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URI Can’t Put it All Together, Fall 72-62 to La Salle

Thursday, January 16, 2014

 

Four La Salle players scored in double figures and the experienced and talented Explorers had all the answers Wednesday night, defeating URI 72-62 at Gola Arena in Philadelphia.

If you were to suggest before the game that URI would get 21 points and 8 assists from Xavier Munford, a double-double (16 points and 11 rebounds) from Gilvydas Biruta, outrebound and win the assist battle over La Salle, then the Rams would probably take it and envision a comfortable victory.

All of it happened except the comfortable victory part.

Jerrell Wright (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Steve Zack (11 and 10) each had double-doubles for La Salle, and underappreciated guard Sam Mills had 11 points and some timely 3 pointers in the win Wednesday. But the biggest advantage the Explorers had didn’t come from any of those 3 players, it came from their star point guard, Tyreek Duren.

Duren scored 15 points and continued to take care of the basketball (his 2.6 assists-to-turnover ratio is the best in the Atlantic 10 Conference) on Wednesday. Conversely, URI starting point guard Biggie Minnis was limited to 8 minutes of playing time due to foul trouble, and fouled out of the game with 0 points and 2 turnovers for Rhody.

It marked a disappointing homecoming for Minnis, a Philadelphia native who had friends and family in attendance for the game. The sophomore appeared anxious and was never able to settle in due to the foul situation.

URI shot 41% from the floor Wednesday but the real shooting struggles came at the free throw line. URI shot just 11-21 (La Salle finished 19-26) from the charity stripe and missed costly free throws in the midst of their second half comeback attempt.

Coming off a convincing loss to George Washington that began with a slow start that saw the Rams trail 45-13 at one point, it was paramount that URI start off strong on the road Wednesday night.

A 7-0 La Salle run to begin the game threatened a déjà vu performance, but the Rams responded after 6th man T.J. Buchanan entered the game and picked up their intensity on both ends of the floor.

E.C. Matthews tied the game a short time later on a strong take to the basket to even things up at 13. A 3 pointer from Jarelle Reischel gave URI their first lead of the game at 18-15, but from that point on the rest of the half belonged to the home team.

The Explorers ripped off a 22-8 run over the final 7 minutes of the first half, taking advantage of foul trouble that forced the already undermanned Rams to experiment with some different lineups without much success.

La Salle took a 37-26 lead in to the break behind 11 points from Duren. The rebounding and assist battles were pretty even through 20 minutes, but URI’s lackluster shooting (32% for the half) saw them fall into a double digit hole.

The second half was a back and forth affair, with the game in a constant flux of mini-runs and La Salle’s lead residing in the 6-12 points range for the entire half. Munford and Biruta were outstanding, asserting themselves as leaders of the Rams and combining to score the team’s first 17 points of the second half. The dynamic duo combined to shoot 15 for 29 for the game, while the rest of the Rams were just 9-29.

La Salle moves to 3-0 in Atlantic 10 play with the win, and URI falls to 0-3 in Conference play. The Rams are 9-9 overall, and next play Saturday afternoon against George Mason at the Ryan Center.

 

Notes

--URI and George Mason met in a non-conference game on November 30th, with Rhody falling 61-54 on the road. Saturday’s game is the more important one to win, however, since it’s an official league game and the 0-3 Rams are desperate for a conference win (as is GMU, as the Patriots are also 0-3 in conference play). The homecoming couldn’t have come at a better time for the struggling Rams.

Coach Hurley has stuck by Biggie Minnis (pictured here) through thick and thin this season.

--Minnis struggled mightily in his first game in his hometown as a college player, but he’ll get a mulligan in just one week’s time when URI returns to the city of brotherly love next Wednesday, January 22nd, to take on St. Joseph’s. URI Head Coach Dan Hurley has stuck by Minnis all season as a player and has spoken to the toughness the young point guard has shown in the past. A strong bounce back performance next Wednesday will go a long way in forgetting about tonight’s disaster.

--Don’t count Coach Hurley among those surprised by Duren’s heroics in Wednesday’s game. Despite playing through a painful plantar fasciitis injury, Duren has continued to be a mainstay in La Salle’s lineup and is one of the most highly regarded guards in the Atlantic 10. Hurley praised Duren at length in this week’s Coaches’ Conference Call.

“Not only is he smart and does he settle his team with the confidence he displays, but he’s also dynamic,” Hurley said. “He can score, he can create, he defends. He’s a guy that in preparation you have to attempt to slow down.”

--The double double on Wednesday was Zack's 8th of the season for La Salle, and the junior big man has really emerged as a force inside for the Explorers.  Zack leads the Atlantic 10 in rebounds per game at 9.3, and his 2.1 blocks per game rank 4th in the conference this season.

--Speaking of La Salle, the Explorers are building momentum after a disappointing 7-6 start in non-conference play this season. After last season’s Sweet 16 appearance, the Explorers have the talent and the experience to be a tough out for anyone come March, and no one will want to face La Salle in Brooklyn when the A-10 Tournament rolls around.

--As always, follow me on twitter @RealJackAndrade for instant news, analysis, and updates on all things URI Hoops.

 

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