UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — No. 21 Rhode Island had its first real test of the season — and passed.
E.C. Matthews hit two late 3-pointers and finished with 18 points in the Rams’ 76-71 comeback victory over No. 24 Cincinnati on Saturday in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament.
Kuren Iverson added 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Jared Terrell and Hassan Martin each scored 14 points for URI (4-0), which will face top-ranked Duke for the championship Sunday.
“I was coaching high school seven years ago, driving vans and mini-cheese buses around,” coach Danny Hurley said. “Now we’re nationally ranked and playing Duke for a championship. The premier program in the country that embodies everything you’d want in a college program. It kind of means a lot”
Jacob Evans scored 25 points and Kyle Washington had 23 for Cincinnati (2-1).
Rhode Island trailed by 12 points and was down 39-31 at halftime, but took the momentum in the second half.
Iverson gave the Rams their first lead with just under 14 minutes remaining, 49-48, with a pair of free throws.
But the Bearcats responded by scoring the next six points, and the teams went back-and-forth from there.
Matthews’ 3-pointer from the left corner put Rhode Island up 63-58. His 3-pointer from the other side made it 74-69 with 21 seconds left and the Rams held on to win, despite never leading by more than five points.
“We practice really hard. The A-10 and our practices prepared us for (the tough game),” Terrell said. “Everybody has to play defense at a high level. They do the same thing. But when you do it every day, you get used to it.”
Troy Caupain had seven of his 12 points in the opening minutes; including a jumper that gave the Rams a 14-4 lead. They would stretch that to 24-12 before the Rams began their comeback.
Rhode Island cut the lead to 36-31 before a 3-pointer by Washington gave Cincinnati an eight point halftime lead.
There was a scary moment in the first half when URI point guard Jarvis Garrett fell hard underneath his team’s basket and was taken from the floor on a stretcher.
He appeared to hit his head on a cameraman on his way to the ground, snapping his neck back.
He lay on the floor being treated for several minutes and was placed in a neck brace before walking under his own power to the stretcher. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation.
“We did get a text from him,” Hurley said. “Our guys’ love for him and love for each other as brothers just caused them to raise their level and want it even more.”
Cincinnati: The Bearcats were playing what amounted to a road game, just 41 miles from the URI campus. The American Conference pre-season favorites will try to bounce back from their first loss of the season on Sunday.
“They were the tougher team,” said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin. “They taught us a lot about ourselves today and our deficiencies with physical and mental toughness.”
Rhode Island: Coach Danny Hurley’s team outscored its first three opponents by an average of 90-66, but had to show resilience in this one, battling back from a 12-point first half deficit. No. 1 Duke is a handful the Blue Devils will be playing their third game in less than a week on Sunday and are extremely short on depth because of injuries.
Cincinnati may fall out of the Top 25, but shouldn’t be hurt much by an early season loss to the nation’s No. 21 team, as long as they take care of business Sunday against Penn State
RANKING THE WIN
Rhode Island beat a Top 25 opponent for just the second time during Hurley’s coaching tenure. The only other win came against No. 21 Nebraska in 2014. The Rams are 15-96 against ranked teams.
Rhode Island is next in line to take a shot at No. 1 Duke. The Blue Devils remain on top until the new poll is released Monday — despite losing to Kansas 77-75 on Tuesday. Duke beat Penn State in Saturday’s first game.
Cincinnati gets the consolation matchup in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off and will play Penn State on Sunday. The Nittany Lions could not manage a second-half run and lost to the Blue Devils 78-68 on Saturday.
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