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.