SOUTH KINGSTOWN – That wasn’t a basketball game that took place at the Ryan Center Thursday. That was a rock fight.
Or considering the stare down at center court that Dan Hurley and Ed Cooley engaged in with 3:55 remaining – one that also contained a few verbal jabs for good measure – perhaps they should have put the basketballs away and slapped a pair of boxing gloves on the two head coaches.
Style points were definitely at a premium, but oh, what a conclusion the Friars and Rams staged.
Kadeem Batts’ free throw with 22.1 seconds remaining proved to be the deciding point in what amounted to a frantic and frenzied 50-49 victory for Providence. URI had a chance to cap off what was a wildly entertaining finish with a bucket that would have resulted in the game-winner, but E.C. Matthews was unable to even reach the rim with his free-throw jumper as time expired.
The Rhody freshman, who tied the game at 49-49 with a driving basket with 52 seconds remaining, was forced to take a tough shot as the game clock wound down to triple zero. The air ball proved an appropriate conclusion in a game where neither side got going offensively.
PC’s Bryce Cotton led all scorers with 15 points while Tyler Harris chipped in with 11. LaDontae Henton finished with nine points and eight rebounds while Batts overcame foul difficulties late to contribute seven points and seven rebounds.
Gilvydas Biruta had 13 points and seven rebounds to lead the Rams, who have now dropped four straight to the Friars. Neither side shot more than 40 percent – PC was 37.5 percent from the field while URI connected at a 38.9-percent clip.
Other than the early minutes when the Rams jumped out to an 8-4 lead, the Friars led throughout. URI did get to within one on several occasions before Matthews’ basket tied things with less than a minute remaining. Much like the final sequence, URI could not put the ball in the hoop at a most important juncture.
The great theater also extended to the sidelines as Cooley and Hurley got into it after a hard play underneath the Friars’ basket. Both coaches were hit with technical fouls.
Cooley’s insertion of 7-footer Carson Desrosiers went a long way in changing the tenor of the first half. With the junior transfer from Wake Forest supplying plenty of length down low, the Friars unleashed a zone defense that succeeded in grinding the Rams’ half-court offense to a halt.
Conversely, the Friars elected to take as much time off the shot clock as possible, a move no doubt done to save the legs of Cooley’s seven-player rotation. Cotton was held scoreless in the first 16 minutes before swishing home a corner three with under four minutes remaining. He then converted from deep after Desrosiers tracked down an offensive rebound and scored on a layup after Henton came up with a steal.
Cotton’s seven points in a roughly two-minute span helped PC enjoy a 29-20 lead, which was the biggest lead of the half on either side. Rhody got rolling right before the break as Xavier Munford’s running bank shot with five seconds remaining helped cap off a 5-0 spurt that narrowed the halftime gap to 29-25.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03