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PROVIDENCE - The game changed on an alley-oop.
Rhode Island freshman Jordan Hare rose above the Providence College defense to emphatically finish a perfectly executed play with 15 minutes, 22 seconds left in the second half to cut the Friars' lead to five.
As it turned out, the alley-oop was the best thing that happen to PC because Friar coach Ed Cooley opted to eschew his zone defense against the athletic Rams and play man-to-man. Over the next 8 minutes, 21 seconds the Rams didn't make a basket, went 0-for-8 from the field and committed six turnovers in a 72-57 defeat.
"They played really hard. They're well coached and we were just really fortunate to come away with a win," Cooley said. "... For all the coaches and whoever's listening, our players have done an unbelievable job."
Providence College (7-2) was led by LeDontae Henton, who produced 21 points and a game-high 17 points. Kadeem Batts scored a game-high 23 points, while Bryce Cotton played through a knee injury to score 11 points and dish out seven assists as the Friars picked up their fifth straight win overall.
Rhode Island (2-7) received an efficient effort from Hare, who scored 14 points on just seven shots. Freshman wing Xavier Munford, URI's leading scorer had one of the worst games of his young career, going 3-for-13 - including 0-for-8 from the 3-point line - on his way to a 10-point, three-turnover effort.
'We turned the ball over 20 times against someone that plays a zone defense in the half court for the majority of the game, that's disappointing," URI coach Dan Hurley said. "Our inability to rebound the ball has been an issue for us through out the year. We have a real thin margin for error to score the ball."
Both teams came into Thursday's rivalry game knowing better times lay ahead and that's probably the only solace Hurley cane take away from the game because his team did little right for the second straight trip to the Dunkin' Donuts Center. The Rams were a horrid 3-for-18 from the 3-point line and committed 20 turnovers against just 11 assists one game after producing a positive assist-to-turnover ratio for the first time this season.
Just as they have done all season, the Friar starters did everything. The combination of Batts, Henton, Josh Fortune and Cotton combined to score all of PC's points.
The first half was a cagey, tight affair with neither team able to take control of the game. PC stuck to its zone defense, while the Rams played a tight man-to-man defense. The Friars, behind 10 points from Batts, took a one-point lead into halftime after Rhody grabbed a late first-half lead on a Mike Aaman basket in the paint.
The Rams produced a 5-0 run - punctuated by a Nikola Malesevic hoop in transition - to take a two-point lead, the visitors largest of the night. The lead would also turn out to be the Rams' last because PC went on an 11-2 run to take complete control of the game.
Hare closed the gap to just five with his dunk after a perfect pass from Munford on the left wing.
Cooley then changed to a man-to-man defense against the more atheistic Ram lineup and when Hurley elected to insert Aaman, T.J. Buchanan and Alwayne Bigby into the lineup Cooley went back to the 2-3 zone defense and dared the Rams to make outside shots.
"When we saw them go man we were excited because we liked our match ups," Hurley said. "We turned the ball over 20 times against a team that doesn't pressure and that just can't happen."
URI's turnovers during its barren spell led to Providence College baskets. Following a Mike Powell turnover Fortune scored in transition and the Friars scored a few more buckets following turnovers to open up a 52-39 lead before Malesevic hit a jumper to stop the bleeding with 7:01 left in the game.
"He's a good coach and me made an adjustment and we had to counter the adjustment," Cooley said. "Normally we play zone and that's what they prepared for. (Hare) is a special player for them. I love that kid. Hare and Malesevic were the guys we were trying to match up with."
The Friars put the game away at the foul line as the home side made 18 of its 19 free throws in the second half. Fortune made four free throws in the final 1:18, while Henton, Cotton and Batts also made their free throws to ice the Friars' third straight win over the Rams and fifth straight at the Dunk.
Both teams will have plenty of time to regroup from Thursday's contest. The Friars don't play again until Dec. 18 when Colgate comes to town, while the Rams are off until Dec. 15 when Larry Brown and SMU come to the Ryan Center.
"I think [the break] is a great thing because we can really self study and really do a good job," Hurley said.