KINGSTON – A gritty all-around game from Nikola Malesevic and a second half wake-up by Xavier Munford led to the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team holding on for a 65-60 victory Saturday afternoon against Georgia State at the Ryan Center.
The Rams (4-7) led by as many as 10 in the first half, but poor shooting and 17 first half fouls led to ragged play by both teams as the half ended. URI took just a three-point lead into the locker room.
However, Munford followed up a scoreless first half with 17 in the second, including three 3s, one of which resulted in a four-point play. He also showed off his athleticism with two blocks, one of which came on a fastbreak layup.
In contrast to Munford, Malesevic played well the entire 36 minutes he was in. The senior also played more ruggedly than usual, finishing with a team-high nine rebounds, as the usual center rotation was short one man because of lingering concussion symptoms for Mike Aaman.
Malesevic poured in a team-high 22 points on an efficient 7-for-12 shooting line. However, his struggles at the line persisted, and made the closeout of the game interesting.
URI took a 62-57 lead with 1:47 after Ryan Brooks hit a free throw. His second shot clanked, and on the other end, Manny Atkins outmuscled Brooks for a rebound.
Atkins hit a put-back, and Brooks fouled him on the attempt. After sinking the free throw, Georgia State (5-7) pulled within two, 62-60, with 1:27 remaining.
Andre Malone got a clean look at the bucket on the next Rhody possession, but missed a long 3. However, Devonta White got swallowed up in the paint, as his layup attempt to tie the game was swatted by Malesevic and then controlled by Munford.
Munford hit a free throw to put URI up 63-60, but missed the second shot. URI managed to snag the rebound though off the miss, and Georgia State gave the foul to Malesevic. The game looked to be in hand as the Rams were now in the double bonus, and Malesevic had two chances to put URI up four.
However, Malesevic missed both shots, giving Georgia State another chance to tie. Atkins missed an open 3 though, and Malesevic got a chance at redemption as he was fouled on the rebound.
Given a second opportunity, Malesevic hit both shots, and Malone rebounded a final attempt by White to seal the game for URI.
Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter led all scorers with 23, as URI didn’t really have an answer for the sharpshooter. Hunter finished 7-for-11 from the field, but struggled to get the ball in the final two minutes.
URI also couldn’t turn the Panthers over, only forcing six turnovers. In contrast, the Rams had 12 turnovers, as the center rotation of Brooks and Jordan Hare was largely ineffective. The two combined for eight points, two blocks, a turnover and eight rebounds in 39 minutes, but Georgia State didn’t have a low post threat to expose the Rams.
The Rams next play 10 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27 at Saint Mary’s (4-6). URI hosts Brown (3-5) at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 4.
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