Pittsburgh, PA — Five years ago, E.C. Matthews took a chance on second-year Rhode Island men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley when there was not much to show signs of improvement, yet he committed to the Rams and despite injury never wavered.
Saturday, the two walked off the basketball court together for the last time together arm around each other’s shoulder, with Matthews covering his mouth with a towel and Hurley’s hand covering most of his head.
“This is my guy,” Matthews said. “I know we’re not the same color, but he’s definitely my father. We were just trying to walk off the court the right way. We picked this program off the ground. You know I love this guy.”
Another senior guard, Jared Terrell, used his towel to cover his face as he walked off the court with senior forward Andre Berry behind him.
The fourth senior, guard Jarvis Garrett has overcome injury and serious illness to return to the floor and it was clear he was still processing that he was playing in his last game.
Freshman Fatts Russell greeted the last senior, guard Stanford Robinson and the two put their arms around each other as each headed to the Rhode Island locker room.
These seniors have experienced plenty of success having won the Atlantic 10 Championship on this very court in 2017 and then a first round contest earlier in the week, while Hurley has won throughout Pittsburgh including a win as Wagner’s coach Dec. 23, 2011.
Saturday afternoon, the second-seeded Duke Blue Devils ended Rhode Island’s season with an 87-62 win in front of 19,115 fans at PPG Paints Arena.
“We played really well today,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I mean, you know, from start to finish. It was one of our best games.”
Hurley was quite complimentary of Duke’s effort in this game.
“Credit Duke, they played an A-plus game,” he said. “We just, couldn’t find enough ways to stop a team that probably, started five first-round picks. We would have needed a C-plus game from them just to have a chance today to be competitive. That was the best display of basketball I’ve seen played against one of my Rhode Island teams in six years. Those guys were locked in today.”
Rhode Island led for most of the opening eight minutes but after the second media timeout, Duke went on a 16-3 scoring run which broke open the game.
Duke had success guarding Terrell, holding him to 10 points on 4-13 shooting, his third-lowest shooting percentage this season and his lowest point total since Feb. 9 against Davidson.
This allowed Duke to key in on Matthews who had a quick start to the game but during this stretch was met with heavy ball pressure at every catch.
“I thought we were a little bit nervous at the start of the game, and we didn’t have the looks that we then had for 36 minutes,” said Krzyzewski. “I thought we made this one sub, Javin (DeLaurier) for Tre (Duvall). When Tre got back in the game the second time, then he was who he’s been for the last couple of weeks. We also were playing the zone pretty well.”
Krzyzewski meanwhile passed Pat Summitt for most all-time wins in NCAA Division I history. This was something that was brought to his attention on Friday and he remained modest citing that Summitt would have had more had she not encountered health issues and that eventually someone will break his record.
As both teams mentioned during practice media availability Friday, height certainly played a factor but not just on the rebounds, which Duke was a +7 on.
Though, Rhode Island was used to facing a zone defense, it was not used to seeing one played with Duke’s height.
“They just played the zone so high,” Terrell said. “It’s hard to catch a wind because they played so far off the line. We just tried to get to the middle and show corners and in the corners, but it was just tough getting over their big guys.”
Rhode Island also encountered trouble defensively as Duke shot 56.9% overall from the field The Rams defense surrendered 10 three-point shots, which set a season-high total.
Duke’s win puts it in Omaha for a Sweet Sixteen contest against either Michigan State or Syracuse on Thursday with a time to be determined.
“We’re excited and honored to be going to Omaha,” said Krzyzewski. “That’s such a good thing for our team and we’re proud of it, and have time to get ready.”
Rhode Island meanwhile will lose its five seniors but return Russell, Cyril Langevine and Jeff Dowtin among others and an incoming freshman class Rivals.com called the best in the country among mid-major programs in guard Brendan Adams, forward Jermaine Harris, forward Tyrese Martin and forward Dana Tate.
Villanova sees triple in second round win
At halftime of Saturday afternoon’s game against Alabama, freshman guard Mikal Bridges met with teammates and coaches with a challenge being put in place.
What followed was 16 of his 23 minutes coming in the second half. His play earned some praise from Alabama coach Avery Johnson who stated Bridges is a little like Andre Iguodala but has a better jump shot.
“My teammates and coaches they pick me up and kept confidence in myself to go out there and just play, play like how I play, just play good old basketball,” Bridges said. “I just try to be everywhere. They were just staying on me, you know, just attitude, just go out there. We know what we have to do. I mean, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have played how I played.”
In the first half, junior guard Jalen Brunson picked up his second foul, just prior to the 10 minute mark in the first half and someone had to step up in his absence, which is exactly what redshirt junior guard Donte DiVincenzo did.
DiVincenzo sank five three-point shots and with Alabama very much in the game, his scores were what helped Villanova achieve a little separation.
All 18 of his points came in the first half.
“I just came in and my job was to just defend and rebound,” he said. “I felt like I was defending at a high rate. We were just running things and I found myself hot. We kept running and I was just trying to make the right play, whether it was a pass or a shot.”
Top-seeded Villanova was able to best ninth-seeded Alabama by an 81-58 score Saturday afternoon in front of a sold-out PPG Pants Arena.
“We played well,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. ” In the second half our defense picked up, got us out in transition. That kind of opened up the game, got us some open looks. We were much better obviously in transition than we were against their half court defense which were very good. We give them a lot of credit and we’re very happy to beat a very good team.”
Alabama coach Avery Johnson tried to call twice as his team was up against an 18-1 run to open second half play. It did not work.
“n the second half, when the game got out of hand,” he said. “It looked like, they were a team that has played deep in the NCAA Tournament and obviously with that championship pedigree.”
There was a bright side for Alabama as freshman guard Collin Sexton moved to third on the team’s single-season most points scored in a season with 632.
His status for the NBA draft remains in the air.
“Right now, I’m worried about my team and celebrating with my team because we had a great season,” said Sexton. “Also, I got to finish school, and I’m trying to finish with a 4.0.”
Villanova will play either West Virginia or Marshall in Boston on Thursday with a time yet to be determined.