Matchup: Duquesne (11-3, 1-0 A-10) at Rhode Island (14-2, 0-1)
Rankings: Duquesne, #43 in Pomeroy Rankings (2nd in A-10); Rhode Island, #46 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Rhode Island, 92-87 in 85 possessions
Upset Possibility: 35%
KINGSTON, R.I. -- Jimmy Baron redeemed himself just in time against Duquesne.
The senior guard shrugged off a terrible shooting performance to knock down a fadeaway 12-footer that put the Rams ahead by one with three seconds left. Rhode Island then held on to emerge with a thrilling 80-78 victory over its Atlantic 10 rival at the Ryan Center on Sunday afternoon.
The last minute of the contest saw a flurry of thrilling, back-and-forth action that lived up to the game's promise as a matchup between two of the fastest-paced teams in the nation. After Rams forward Will Daniels hit two free throws to put Rhode Island up 77-76, Duquesne had shot attempts blocked twice before a Rams steal led to a fast break the other way. Guard Keith Cothran was not able to convert a rushed layup, and the Dukes pushed the ball back up the court with a chance to retake the lead. Guard Reggie Jackson drove the left side of the lane, hit an acrobatic running bank and drew the foul, a play which turned down the volume of a raucous 5,500 at the Ryan Center.
Jackson missed his chance to be the hero and quiet the crowd for good, however, when his free throw bounced off the iron and into the hands of Daniels. Daniels found Baron, who, despite a 3-of-13 effort from the floor up to that point, attacked the hoop without any hesitation, driving baseline for the critical shot.
"Down the stretch I have a lot of confidence in hitting the last shot, especially coming off a pretty poor shooting game," Baron said.
Duquesne threw the ball out of bounds tying to get it to halfcourt, then fouled to put Rhode Island forward Kahiem Seawright at the line. Seawright made the first and missed the second with three seconds left, which proved not enough time for the Dukes to get off a desperation attempt before the buzzer.
While both teams shot the ball well--Duquesne had a 55 eFG%, and Rhode Island 53%--the Dukes' inability to stop Daniels, either offensively or on the glass, proved the difference in a game that featured five ties and 11 lead changes. The 6'8" senior scored 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting, one point off his career high, and also had 11 rebounds. Again and again, Daniels was able to cut through the Dukes defense to the hoop and keep Rhode Island close after the Rams fell behind by seven midway through the second half. Daniels also had several big offensive rebounds and put-backs down the stretch that helped bring the Rams back into a position from which they could strike.
"I always want the ball in my hands," Daniels said. "I feel that when the ball is in my hands, something good is going to happen."
Both Daniels and his frontcourt mate, the 6'8" junior Seawright, were able to cause havoc down low and get to the free-throw line, as the pair combined for 20 trips to the stripe. In this, Rhode Island benefited from the absence of 6'1l" Dukes senior Kieron Achara, who played only six minutes before he was knocked in the face and forced to leave. The Rams shot 20-of-28 from the stripe overall, while Duquesne was only 8-of-16, well off its seasonal showing of 75 percent.
"The most disappointing thing for me is that we put ourselves in a position to win this basketball game if we had just hit our free throws," Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said.
Behind by one at halftime, Rhode Island hit six of its first seven shots to open the second period, and pulled ahead by six on guard Parfait Bitee's three-pointer with 18:11 to play. Duquesne, which plays at the fourth-fastest pace of any team in the country, soon turned that around with its characteristic running game. Thanks to good outlet passes after defensive rebounds and several steals, the Dukes got out on the fast break and scored 10 unanswered points to take a 62-55 lead with 10:25 to play. However, Daniels then went to work, scoring nine points the rest of the way.
"He played very aggressive, just took the ball to the bucket," coach Jim Baron said. "We had told him--[Duquesne's Shawn] James is going to be a real hard-nosed type of shot blocker, just take it to him."
James, a willowy 6'10" forward, did block four shots, but he also committed five turnovers, and was whistled for goaltending on several critical occasions. The biggest came with a minute and a half to play on a shot by guard Keith Cothran that cut the Duquesne lead down to 76-75.
"We had a couple of what I thought were good plays that resulted in goaltending calls," Everhart said. "This is my third year [coaching James], and I don't remember one [goaltending call] until today."
Jackson led the Dukes with 19 points on 7-of-11 from the floor, while Baron finished with 14 for Rhode Island and Seawright added 10 boards.
The Rams picked up their first win of the year in the Atlantic 10 in a game that might well be a preview of a critical conference tournament matchup. With the league looking much improved this season--four A-10 teams are in the Pomeroy top 50, and as a whole the league is ranked just behind the six power conferences--if Rhode Island, currently ranked in both the ESPN and AP national polls, and Duquesne do meet again, a berth in the NCAA tournament could be on the line.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.