By ERIC RUEB
KINGSTON – With Mike Powell on his right and Nikola Malesevic on his left, University of Rhode Island basketball coach Dan Hurley laughed when he talked about the film session the Rams had following their loss to Providence College on Dec. 6.
The players did too. It was an almost uncomfortable laughter; while the trio didn’t get into the specifics of what was said, it was easy to tell the message behind what was said.
And much like the Rams’ play that night, it wasn’t good.
“Film session was crazy,” URI sophomore guard Mike Powell said. “Coach was on guys heavy about what they didn’t do. We kind of almost skipped the good things, kind of.”
“There just weren’t any good clips,” URI coach Dan Hurley said.
There should be plenty of highlights to see after Saturday’s 72-50 win over Southern Methodist as Rhode Island responded to its poor effort against its rival with a complete performance that had Southern Methodist’s Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown praising the job Hurley and his staff did in a win the Rams needed.
“It was our most complete all-around game that we played,” Hurley said. “… Every other part of what we did, the passing, the shooting, the defensive job that we did creating 22 turnovers; I think we were, at both ends of the court, really hard to play against.”
“Every film I watched they played hard and tried to do the right thing,” Brown said. “[Saturday] was a perfect example of what Danny and Bobby [Hurley, URI’s assistant coach] and their staff is about.”
The film the Rams watched the previous week wasn’t entertaining because in their 72-57 loss to Providence, there wasn’t a lot of good to point out and, worse with a younger team, anything URI could use to build off of.
So the session went in another direction and when it was done, there was only one thing left for the Rams to do – play better, smarter basketball.
They did it with defense against SMU, especially in the backcourt where Powell was much more than an annoyance to SMU guards Nick Russell and Jalen Jones. Powell’s ability to prevent drive and dishes and come up with big steals disrupted the flow of the SMU offense.
Teamed with strong play from starter Xavier Munford and off the bench, as expected, from TJ Buchanan, SMU never got in a flow and as the Rams crept ahead late in the first half and throughout the final 20 minutes, the Mustangs were left lagging behind.
Powell finished with six steals and URI forced 22 turnovers, scoring 22 points off those chances, but the defense wasn’t much of a surprise to Hurley.
“We’ve played great defense,” he said. “Our numbers are even skewed because we’ve given up so many putbacks where our field goal percentage [against] could be four or five percentage points less than it is.
“Game in and game out we can’t force the turnovers as much as we will down the line; to force a team that’s that well-coached and off to that start to 22 turnovers it’s great, but they’ve been committed to guarding.”
The flow of the defense helped offensively and not only because it gave the Rams an addition 22 points. URI did well in transition but was smart with the basketball when it wasn’t there. Apparently working with an All-American point guard – that’d be assistant coach Bobby - helps in development because Powell’s decision-making was superb. When the drive was there, he attacked; when it wasn’t, he looked for his shot; when that wasn’t there, he found someone who was open.
He finished with a team-high 18 points, made 4 of 5 from the floor, all three of his 3-pointers and had four assists.
“Powell controlled the game,” Brown said.
The Rams also shot well, making 49 percent from the floor, by far their best effort of the season. In the first half it was Andre Malone, who connected on three 3-pointers en route to a 15-point performance, and in the second, it was just about everyone.
More importantly, the shots were taken in the flow of the game. There were a couple of heat check 3s – and the way the Rams were shooting, who could blame them – but the ball movement was as good as it’s been.
And, surprise, surprise, when the ball gets worked around players get open.
“These guys are capable of shooting the ball,” Hurley said. “… We actually threw the ball inside a couple of times. It didn’t always garner production, but just the fact we were doing stuff to attack the lane got us beautiful looks.”
The Rams are finishing up finals next week and it didn’t take any studying to realize a well-run offense plus good defense equaled a win. URI will be back in action Saturday when it hosts Georgia State at 2 p.m. and that game is going to be a little easier to play after the win over SMU.
“Winning allows you to breathe,” Hurley said. “I can’t breathe when I’m not winning.”