Rhode Island had every reason to fold after the first half against No. 24 Cincinnati.
The No. 21 Rams got off to a sluggish start and things looked potentially ugly when starting guard Jarvis Garrett left the game on a stretcher after a nasty fall.
But Rhode Island rallied in the second half behind a balanced scoring attack to erase a 12-point deficit and win 76-71 on Saturday afternoon at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off semifinals at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
Garrett was scoreless when he was taken out of the game, but his fellow Rams starters picked up the slack. All four finished in double-figures as E.C. Matthews buried the dagger three-pointer with under a minute left and finished with 18 points. Jared Terrell and Hassan Martin both tallied 14 points while Kuran Iverson added 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The Rhode Island defense did a nice job of slowing down two key Cincinnati players as Troy Caupain (12 points, 4-for-14 shooting) and Gary Clark (four points, 1-for-5 shooting) both had off-nights.
Sophomore Jacob Evans and Junior Kyle Washington both had strong outings for the Bearcats. Washington, the N.C. State transfer, showed a versatile scoring package on his way to 23 points. Washington also added eight rebounds and was 2-for-3 from three-point range but didn’t get a lot of chances to create offense down the stretch.
When Cincinnati (2-1) was balanced offensively early in the game, they looked like a very strong team as Caupain was primarily involved. Washington looked tough to guard one-on-one and Evans (25 points) was also doing a lot of damage. Cincinnati could never find a consistent third scorer after Caupain’s start as their offense sputtered in the second half. Evans is going to be a consistent scorer and you hope that Washington is able to keep contributing like that, but Caupain and Clark need to step up more in the scoring column.
Rhode Island (4-0) moves on to face No. 1 Duke tomorrow in the championship game at Mohegan Sun. Even though the Blue Devils are battling plenty of injuries to rotation players, it should be a good test for the Rams against another top-flight opponent.