No. 23 Rhode Island hosts Belmont in another tune-up

After having played five games and winning four of them in 10 days, No. 23 Rhode Island was anxious to get back to business as usual before hosting Belmont on Friday night.

“I'm proud of the guys and happy, obviously,” coach Dan Hurley said after his Rams lost to No. 1 Duke in the final of the Hall of Fame Tip Off Tournament in Connecticut last Sunday.

“We would have loved to have won today or least have a chance in the last minute or two, but the reality of it is, five games in 10 days, that's like an NBA schedule and then add into that … we played a war, Cincinnati (in the semifinals) probably took a little bit from us today.

“Not to make any excuses at all, but that was a taxing war we played with a high-level team and then to turn around and face the No. 1 team in the country; that was a tall task for us but, man, we learned a lot about ourselves this weekend about what we can be and we've got to kind of get cleaned up the next time, hopefully in March that we face somebody like this.”

The Rams started the season ranked 23rd, moved up to No. 21 and then dropped back to 23 after the loss. They now face a 1-2 Belmont team at home before a tough week next week — at Valparaiso and at local rival Providence and the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence.

“Just proud of the way the guys play(ed) the whole weekend,” Hurley said Sunday. “I think today was a tremendous learning experience for us that we can move on from.”

Belmont, picked preseason to win the Ohio Valley Conference, has lost to Vanderbilt and Florida and defeated Western Kentucky.

At Florida, the Bruins, who are led in scoring (20.7 per game) and rebounding (8.3) by 6-foor-7 forward Evan Bradds, the OVC preseason player of the year, didn't score for the first 5:13 and fell behind 24-4 before making a game of it.

A 3-point shooting team, they went 25-for-75 from behind the arc in the first two games but were just 7-for-27 against Florida.

Now, they're on to URI.

“Rhode Island presents a number of challenges for any opponent it faces,” coach Eric Byrd said Wednesday. “In watching them on film, their individual talent and versatility jump off the screen. Their players play with great confidence.”

E.C. Matthews, who was handled by Duke's Grayson Allen and scored just nine points Sunday, leads the Rams in scoring at 17.4 points per game — with four starter averaging in double figures through the first five games. Hassan Martin, who is scoring at a 13.6 per game clip, leads URI in rebounding with 7.4 boards per contest.

“We beat an outstanding team,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Sunday. “Danny, he hasn't built a team, he's built a program. They love one another, they play together … it was such a competitive game.”