RICHMOND, Virginia — Free throw shooting has been an issue for Rhode Island all season, but it saved the day on Sunday.
Clinging to a lead they had held all game, the Rams converted all six of their free throws in the final 18 seconds, just enough to hang on a beat Richmond 79-74. The victory pushed Rhode Island's winning streak to five games and left coach Dan Hurley delighted that his team came through.
"Those were huge because we were taking some water," Hurley said of four free throws by T.J. Buchanan and two by E.C. Matthews. "We were missing some and that monkey was kind of coming on our backs a little bit."
Matthews scored 26 points and Hassan Martin had 16 points and a career-high 16 rebounds for the Rams (16-5, 8-2 Atlantic 10). They never trailed and outrebounded the short-handed Spiders 44-29, but still had to fight off several challenges in the closing minutes to hand Richmond its third home loss.
"It probably was our best win of the year," Hurley said, citing the packed venue and his respect for Spiders coach Chris Mooney.
Kendall Anthony scored 28 points and Terry Allen had 19 for the Spiders (12-11, 5-5), but of greater concern for Mooney was the status of reserve forward Alonzo Nelkson-Adoda, who was inadvertently elbowed in the face early in the game and was taken to a hospital with a possible concussion.
Mooney said he was anxious to get more information about the team's second-leading rebounder and top shot blocker.
Rhode Island led 41-30 early in the second half before the Spiders scored nine straight. The Spiders got within one on Anthony's three-point play with 9:52 left, and several times got within two, but each time the Rams answered, finally getting a 3-pointer from Matthews to push their lead back to 60-53.
Anthony scored 22 in the second half.
"I just saw my team getting down so I felt I had to be more aggressive, attack more," Anthony said.
He made two free throws and a jumper in the closing minute to pull the Spiders to 73-70, but T.J. Cline was whistled for an intentional foul with 20.6 seconds left. Martin missed the free throws, but T.J. Buchanan was fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass and hit both free throws. He made two more after another acrobatic layup by the 5-foot-8 Anthony, and Matthews hit the final pair with 2 seconds left, erasing any chance of a miracle finish for Richmond.
The Rams used a 10-3 run midway through the first half to open an 18-10 lead. They eventually pushed their margin as high as 27-16 before Anthony scored six points to fuel a 9-3 burst for the Spiders.
Rhode Island's lead was 33-26 at the half, and the Rams had a 20-12 rebounding edge.
Rhode Island: The Rams had 16 offensive rebounds, but turned them into just 17 points.
Richmond: The Spiders were just 2 for 10 from 3-point range and missed 13 of 37 free throw attempts.
"Our goal was to keep them under 25 percent and to hold them to four or less," Hurley said of 3-pointers. "Them only making two was the difference."
Rhode Island plays at Saint Joseph's on Wednesday night.
Richmond is at home against Fordham on Wednesday night.
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