Gilvydas Biruta

Gilvydas Biruta’s putback as time expires saves Rhode Island (VIDEO)

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With the calendar approaching the month of February, the college basketball season is at a point where teams with hopes of earning a trip to the NCAA tournament find themselves working to avoid the damaging loss that could come back to haunt them come Selection Sunday. For Rhode Island, a program that hasn’t been to the Big Dance since 1999, Wednesday’s game at Fordham was one they had to get.

Dan Hurley’s Rams trailed for most of the night, and after Mandell Thomas made two free throws with nine seconds remaining URI trailed Fordham 63-62. E.C. Matthews got two shots at the game-winner, with the second being an off-balance shot that didn’t even draw iron.

The good news was that senior forward Gilvydas Biruta was well-positioned for the follow, which he made as time expired. URI moved to 14-5 (6-2 Atlantic 10) with the 64-63 victory, and next up is an opportunity at a quality win as George Washington visits Kingston on Saturday.

Video credit: Campus Insiders

Rhode Island takes advantage of Saint Louis turnovers in conference-opening victory (VIDEO)

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Rhode Island, a team viewed by many as one capable of being a dark horse in the Atlantic 10, won its conference opener Saturday afternoon at Saint Louis on NBCSN by the final score of 65-53. Dan Hurley’s Rams outscored the reigning Atlantic 10 champions (although this SLU roster is a lot different than the one that was led by Jordair Jett and Dwayne Evans Jr.) 38-26 in the second half, shooting 50 percent from the field and 12-for-15 from the foul line.

URI picked up the win despite an off day from the field for E.C. Matthews, who scored 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting. Forwards Hassan Martin and Gilvydas Biruta stepped forward to pick up the slack, combining to score 29 points with Martin also grabbing eight rebounds, and “Biggie” Minnis added ten points and four assists.

SLU’s Milik Yarbrough led all scorers with 19 points before fouling out, but nine Billiken turnovers provided the spark URI needed in the second half. The Rams converted those turnovers into 21 points, and for the game they scored 30 points off of 21 Billiken turnovers.

Above are highlights of the Rhode Island victory.

Victory at LSU a big deal for Rhode Island, Atlantic 10

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The task of rejuvenating a struggling basketball program can be a difficult one, and that was certainly the case for Dan Hurley when he accepted the Rhode Island coaching job in the spring of 2012. The Rams were coming off of a seven-win season, with roster turnover and poor play being major issues. As expected the Rams took their lumps in 2012-13, winning a total of eight games and finishing with a 3-13 record in Atlantic 10 play.

But hope springs eternal, and prior to the start of this season the presence of some talented newcomers had many expecting the Rams to make strides in 2013-14. On Saturday night Hurley’s Rams took an important step in the right direction, winning 74-70 at LSU with two first-year players among the key contributors.

Guard E.C. Matthews, who along with forward Hassan Martin was expected to be an impact freshman this season, accounted for 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists and Rutgers transfer Gilvydas Biruta added 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Rams. Senior guard Xavier Munford, who joined the program as a junior college transfer and is the A-10’s leading returning scorer from last season, added 17 points to go along with six rebounds and Biggie Minnis dished out six assists.

For a team that entered the game having one just one true road game this season, at Brown on Thursday, winning LSU represents an important step in the right direction.

“This was a great win.  LSU is a really talented, well-coached team,” Hurley said after the game according to the school’s website. “We had a stretch where we struggled against their pressure, but our team had great resolve.  The tough road schedule we have played so far helped us tonight.  We are thrilled to be a nine-win team.”

Why was Rhode Island able to win at LSU? One area to consider would be the rebounding numbers. Facing one of the most talented front courts in the SEC, Rhode Island rebounded 43.2% of its missed shots and out-rebounded the Tigers 46-32 on the night. While that didn’t lead to an edge in either second-chance points (14-8 LSU) or points in the paint (34-26 LSU), for Rhode Island to hold its own when facing the likes of Jordan Mickey and Johnny O’Bryant III speaks volumes of the progress being made in Kingston.

Saturday’s result gives Rhode Island some positive momentum as they move on to Atlantic 10 play, and they’ll need it with expected contender Saint Louis visiting the Ryan Center on Tuesday night. But before moving on to that contest, what Rhode Island accomplished in Baton Rouge is something that its fans need to take notice of. While their win doesn’t mean that the rebuilding process is complete, it does serve as more evidence that coach Hurley and his staff have the Rams moving in the right direction.

Rhode Island freshman Hassan Martin channels his inner ‘Jason Richardson’ (VIDEO)

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Earlier this week our own Rob Dauster put together a list of some of the nation’s best dunkers entering the 2013-14 season. A good list for sure, but Rhode Island freshman forward Hassan Martin threw down a dunk during URI’s preseason event on Thursday night that merits mention.

Martin did fall to Rutgers transfer Gilvydas Biruta in the finals of the dunk contest, but the between the legs number the Staten Island product completes at the 45-second mark of the below video was impressive. It brought back memories of the dunk Jason Richardson threw down to wrap up the 2003 NBA Slam Dunk Contest title (Richardson’s was off of a lob).

Martin isn’t simply a high flyer either, as he has the skill needed to be one of the best freshmen in the Atlantic 10 for a program many expect to be much improved under second-year head coach Dan Hurley.