Hawks snap four-game skid behind dominant second half, thrash Golden Bears 81-58

Andrew Wuebker, Sports Editor

Roger Williams University men’s basketball coach Michael Tully said post-game that his guys needed to refocus defensively in order to stop the team’s recent four-game slide.

On Wednesday night, the Hawks got that job done.

Using a dominant second-half performance in which the Hawks outscored their opponents by 28 and held them to 28 percent shooting from the floor, RWU got back on the winning track, defeating the Western New England University Golden Bears 81-58 to snap a four-game losing streak.

“It was good to get a win at home, especially with a lot of people there, a lot of fan support,” said Hawks junior guard Austin Coene.

All of the Hawks’ starters reached double figures on the night, as Coene led all scorers with 28 points and seven rebounds. Senior forwards Conor O’Brien and Jaylen Jennings had 13 and 10 points, respectively, while senior guard Nick Marini added 11 points. Sophomore guard Rich Pugliese rounded out the scoring for the starters with 12 points and six rebounds in his return from injury after missing the last seven games.

Wednesday night was Coene’s 12th game this season scoring 20 points or more.

“My teammates love to get me the ball,” he said on how he’s able to stay consistent offensively. “They trust me and I thank them for that and we just all played well together.”

As students returned to classes Wednesday for the beginning of the spring semester, over 250 people packed the Campus Recreation Center bleachers for White Out night.

After the women’s team defeated the Golden Bears 67-56 in overtime earlier in the evening, the pressure was on for the men’s squad to make RWU 2-of-2 on the night’s doubleheader, but overcoming a resilient Golden Bears team and containing their leading scorer in junior Mikey Pettway was no easy task.

In the first 20 minutes of the contest, the Hawks showed every bit of the defensive struggles they’ve had in the past four games, plus some early trouble on the offensive end. The Golden Bears made attacking the basket for the Hawks difficult in the early going, forcing the Hawks into outside shots and little paint penetration that resulted in 34 percent shooting in the frame.

The Golden Bears quickly got out to a 6-0 lead when they made their first three shot attempts and the lead grew to as large as nine when they led 24-15 with 7:16 to play in the half.

The Hawks answered with an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to one, 24-23, with 3:15 to play in the period, but WNE’s 48 percent first-half shooting and Pettway’s 12 points on 6-of-10 from the floor helped the Golden Bears close the half on an 8-4 run, keeping the Hawks at a distance with a 32-27 lead at intermission.

Entering the second-half, RWU turned up the heat on offense and defense. The Golden Bears would make the first bucket of the half, but the Hawks went on a 9-0 run to take a 36-34 lead on a layup by Marini with 17:05 to go. Two free throws by Jennings, then a layup by Coene gave the Hawks a four-point cushion temporarily, but WNE fought back with a 9-0 run to take a five-point advantage again, 45-40, with 13:27 left to play.

It wasn’t until O’Brien’s 3-pointer that bounced around the rim and in with 9:52 left for a 50-49 advantage that gave the Hawks the lead for good.

For much of the second-half, it seemed as though the contest would be set up for a dramatic finish, but the Hawks’ stifling defense in the final 10 minutes enabled them to pull away. RWU outscored the Golden Bears 31-8 the rest of the way, a 37-point turnaround after trailing by nine in the first-half.

RWU put the brakes on Pettway, holding him to eight points on 4-of-10 shooting in the second-half and the rest of the Golden Bear offense. RWU began to contain the ball better, getting hands on loose balls and forced WNE into multiple turnovers that led to easy fastbreak buckets, open looks from the perimeter or trips to the foul line. RWU held the advantage in points off turnovers with 18 to WNE’s six and shot 54 percent in the second-half.

The sequence of the night perhaps came when O’Brien stuffed a Pettway jumper with 6:02 left in the half as the ball went right to Coene who took it down the court for a fastbreak score, giving the Hawks a 61-53 lead and completely shifting the momentum in the Hawks’ favor.

Unlike when the Hawks surrendered late leads to some of the Commonwealth Coast Conference top tier teams over the last week during the losing streak, the Hawks continued to get stops on this night and capitalized on easy transition baskets down the stretch, eventually giving the Hawks their first win in almost two weeks.

“After last Thursday when we lost the third game, we talked and just said, ‘You know what? Our defense is not where it needs to be and it’s been trending in a tough direction,’” Tully said. “At Nichols we played really well against the best team in the league and had an opportunity to beat them. We were much better. Got to practice two days, Monday and Tuesday, and worked on our defense and that’s what we did. I don’t think it showed up in the first six or seven minutes in the game, but I thought it showed up for the rest of it and certainly for the second-half.”

The Hawks (12-6, 6-5 CCC) moved into fifth place in the CCC standings, while the Golden Bears’ (8-9, 5-6 CCC) position remained unchanged, staying in seventh place.

With only seven games remaining on the schedule, the Hawks realize that to stay on the winning track they will need to get better on both ends of the floor, especially with tough league competition ahead.

“We just gotta realize that every game is gonna be a tough game,” Coene said. “There’s no game — especially in this league this year — there’s no easy games and we all gotta be ready to play every day.”

RWU returns to their home hardwood on Saturday, Jan. 27 for a date with University of New England (8-10, 6-5 CCC) at 3 p.m. The Hawks previously downed the Nor’easters 107-76 on Dec. 2, 2017.