Providence rode the coattails of super soph Ben Bentil to a win in a game where All-American Kris Dunn turned in a subpar performance. Bentil scored 23 points on 9-12 shooting and pulled down 8 rebounds and every point and rebound counted. The Friars won’t play in a more hostile environment all season and, despite not bringing their A game, survived and won.
URI, on the other hand, did bring it’s A game. The Rams had not played this well all season but on this night, they were a focused and locked-in group. In a game that is their annual Super Bowl, Rhode Island played beyond all expectations and, as often happens at the Ryan Center, had more than a few bounces go their way.
Providence came out and punched URI in the mouth early, building a 19-8 lead through the game’s first 8 minutes. Dunn and Bentil canned two baskets during the run, which also featured a Ryan Fazekas three and was capped by a Kyron Cartwright jumper. It was at this point, with the Friars threatening to run Rhody out of its own building, that Ed Cooley gambled and lost.
Cooley removed four starters, including Dunn, Bentil and Rodney Bullock, and that move energized the Rams. Earl Watson dunked, and Christion Thompson and Jarvis Garrett nailed threes and Cooley waited in vain for a break in the action to get his starters back, but it wasn’t until Watson dunked again with 9 minutes to go that Cooley was forced to call a timeout. By that point, Rhody had pulled to within 21-18 and following the timeout, Thompson canned another three to knot the score.
The Rams were fully engaged now and built a 28-23 on a Jared Terrell three-point play. PC responded with a Junior Lomomba basket and Bullock and Dunn free throws to tie the score, but Rhody spurted again, behind yet another Thompson three and a free throw for a four-point play that gave the Rams a 36-30 lead. Dunn scored with a second left but the Friars, after a hot start, were down 4 at the half.
The Friars started the second half strong as well, catching the Rams at 46-all on a Fazekas three. But that served to kick-start URI once again. URI led 52-50 after Garrett, Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson jumpers. When Terrell knocked down a three and Garrett found his way inside for a reverse layup, PC faced a 59-54 deficit.
Once again, the Friars fought back. A Bentil jumper and baskets by Bullock, the second on a nifty inside move, gave PC a 60-59 lead with 8 minutes to play and the two teams traded baskets down the stretch. Dunn hit a layup with 2:41 to play and then stole the ball from Terrell and dunked for a 70-66 advantage with 2 minutes to go.
The Rams answered with an Iverson layup and two Terrell free throws. And then came the key plays of the game. The Rams pressured Dunn and he reacted poorly, throwing an errant pass that could have been picked off but bounced off of Bullock and a scrambling Terrell to Bentil, who swooped in for a dunk and a 72-70 lead with 39 seconds left.
The Rams worked the clock and Terrell missed a 15-footer but Martin corralled the rebound and passed back to Terrell, who buried a jumper with 7 seconds to play to tie the score. Eschewing a timeout, Dunn raced the length of the court with the ball and swooped in for a layup attempt over Martin. The ball rolled off the back of the rim, but Bentil, elbowing for position with the much smaller Garrett, tapped the ball through as it came off the rim with :0.02 on the clock and PC had the win.
PC had outscored URI in the second half, 42-36, and had shot an amazing 67 percent in the half to secure the win. They needed to shoot that well because they were dominated on the glass, 34-26, but URI grabbed 17 offensive boards to the Friars’ 8, and that enabled URI to keep possessions alive and gain valuable second-chance opportunities.
Despite the rebounding advantage, PC outscored the Rams 46-28 in the paint, led by Bentil and Bullock. Indeed, 15 of the Friars’ 18 second half field goals came from inside the paint. In an unusual change of pace, PC attempted only 8 three pointers in the game, hitting 2, both by Fazekas. URI, meanwhile, shot 7-21 from three, including 3-3 by Thompson.
URI received season-best games from Garrett (17 points), Terrell (19 points) and most surprisingly, from Thompson, who had scored 10 points all season (10 points). They banked home three shots, saw Martin hit a three-pointer on his first attempt of the season and played, by far, their best ball of the season. The one down note for them was a 0-8 shooting performance by Four McGlynn, who was hounded by Lomomba all game.
For the Friars, along with Bentil, Bullock registered 16 points, Lomomba had 10, Fazekas 6 and Dunn put up a line of 15 points (7-16 shooting), 5 boards, 5 assists and 3 steals. But he also had 6 turnovers, missed two dunks and almost threw the ball away at the end. Still, he made enough positive plays down the stretch to help put PC in a position to win.
Cooley was gracious after the win. He revealed that he had reached out to Danny Hurley after Ram star E.C. Matthews went down with a season-ending injury in URI’s first game. “I talked to Danny after E.C. went down and brought him back to November 3, 2013 when Kris Dunn went down. I told him, ‘Your team will respond differently. Let the team gain it’s new identity.’ I think this team gained its new identity tonight. That is a very, very good basketball team. We were fortunate to win.”
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With the win, Providence extends its lead over URI in the series to 72-54. Over the last 60 years, since Joe Mullaney took the PC reins in 1955 and Providence began playing in Alumni Hall, the Friars own an impressive 61-25 margin in the series. The 23rd ranked Friars are now 8-3 versus URI when ranked. The Rams are now 13-93 against ranked teams. PC, by contrast, has 107 wins against ranked teams, including their win over Arizona this year. The Friars take on ACC foe Boston College on Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. at the Dunk.