Having already wrapped up the Atlantic 10 regular season title, Tuesday’s Senior Night matchup with Saint Joseph’s was expected to be one in which No. 17 Rhode Island was supposed to celebrate five seniors who have been important factors in Dan Hurley’s rebuild of the program. The pregame ceremony happened, but it was followed by one of the most surprising results of the 2017-18 season.
Rhode Island shot just 6-for-31 from the field in the first half, and they would go on to lose to the visiting Hawks by an 78-48 final score.
While Saint Joseph’s is just 14-15 on the season overall and 9-8 in Atlantic 10 play, the fact that Phil Martelli’s team won is not the surprise here. While the program has struggled with injuries over the last two seasons, there’s no denying the fact that the Hawks have talent. Also, this is a group that has lost nine games by four points or less this season.
Simply put, if a few possessions throughout the course of the season go the other way Saint Joseph’s would be an even bigger player in the Atlantic 10 race.
James Demery scored 21 points on 10-for-15 shooting from the field, and in forward Taylor Funk the Hawks have one of the Atlantic 10’s best freshmen. Funk finished the game 5-for-5 from the field and scored 17 points, and if not for Davidson’s Kellan Grady he would likely be the pick as the conference’s top freshman. Add in Shavar Newkirk putting forth an excellent performance with 14 points and seven assists, and Saint Joseph’s was able to put forth its best showing of the season.
Saint Joseph’s shot nearly 52 percent from the field, consistently attacking the Rams off the dribble in the half-court and keeping URI from turning turnovers into points on the other end.
Nothing went right for Rhode Island (23-5, 15-2) on either end of the floor. Offensively, the Rams did themselves no favors by settling for challenged perimeter shots instead of attacking the gaps in the zone defense that Saint Joseph’s threw at them for much of the night. Rhode Island finished the game having shot 28.1 percent from the field overall and 3-for-29 from three, and their 9-for-18 effort from the foul line didn’t help matters either.
Prior to Tuesday night just one of Rhode Island’s four losses was by double figures, with that being their 15-point defeat at the hands of top-ranked Virginia in the title game of the Preseason NIT. With just one loss since December 6, some may argue that Rhode Island was due for a stinker. And if that’s the case, it’s better for the Rams that it happened now as opposed to in a couple weeks time when a loss means that the season’s over.
A loss like this can refocus a team if that’s needed. The question is whether or not this 30-point loss is used as a reason to drop Rhode Island’s seed come Selection Sunday. Given the team’s results throughout the season, it’s reasonable to say that Tuesday’s blowout loss was a one-off performance for URI, a game in which everything that could go wrong did.
But one also has to credit Saint Joseph’s, as their efficient offense and zone defense made this beating possible as well.