By ERIC RUEB
KINGSTON – 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 night’s game wasn’t over, but with the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team trailing by 14 points, the fans didn’t 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 Friars’ 80-61 win.
“Once we settled down,” said PC coach Ed Cooley of the program’s first win at the Ryan Center, “I thought our kids did a good job.”
“No question it was very disappointing,” URI coach Jim Baron said. “…We didn’t 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 isn’t 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 – inconsistent play, players who don’t understand their capabilities and no leadership anywhere on the floor – and another defeat, dropping the Rams to 1-11 on the season.
“Guys are down,” URI’s Orion Outerbridge said. “We’re down after every loss.”
Providence second half wasn’t 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 Friars’ experience on the court, they were able to exploit the Rams’ on both ends. Defensively, PC prevented URI from getting good looks on the outside and didn’t 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 – all on free throws – 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.
“Cotton, I thought, opened the game up,” Cooley said. “…Those two back-to-back threes? Game over.”
After Cotton’s 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. URI’s 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.
“It’s not easy. It’s challenging right now,” Jim Baron said. “You need to have guys step up and you have to give them credit; their guys stepped up.”
The first half wasn’t 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 – which may have been both a part of bad defense and some sensitive officials – and neither team really making a stake to take over.
“We were doing pretty well,” Cotton said. “I 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.”
Of course, had Providence made more than 52 percent of its free throws (11-for-21), it’s likely the Friars would have had a sizeable lead, which would have Friday night’s result a lot easier to guess.
“We talked about relaxing on the free throw line,” 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 URI’s 18 of 24. “One of our goals is to make more than someone attempts. I just thought our guys were jittery in the first half.”
There’s 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 – scoring 10 points in the first half – and even Ryan Brooks, who’s 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 couldn’t get much worse – or so it seems.
“We can lose every other game from here on out,” Outerbridge said. “… We go into every game thinking we’re going to win … and we play hard. We’re just having a hard time playing a full game.”
In the past, the PC-URI game meant more to the Rams.
It was the case this year, although for much different reasons.
“When you’re struggling,” Jim Baron said, “every game means a lot more to you than your opponents.”