KINGSTON – Not every story has the perfect ending.
Wednesday night the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team didn’t care about a perfect ending.
It just wanted a win.
The Ryan Center went silent for a moment as Xavier Munford’s buzzer-beating 3-point attempt from the left corner hung in the air; the silence was replaced by groans after the shot rattled out and those groans were replaced by screams of horror when Jordan Hare’s tip was blocked – according to the officials - giving George Washington a 66-65 win over the Rams that was filled with more good than bad for URI.
More good still wasn’t enough to give the Rams their second Atlantic 10 win of the season.
“Tough one to lose,” URI coach Dan Hurley said. “I thought we played real hard, had good spirits and good fight. It’s the same kind of story here; we’re just not quite good enough to make that.”
“I definitely wanted to take that last shot,” Munford said. “Coach drew up a great play during the timeout. … I have to knock that shot down. It’s tough sometimes when it doesn’t go your way.”
The game was masterful to watch even if the officiating wasn’t. The game was marred by too many foul calls – many deserved – and too many that weren’t called.
After the final buzzer sounded and the officials made their way out of the Ryan Center – the exit happens to be opposite URI’s bench - Hurley walked over to the corner to voice his displeasure with the non-call at the end of the game where he thought Hare was fouled going up for the tip.
“I thought when you get a great clean look in the corner and you have a tip in front of the rim by a 6-10 guy that plays well above the rim,” Hurley said, “I don’t think that shot was blocked.”
Lost in the officiating was the defensive effort on both sides. Strong defense usually leads to scores in the low 50s, but both offenses executed, with the lone exception being George Washington’s foul shooting.
What was impressive about the defense – both GWU and URI’s – was how it made the offense work. Players had to work just as hard off the ball to get open as the player with the ball trying to either get a look or make a move to the basket.
The Rams made 50 percent of their shots Wednesday, hitting 24 of 48 from the floor and made 14 of 26 in the second half. George Washington shot a tick better, making 25 of 49 from the field which made up for its 12 of 24 performance from the free-throw line.
“We’re getting better offensively,” Hurley said. “Guys are starting to understand what we’re trying to do systematically. We’re kind of getting back to a little bit of that grind-it-out mentality defensively.”
Munford paced the Rams’ offense with 20 points and it wasn’t a shock to see him take the final shot. On URI’s previous possession the junior transfer took advantage of a horrible mismatch as George Washington center Isaiah Armwood was caught on a pick and had no chance to staying in front of Munford.
URI’s leading scorer used a delayed dribble at the top of the key before crossing to his right, driving past Armwood and getting the basket to give the Rams a 65-64 lead with 37 seconds left.
George Washington didn’t waste any time coming back.
Coming out of a timeout, the Rams’ defense came out in a “five,” which Hurley said is a switching man-to-man style of defense. George Washington looked flustered as it worked the ball around, but Joe McDonald somehow escaped a trap and made a fall away jumper from the right corner to give the Colonials the lead with nine seconds left.
“We got overly aggressive and tried to end it with a steal as opposed to ending with a contested, unmakeable shot and cleaning it up with a rebound,” Hurley said.
The Rams will have a chance to clean things up Saturday for a game at Fordham and return home Wednesday against Virginia Commonwealth.
Last year, a loss like Wednesday night’s would have lingered. This URI team is decidingly different.
Things look good in Kingston. The players believe it and play better because of it. The Rams are a team of one, as opposed to separate entities. During the National Anthem Wednesday night, every member of the team had one arm on the shoulders of the teammate on their left and another on the teammate right – except for the bookends, of course – wearing focus on their faces and eyes looking straight at their opponent.
“We’re getting closer every day,” URI’s Andre Malone said. “We know what we want to do and that’s to make it to the Barclays Center [home of the Atlantic 10 Championships]. We have to be a family to get there.
The leader of the family is Hurley and it showed Wednesday in his coaching style. It was an inspired style and it was easy to see Wednesday. He spent most of the second half with his charcoal gray suit jacket discarded on the bench, his white dress shirt soaked in sweat and his jaw scowled at every call he felt couldn’t have been more wrong.
These are the little things that get discarded when teams lose. These things didn’t happen last season, a tumultuous end for the Jim Baron Era, but if Wednesday night’s performance didn’t prove URI basketball is back, nothing will.