Hawks edge Nor’easters 90-83; Jennings suffers right ankle injury

Roger Williams University men’s basketball junior guard Austin Coene dribbles the ball up-court against University of New England on Saturday, Jan. 27. The Hawks topped the Nor’easters 90-83. 

The Roger Williams University men’s basketball team came away with a 90-83 victory over the University of New England Nor’easters on Saturday, Jan. 27, but at the expense of Hawks’ starting forward Jaylen Jennings suffering a right ankle injury.

Led by senior guard Nick Marini, who tallied a near double-double with 19 points, nine rebounds and five assists while playing all 40 minutes, the Hawks were able to grab their seventh Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) victory.

“It’s huge,” he said on the importance of getting conference wins late in the year. “Every game in the league is big no matter who we’re playing. They all mean something come playoff time and it would be nice to have another playoff home game here. And right now the league is pretty close all around so every game is pretty important.”

Four other Hawks reached double figures on the afternoon. Coene was the team’s leading scorer dropping 22 points, adding seven rebounds and seven steals. Jennings and sophomore guard Rich Pugliese each added 16, and freshman JJ Pfohl added 12 off the bench with 10 rebounds.

Coming into the matchup, the Hawks were dealt the task of containing the high-scoring, high-volume shooting Nor’easters. UNE came into the game averaging over 100 points per game despite shooting less than 38 percent from the field; worst in the CCC. UNE also came into the matchup having taken the most shots out of any other CCC team, including 924 3-pointers—over 300 more than the next team.

UNE’s ball-pursuing nature — which in turn gives themselves extra possessions off forced turnovers — often resulted in 3-pointers. Breaking their pressure was one key for RWU going into the matchup. The Hawks were successful in doing just that in the first meeting this season when RWU bested UNE 107-76 on Dec. 2, holding them to 25 percent (26-of-103) shooting from the field and 23 percent (19-of-83) from distance.

The Hawks would need to replicate that effort throughout if they hoped to win.

“Well, coming into the game, we knew they would pursue the basketball,” Marini said. “They trap a lot, send a lot of guys at you. We did a job good job of simulating it in practice, so it was good to see that for two days. And just come out, trust each other, make the right pass and the rest will take care of itself.”

Throughout the first-half, neither team was able to gain a double-digit advantage as the teams for the majority traded buckets. The Hawks came close when they built an eight-point lead with 3:26 left in the half, but the Nor’easters’ plus-21 on the 3-point line was the difference, keeping things close as they trailed only 44-42 at the half.

In the second-half, the Hawks stayed the course on offense and did just enough on defense to increase their lead. Containing UNE’s paint penetration and defending the 3-point line was the difference in the second-half according to Hawks coach Michael Tully.

“What they actually want to do before they shoot is drive into the lane and keeping them out of that is really what allows you to contest,” Tully said. “When you let them get in, they get easy two’s or being able to draw guys and kick it, then that’s when you get into problems. I thought in the first-half they shot well and we had our hands down a lot when we were guarding the perimeter. I thought in the second-half we were much better in terms of taking them off the 3-point line.”

Jennings suffered the injury late in the second-half of the contest. He appeared to suffer the injury when fighting for a rebound after UNE missed a jump shot with under two minutes remaining. He appeared to collide with Coene while fighting for the ball and took an elbow to the face area.

Jennings immediately crumpled to the floor reaching for his face while play continued, then pushed himself out of bounds on the far baseline.

RWU’s athletic trainers came over once play stopped and tended to him. Minutes later he was assisted by the trainers in walking to the team bench.

Tully confirmed post-game that Jennings had suffered a right ankle sprain. Marini said afterward Jennings was “good” in the locker room.

Jennings was wearing a walking boot on the ankle after the game and is expected to miss a week or two minimum before he returns to game action.

The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Hawks as they have only six games remaining on the regular season slate—all CCC matchups. Three of the six games are also against conference powerhouses Wentworth, Gordon and Endicott, all of whom dealt the Hawks losses earlier in the month.

“We just need to have the ‘next man up’ mentality so if he’s not gonna be able to play for next game, next guy comes in does their job,” Marini said.

The Hawks return to action on Tuesday, Jan. 30 for a date with neighboring Salve Regina University (8-11, 5-7 CCC) at home. Tip-off is 7:30 p.m.