UNCASVILLE, Conn. – After Rhode Island gave No. 4 Ohio State all it could handle before losing, 69-58, the team’s fans gave the players an ovation inside the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“It felt good but I wish they were cheering because we won,” said Rhody sophomore guard Mike Powell, who finished with 10 points, including back-to-back second-half 3-pointers in a game that was taut until the final minutes.
The Rams are now 0-3 entering Sunday’s consolation game against Seton Hall in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament and you can bet that doesn’t sit well with first-year coach Dan Hurley, a Seton Hall alumnus who comes from a family that is synonymous with winning and whose Hall of Fame father, St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley, sat courtside.
“Ideal would be 3-0,” Dan Hurley said in his typical deadpan.
He added in a voice hoarse from yelling and suffering: “Obviously, right now we’re not a good team. We’re transitioning to become one.”
Hurley lost only five games all of last season at Wagner, before leaving to take the Rhody job. And in nine years before that at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, he went 223-21.
He will do his share of losing this year with a Rams team that has just nine scholarship players and was picked 15th in the 16-team Atlantic 10.
They got 37 combined points from guards Powell, Xavier Munford (16) and Andre Malone (11), but only four points and two rebounds from their starting frontcourt of Alwayne Bigby and freshman Jordan Hare, a 6-10 freshman with a big upside.
But his team fought like they had a real shot to beat the Buckeyes, a team coming off a Final Four appearance, because they did.
If it weren’t for DeShaun Thomas’s game-best 25 points, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, Rhody might have pulled off the upset.
“It hurts to lose and we’re disappointed,” Hurley said.
But in a lighter moment, he added: “It was exciting to play with a lot of spirit and a lot of fight against a top 5 national-caliber team that has a great chance to play in the Final Four.”
Still, Rhody figures to make a dramatic jump next year when they add transfers Gilvydas Biruta (Rutgers), Jarelle Reischel (Rice) and DeShon “Biggie” Minnis (Texas Tech), and recruits Hassan Martin, a 6-7 forward out of Curtis High School on Staten Island, and E.C. Matthews, a 6-4 point guard from Michigan.
“We’re gonna have a lot more depth on our team, better competitors, have a lot more talent, so we should be able to make a good push next year,” said Munford, a junior guard who played for Hurley at St. Benedict’s.
Still, this was a learning experience for Hurley’s young club, playing the No. 4 team in the country to a virtual deadlock until the final minutes.
“Obviously, with [Hurley's] background on this side of the coast he’s going to get great players up there and I think he’s got the right approach with what he’s doing,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.
“With the way they played tonight he may get there a little quicker than he thought he would.”
Photo: Rhody Athletics