KINGSTON – The days of the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team scoring 80-plus points are game are over, at least for this season. Maybe even for the near future.
Dan Hurley designed it that way. Defense does come first for the Rams and it showed on the court Saturday afternoon against Charlotte.
If URI figures a way to get the offense in the same stratosphere as the defense, it will start winning games.
Until that happens, game are going to look like and end the way Saturday’s Atlantic 10 home opener did, as the defense was fantastic but the offense was much different than the Runnin’ Rams people have become accustomed to and it didn’t help the Rams were physically overmatched on the boards by the 49ers in a 58-50 loss at the Ryan Center.
“We have to play games in the 50s and the low 60s if we’re going to have any chance to win,” Hurley said. “This is our formula. Our numbers and the numbers that guys are shooting from the field, those are the percentages that they shoot.”
Hurley’s defense continued to play well. Charlotte shot 37 percent from the floor, made only 3 of 14 3-pointers and had 13 turnovers. It was about as well as the coach could have asked the Rams to play against a team that’s done nothing but with this season.
The offense’s struggles were too much to overcome. The second half was a disaster, which was almost a surprise after a decent first half where the Rams made 11 of 21 from the floor (52.4 percent), hit 3 of 6 3-pointers and led 31-30.
But after a layup by Jordan Hare made it 39-33 with 16:14 left to play, URI (5-10, 0-2 Atlantic 10) made only three field goals the rest of the game, hitting 3 of 18 in that stretch where Charlotte (14-2 2-0 Atlantic 10) outscored the Rams outscored 25-11.
“Mike Powell’s made critical shots this year; Xavier Munford’s made critical shots; Andre Malone’s made critical shots. They care. They care about winning, they care about their career, they care about this program. That’s why they put the extra work in, that’s why they practice extremely hard and you feel blessed to coach them,” Hurley said. “They will come through more than they won’t. It’s about caring, caring about your craft and we need more of that.”
Munford, the Rams’ leading scorer, wasn’t at his best. After picking up his second foul of the game 7:35 into the first half, the junior transfer went to the bench and wasn’t seen again until the second half.
The decision to bench Munford was one Hurley debated with brother Bobby, his associate head coach, as the half wore on, but with the Rams ahead, there wasn’t a dire need to get the guard on the floor and have him pick up his third personal foul.
It might have been the wrong decision. After not taking a shot in eight minutes in the first half, Munford made only 3 of 12 in the second and missed all five of his 3-pointers, including one with eight seconds left that could have made it a one possession game. He finished with eight points on the day.
“It killed his flow, killed his rhythm,” Hurley said. “He missed shots he normally makes. … I was close to putting him back in [in the first half} because his rhythm was disrupted but you just can’t do that when you have a lead.”
“We rely on X a lot to produce points for us because he can score with the basketball,” said Powell, who picked up the slack and led URI with 16 points. “Once he went out, me and [Andre Malone] know we’re able to score and make shots. We had to pick our teammates up until he got back in the second half.”
The offensive issues weren’t helped by the Charlotte’s total domination on the boards. The Rams aren’t expecting to outrebound many teams, but they don’t expect to get crushed the way they did Saturday as the 49ers had 45 rebounds to URI’s 25.
Total rebounds aside, the more crucial disparity came when Charlotte missed a shot, which it did often because of the Rams’ defensive pressure. Every missed 49er shot turned into a coin flip and while the Rams won, it wasn’t by much.
“Some practices half the practice are rebounding drills. It’s like war out there,” Powell said. “It’s different in a game. You actually have to want to go get it; practice and a game are two separate things.”
Charlotte had 15 offensive rebounds to URI’s 21 defensive boards and scored 13 second-chance points; two of those offensive rebounds and four of those points were in name only. Hare tipped the ball into the 49ers’ basket going up for a rebound that cut URI’s lead to 31-30 46 seconds before the end of the first half and Ryan Brooks did the same in the second half, putting the 49ers up 48-44 with 8:25 left in the game.
“Can you overcome that if you’re ridiculously physical and talented? Absolutely,” Hurley said. “We’re not at the point in this program that we can do that.”
Rhode Island has some time to work on its offense and rebounding. The Rams have one week off before playing Saturday at St. Louis. They return home on Jan. 23 against George Washington.
“This first year for us it’s hard. We’re playing hard. Moving forward from here, we’ve got to identify for the short and long term the guys that share your passion and play with your passion that reflect you,” Hurley said. “… In a year where we’re taking over the program we took over, it’s about playing kids that want to fight for you because we’re not there.”