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By ERIC RUEB
KINGSTON â With 3 minutes, 48 seconds left to play, many fans in Keaney Blue and white rose from their seats, put on their coats and started exiting the Ryan Center.
Friday nightâs game wasnât over, but with the University of Rhode Island menâs basketball team trailing by 14 points, the fans didnât need to see more, especially after a particularly lifeless second half where rival Providence, playing significantly better than it did in the first half, created some separation early in the second half before opening up a double-digit lead with 8:38 left and it only got bigger from their in the Friarsâ 80-61 win.
âOnce we settled down,â said PC coach Ed Cooley of the programâs first win at the Ryan Center, âI thought our kids did a good job.â
âNo question it was very disappointing,â URI coach Jim Baron said. ââŠWe didnât complete plays, just dug ourselves a hole and they took advantage of it. Their guards stepped up and made plays but a lot of it was our lack of offense.
While the Providence-Rhode Island rivalry isnât the marquee matchup it once was, it was still a game the Rams needed to at least say something nice about the season. Instead they finished the calendar year with a game like every other this season â inconsistent play, players who donât understand their capabilities and no leadership anywhere on the floor â and another defeat, dropping the Rams to 1-11 on the season.
âGuys are down,â URIâs Orion Outerbridge said. âWeâre down after every loss.â
Providence second half wasnât perfect, but it was a better effort than what it put forth in the first half.
The Friars (11-2) controlled the pace of the game and led by guards Vincent Council (15 points) and Bryce Cotton (19 points), picked up the pace of play and forced Rhode Island to play a hurry-up game.
In the past, it would have been exactly what URI wanted; but with the Friarsâ experience on the court, they were able to exploit the Ramsâ on both ends. Defensively, PC prevented URI from getting good looks on the outside and didnât look particularly concerned about what went on in the paint, because the Rams had nothing going there.
After going 0-for-3 with three points â all on free throws â Cotton was dynamic in the second half and finished the game 6 of 15 from the floor and hit back-to-back 3-pointers that gave the Friars a 49-40 lead with 14:22 left to play.
âCotton, I thought, opened the game up,â Cooley said. ââŠThose two back-to-back threes? Game over.â
After Cottonâs threes, URI got a pair of back-to-back baskets to make it 49-44, but PC quickly got the lead back up to 10 and after a layup by LaDontae Henton. URIâs Billy Baron was stripped by Gerald Coleman and Cotton put home a layup to make it 57-45 with 11:26 left and while there was still a ton of basketball to be played, the game was all but over at that point.
âItâs not easy. Itâs challenging right now,â Jim Baron said. âYou need to have guys step up and you have to give them credit; their guys stepped up.â
The first half wasnât much of an exhibition of basketball as much as it was two teams trying not to throw the game away before it halftime. The opening 20 minutes was marred by poor decisions offensively, too many fouls â which may have been both a part of bad defense and some sensitive officials â and neither team really making a stake to take over.
âWe were doing pretty well,â Cotton said. âI felt like we held them to tough twos, made them take tough shots, but we were careless with the ball. We just needed to tighten up those things.â
Of course, had Providence made more than 52 percent of its free throws (11-for-21), itâs likely the Friars would have had a sizeable lead, which would have Friday nightâs result a lot easier to guess.
âWe talked about relaxing on the free throw line,â said Cooley, whose team hit 11 of 14 from the foul line in the second half and made 22 of 35 in the game to URIâs 18 of 24. âOne of our goals is to make more than someone attempts. I just thought our guys were jittery in the first half.â
Thereâs also a chance that the Rams could have stuck around even if PC remembered in was a Division I college basketball team and actually made free throws.
URI showed signs of stability with Malone and Baron on the court, Holton played like a veteran â scoring 10 points in the first half â and even Ryan Brooks, whoâs had a rough time at Kingston, contributed, scoring four points off the bench in the opening half.
But in the second half it was more of the same for URI and at 1-11, things couldnât get much worse â or so it seems.
âWe can lose every other game from here on out,â Outerbridge said. ââŠ We go into every game thinking weâre going to win âŠ and we play hard. Weâre just having a hard time playing a full game.â
In the past, the PC-URI game meant more to the Rams.
It was the case this year, although for much different reasons.
âWhen youâre struggling,â Jim Baron said, âevery game means a lot more to you than your opponents.â