FGCU falls short at Rhode Island

Courtesy of FGCUAthletics.com

KINGSTON, R.I. – The FGCU men’s basketball team (7-8) held a four-point advantage late in the 1st half on Wednesday night at a Rhode Island team (8-3) receiving votes in the national polls, but a turnover-plagued stretch by the Eagles bridging both halves allowed the Rams to go on a run and ultimately produce an 80-60 victory at the Ryan Center.

Antravious Simmons led FGCU in scoring for the first time this year with 14 points, one shy of matching his season high. Simmons (Miami, Fla./VCU/South Miami HS) paced a trio of Green and Blue double-figure scorers as Brandon Goodwin (Norcross, Ga./UCF/Norcross HS) added 10 and RaySean Scott Jr. (Compton, Calif./Compton HS) also recorded 10 as the Eagles finished with a season-low point total.

The determining stretch of the game came in the middle portion during an extended 21-6 Rhode Island run bridging both stanzas. During that seven-minute nugget from the final two minutes of the 1st half through the first five minutes of the 2nd half, FGCU had 10 possessions and committed turnovers on seven of them.

The Eagles scored on each of the other three, but URI – which entered the game with an RPI of 17, five spots higher than Wichita State – was able to turn a 32-28 deficit into a 49-38 lead – an advantage which eventually grew to as much as 23 later in the half. After shooting 57 percent from the floor in the 1st half, FGCU connected at just a 38-percent clip in the 2nd half as the Rams outscored the Eagles by 14 in the final 20 minutes.

“Our competitiveness is missing right now, and that needs to be addressed and fixed immediately,” commented FGCU head coach Joe Dooley. “We need to be better at fighting back and responding to adversity, because that’s lacking right now as well. We need to be tougher.”

A back-and-forth 1st half which featured eight ties and seven lead changes concluded with URI rattling off 10-straight points to turn what was the aforementioned four-point FGCU lead into a 38-32 halftime edge for the Rams. The Eagles only committed four turnovers through the first 18:40 of the opening stanza, but gave the ball away on each of their final three possessions of the half, leading directly to four of Rhode Island’s 10 1st-half points off turnovers.

Rhode Island – which entered the game ranked 7th in the nation in turnover margin at +5.7 – finished the opening half about on that pace as the Rams gave the ball away just twice. That was a key factor in the Atlantic 10 defending champions and preseason favorites holding an intermission lead despite FGCU shooting 12-21 in the 1st half and the Rams connecting at 42 percent (13-31).

Rhode Island – FGCU’s sixth matchup this year against a team which finished in the top 40 of the RPI (31), won at least 25 games (25) and played in the postseason (NCAA) last year – carried its momentum into the 2nd half and eventually created its first double-digit lead of the night, 49-38, at the 15-minute mark. That double-figure edge remained intact throughout most of the rest of the game for the Rams as FGCU dropped its fourth straight and sixth out of seven overall.

URI was the third opponent in the last five games for FGCU that was either nationally ranked or receiving votes in the polls (rv UT Arlington: 85-78 win; #11 (now #8) Wichita State: 75-65 loss). Each of the Rams’ starters reached double-figure points, led by E.C. Matthews with 20 in just his third game back from an injury. After shooting 42 percent from the floor in the 1st half, URI shot it at a 56-percent clip (14-25) in the 2nd half.

Ricky Doyle (Cape Coral, Fla./Michigan/Bishop Verot HS) – who had scored just 12 points total in the previous five games – was coming off a five-point outing at then-#11 Wichita State on Friday and continued his good play into Wednesday as he tallied five of the Eagles’ first dozen and finished with nine points on the night.

FGCU shot just 2-9 from 3-point range after averaging double-figure makes over its previous four games. Meanwhile, URI connected at a 10-26 rate (39 percent) from beyond the arc. The Rams finished with an 18-5 edge in points off turnovers, but the Eagles closed the game with a 36-28 advantage in the paint and 20-7 off the bench.

FGCU – playing its final non-conference road game, and D-I opponent of the year – returns to action as it concludes its non-league docket at home against a pair of non-D-I opponents in Florida Memorial (Dec. 29, 5 PM) and Florida Tech (Dec. 31, 1 PM).

NOTEWORTHY: FGCU used its 10th different starting lineup, tied for the most in the nation this year (UT Martin) … each of FGCU’s seven non-conference road games were held in different states … in 2015-16, FGCU was 7-7 through 14 games, but went on to post a 21-14 record and win an NCAA Tournament game … Scott Jr. made his first 3-pointer of the season to open the game’s scoring … Zach Johnson (Miami, Fla./Norland HS) scored six points and is now just 21 shy of 1,000 for his career.

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