthews were on the floor for the opening tip as they replaced Mike Powell and Jarelle Reischel, respectively. And things seemed to work out well as Rhody stormed out to an 25-11 lead and things appeared to be well under control. The Rams led by as many as 15 in the first half before a small McNeese State run cut things to eight. But Reischel buried a big three-pointer with 13 seconds left in the half to give URI a 37-26 lead at the break.
As good as the first half was, the second one started even better. Xavier Munford and Gilvydas Biruta took absolute control of the Cowboys as the Rams ran the lead up to 21 at 56-35 with 12:45 to play in the game. From there, everything seemed to be a formality.
Not so fast. McNeese State ran off a 10-3 run followed by a 13-5 run to make the game waaaaayyy too close for comfort. A combination of solid offense and really lackluster URI defense keyed the comeback, and it was 72-69 with 19 seconds left in the game. All the good feelings and awesomeness that Rhody fans were feeling quickly vanished, along with most of the URI lead. But Rhode Island made their free throws down the stretch to escape with the win it what turned out to be a pretty ugly finish.
If you’re still feeling down on this one, check out some of the numbers first. Xavier Munford went OFF tonight, dropping 26 points on 9-15 shooting, including 6-10 from beyond the arc. Gilvydas Biruta also got into the act once again, pouring in 17 on 5-7 shooting (1-1 from three) and grabbing eight boards. T.J. Buchanan and Jarelle Reischel also got into double-figures with 13 and 11, respectively. The Rams shot 44 percent from three and 92 percent from the line on the night… and turns out they needed every bit of it.
That said, the last 12 or so minutes of this game were pretty shell-shocking. No one in their right minds could have predicted the game would have been this close, especially after watching URI through the first two-thirds of the game. It’s pretty clear that the Rams need a killer instinct moving forward; otherwise good teams could turn a performance like tonight’s into a loss. We’ll have much more tomorrow as we dive into this incredibly strange game.