Created on Sunday, 18 November 2012 Written by PAT EATON-ROBB,Associated Press
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Rhode Island fans stood and applauded as the Rams walked off the court after an 11-point loss to No. 4 Ohio State in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament.
URI (0-3) hasn't won yet under first-year coach Dan Hurley.
But after winning just seven times last season, and losing to Norfolk State and Virginia Tech in their first two games this season, this was progress.
Deshaun Thomas scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Buckeyes pulled away late to win 69-58.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. added 15 points, Aaron Craft had 13 points and four assists for Ohio State (2-0).
Xavier Munford had 16 points to lead Rhode Island, which had four players in double figures and trailed by just four at halftime.
"It was exciting to play with a lot of spirit and a lot of fight against a top-5, national-caliber program that has a great chance to play in the Final Four," said Hurley. "Based on where we are as a program, I couldn't be happier with the way we fought, the way we competed."
The Rams were down just six in this one when Craft hit a 3-point shot that bounced around the rim and in with 6:45 left and then stole the ball on the other end of the court.
That led to a technical foul on Hurley.
Thomas hit both free throws and the five-point swing gave Ohio State a 55-44 edge, its first double-digit lead of the game, and the Buckeyes held on from there.
"What it does for us is strengthen our resolve to find a way to succeed," Hurley said.
Hurley is expecting some growing pains in his first season with the Rams, who have just eight eligible scholarship players. Three others are transfers sitting out this season.
Rhode Island hit eight of its 17 shots from 3-point range to stay in the game, but was outrebounded by 10.
The Rams took an early lead and were up 19-13 after back-to-back 3-pointers by Nikola Malesevic and Andre Malone more than 10 minutes into the game.
Malesevic had seven points when he picked up his second and third fouls in a 12-second span in the first half and his team up 22-17.
Ohio State closed the half on a 7-0 run and led 30-26 at the break. Craft had 10 of his 13 points in the first half.
Malesevic picked up his fourth foul with 16:40 left and Ohio State quickly went up 38-31.
But Rhode Island fought back, and came within two at 38-36 on ally-oop dunk from Mike Powell to Munford.
"We just wanted to get after them, make it hard for them, make them feel uncomfortable," Munford said.
Thomas showed his range for the Buckeyes, hitting three of his six shots from behind the arc.
"We're just going to mark it down as a win," Thomas said. "We know we're a team that's can get better each and every day."
This was Ohio State's first game away from home, and its first on a neutral court.
The Buckeyes had been scheduled to play on Nov. 9 in the Carrier Classic on the USS Yorktown in South Carolina, but that game had to be cancelled because of condensation on the court.
So the Buckeyes had played just once, a 22-point home win in the opening game of this tournament last Sunday over Albany.
Ohio State plays on Sunday against Washington, which needed overtime to beat Seton Hall in the late game Saturday. Rhode Island will take on the Pirates.
With the loss, Rhode Island falls to 12-89 all-time against ranked opponents, and has lost 20 straight games against ranked teams, since beating No. 25 Utah in December 1998.
The game was played before a partisan Rhode Island crowd at the Mohegan Sun arena, which is the home of the WNBA's Connecticut Sun, and is about a 40-mile drive south of Rhode Island's campus on Interstate 95.
Those who came showed their appreciation for the Rams at the end, chanting U-R-I.
"It felt good," said Mike Powell, who had 10 points and six assists. "I wish they would chant 'cause we won."