KINGSTON – Want and desire dripped from the words exiting Dan Hurley’s mouth as he spoke about his team’s loss Wednesday night. He has already expressed his feelings on moral victories. You’re not playing for them. You play, as former New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards famously said in a press conference one decade ago, to win the game.
“Losing kills,” said Hurley following the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team’s 55-52 loss to George Mason. “A little part of you dies every time you fail out on that court, by the same token, I love the determination of these guys and how we’re just able to stay in games against high quality opponents.
“In the future, we’ll be talking about a lot of big wins, but we’re taking our lumps right now.”
The Rams could have, and perhaps should have, won Wednesday but missed two very good looks at 3-pointers in the final 26 seconds. Xavier Munford, who led the team with 24 points, missed one from the top that based on his recent heroics against Auburn, left the crowd breathless when the ball had the audacity to not drop through the twine.
After Mason’s Sherrod Wright made one of two from the line, the Rams had a chance to tie the game; Munford couldn’t get a clean look, but he passed off to Nikola Malesevic, who did.
The shot short-ironed the rim, ended up in the hands of Wright, and just like that URI was 1-6, which could easily be 3-4 or 4-3.
Instead, it was another close loss for URI.
“We gave a senior and opportunity to tie it. He’ll make more as we go,” Hurley said. “He’s responded to some of the in your face type of stuff and he’s a tougher kid than he gives himself credit for.”
If the game did anything, it proved that all the hype surrounding Hurley coming into the season is true. He wants to win and he’s not going to be shy about it.
After the game he wasn’t shy about expressing his displeasure in the performance of his upperclassmen and the fact two seniors he’s looking at to make shots, Malesevic and Andre Malone, went 1 of 13 from the floor.
Hurley didn’t dance around the beating the Rams took on the glass, as Mason had 50 rebounds to URI’s 31.
He really didn’t hide how we felt about the team going 13 for 26 from the free throw line.
“Free throw shooting bordered on embarrassing,” he said. “Actually it didn’t border on it, it was absolutely embarrassing.”
And he certainly wasn’t afraid to tell reporters about his feelings with the first half, where his team looked and played like it had no heart, seeing a 10-7 lead with 6:42 into the game turn into a 35-22 deficit against a George Mason team that played mediocre at best for the first 20 minutes.
“If we’re not blood and guts every time we step out on the court for 40 minutes, we have no chance to win any game on our schedule,” Hurley said. “That’s the first time in 11 years as a head coach that I walked off at halftime where I was embarrassed by our effort.”
Attitudes and play changed at halftime.
Hurley didn’t get into specifics, but based on the way he stomped off the court at the break, you could guess what he said to his team.
Whatever it was, he should patent and sell, because it worked.
The Rams scored first on a pair of free throws by Munford, then Powell picked Bryon Allen’s pocket and made a layup to make it 35-26 and a George Mason timeout didn’t come close to stopping momentum. URI finally tied it at 37 on a three-point play by Munford with 13:31 left before Mike Aaman made a free throw that gave the Rams a 38-37 lead, its first since its 10-7 edge in the first half.
“We know the coaching staff believes in us so when they left the locker room, we talked among ourselves.” Munford said. “We knew what we had to do because we’ve been in the situation plenty of times against bigger teams.
“We knew what we had to do, the coaching staff believed in us and we went out hard in the second half.”
“I don’t think I was thinking about building their confidence at halftime as much as I was trying to avoid having a stroke or a heart attack,” said Hurley of his goals at halftime. “It was a nasty locker room scene. I don’t think there was a coach on staff that wasn’t thoroughly disappointed by our fight. It was a nasty locker room scene.”
The defense played a big role in the comeback. The Rams forced 15 turnovers and freshman Jordan Hare continued to show off his shot-blocking skills, finishing with six to give him 16 in the last three games. He was brutally mismatched against Mason’s bigs in width as opposed to length. In fact, the only starter the Patriots had that didn’t outweigh the beanpole freshman was Wright, who is six inches shorter than the 6-foot-10 Hare.
“An area of weakness for us this year very quickly, next year, is going to be come an area of strength,” Hurley said. “As far as this year goes, I see some real great development. He’s already a shot-blocking presence.”
The area the team needs the most work on is learning how to win. Seven games into the season the Rams have lost one on a last-minute collapse, one in overtime and now one where they showed they might not know how to win. The coaches know it and the players realize there is a lot of growing to do.
“We definitely have to prove it to the coaching staff,” Munford said, “that we’re ready to compete.”