GAME NOTES: Intrastate rivals will clash at the Ryan Center on Thursday night, as the Rhode Island Rams play host to the Providence Friars.
Providence most recently had a difficult task in facing nationally-ranked Kentucky on a neutral floor on Sunday evening, losing 79-65. The setback was just the Friars' second in nine outings this season, with their only other loss coming in the championship game of the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands to Maryland (56-52).
Rhode Island is also off to a solid start to the season at 6-3, but while it has beat up on smaller programs, it has fallen flat against equal or greater competition, having lost to SMU (89-58), Arizona (87-59) and George Mason (61-54). The good news for the Rams is that they are a perfect 6-0 at the Ryan Center this season.
In the storied all-time series between these neighboring schools, Providence holds a 69-54 advantage, including wins in three straight seasons.
The Friars had their hands full against the mighty Wildcats earlier in the week, as they were outshot from the field, 64.3 percent to 31.1 percent. Although they were able to keep the game relatively close by shooting a solid 17-of-23 from the foul line and by winning the turnover battle, 14-6. Bryce Cotton knocked down five 3-pointers on his way to 23 points, but he shot just 7-of-21 from the floor overall. Josh Fortune and Tyler Harris added 10 points apiece in the setback. Providence's production this season has been peculiar, as it boasts a +8.9 scoring margin, despite shooting just 40 percent from the field. A big reason for its success has been its ability to convert at the foul line, as it makes 81.7 percent of its 24.3 attempts per game. Cotton (19.0 ppg) has hurt his team with a poor field-goal percentage (.365), but he's nearly automatic from the stripe (56-of-61) and he has an outstanding assist (47) to turnover (18) ratio. Kadeem Batts (7.4 rpg), LaDontae Henton (7.7 rpg) and Harris are strong scoring options as well with 12.9 points per game each.
The Rams were locked up in a tight battle with George Mason throughout the last game, but after tying the score at 54 with under three minutes to play, they surrendered the game's final seven points as they dropped to 0-3 on the road. The squad shot just 40 percent from the field, including 2-of-10 from 3- point range, and it was hindered by 15 turnovers. Xavier Munford and Gilvydas Biruta were the only players to score in double figures with 13 and 12 points, respectively. On the season, Rhode Island gets outshot by its opponents from the floor, 46.9 percent to 43.2 percent, but it is still able to hold on to a slim +0.3 scoring margin thanks in part to earning second-chance possessions with 12.2 offensive rebounds per game. Munford leads the way with 14.9 points per game and he makes good on nearly 75 percent of his 5.7 free-throw attempts per game. E.C. Matthews is bringing 10.4 points per game to the table in his freshman season, doing most of his damage off the bench.
Rhode Island has not answered the call against strong competition this season, and even though it'll be amped up to play its rival on its home floor, Providence's superior talent will win out in the end.
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