No. 18 Rhode Island can clinch share of A-10 title
After suffering its first Atlantic 10 loss in more than a year, No. 18 Rhode Island must pick up the pieces for its next game Tuesday at La Salle.
The Rams (21-4, 13-1 Atlantic 10) can clinch a tie for the regular-season conference title with a win.
They are coming off a 77-74 loss at St. Bonaventure on Friday, their first defeat since losing 68-64 at Alabama on Dec. 6 and their first setback in conference play since losing 53-43 against Fordham on Feb. 15, 2017. Before the loss, Rhode Island had the nation's longest winning streak at 16 games.
Senior guard Jared Terrell, who missed a potentially game-tying shot with 4.8 seconds left at St. Bonaventure, led the Rams with 23 points. Senior guard E.C. Matthews scored all of his 14 points in the second half, playing three days after hurting his left knee in an 85-67 win over Richmond.
"I think (St. Bonaventure's) grittiness kind of knocked us on our heels a little bit," said Rams coach Dan Hurley, who became animated during a timeout huddle late in the game. "I want to get these guys juiced up, because the place was obviously electric. I was trying to just create some energy. It was a meager attempt, but I had to try something."
Although Rhode Island suffered the loss, the packed gym and intensity in the game can pay dividends with March Madness around the corner.
It might allow Hurley to get his team to refocus after seeing notable winning streaks snapped -- 21 straight games against Atlantic 10 opponents and 11 straight road wins in league play dating to last season.
"We knew we were playing an NCAA-caliber team on the road in an unbelievable environment," Hurley said. "We knew we were going to have to almost go to hell and back to win this game. We just didn't make enough plays down the stretch."
Rhode Island took eight fewer shots and was outscored 18-7 off turnovers, committing a season-high 17. It was only the second time this season the Rams were held in single digits off opposing turnovers, the first coming in an 87-73 win over St. Bonaventure on Jan. 13 in Kingston.
Behind a career-high 20 points and 14 rebounds from senior center Tony Washington, La Salle (11-16, 5-9) enters Tuesday's game off a 69-62 win over George Mason, only its second win in its last six games.
The Explorers lost 74-62 at Rhode Island on Jan. 3. Sophomore guard Isiah Deas had 17 points to lead the Explorers in the game. They were playing their third consecutive game without the conference's leading scorer at the time, senior guard B.J. Johnson, who was out with an ankle injury.
Johnson has played in 10 games since, scoring in double figures in each, averaging 18.9 points a game. He averages 20.5 points and 8.0 rebounds for the season.
"We're getting healthy," La Salle coach John Giannini said after the win over George Mason. "I still think B.J. is not as comfortable as he was just because he hasn't been playing that much. We don't practice him that much because we don't want him to get hurt again.
"One of the reasons we feel more confident is we're getting better. I think the losses without (Johnson) affected us mentally. Now, I think we're feeling a little more confident and positive."
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