Coene drops career-high 41 as Hawks top Salve Regina 88-74

Roger Williams University junior guard Austin Coene drives to the basket against Salve Regina University on Tuesday, Jan. 30.

In their first game without senior captain Jaylen Jennings who’s sidelined by a right ankle injury, the Roger Williams University men’s basketball team came away with a 88-74 victory over Salve Regina University on Tuesday night.

Junior guard Austin Coene led the Hawks with a career-high 41 points and five rebounds. Also contributing was sophomore guard Rich Pugliese with 15 points, senior guard Nick Marini with 10 points and senior forward Conor O’Brien with 10 points and seven boards. Freshman guard JJ Pfohl stepped into the starting spot for the injured Jennings.

The Seahawks hit the floor firing while the Hawks came out flat on defense.

Salve Regina shot their way to 69 percent first-half shooting and a 46-41 lead at halftime. With Jennings out of the lineup and the Hawks struggling slightly to score, Coene took the offensive load upon himself in the first-half scoring 19 points to keep RWU afloat.

“The first-half—that was the worst defensive half we’ve played in two years,” said Hawks Head Coach Michael Tully. “It was as bad as we could possibly play first-half. Second-half was about as good as you can do it.”

To start the second-half, the Hawks came out with a sense of urgency to stop the ball, which got them back in it.

“We really tuned it up and our intensity just rose,” Pfohl said. “Then as soon as one good thing happens we keep just feeding off of that. So we just need that one good thing to happen and then we’re golden.”

The Hawks began to string stops and effort plays together in the second-half turning them into offensive opportunities. No clearer than a sequence when Coene capitalized on a 3-pointer off a Salve turnover to tie the score at 48 with 17:17 left in the game, then sophomore forward Ian Carmichael followed as he got loose on the fastbreak for a massive two-handed slam that had the home crowd going crazy, and a 50-48 lead.

With Jennings out, younger guys stepped up throughout the night to fill the void. Their play throughout the second-half in particular was the difference.

Pugliese had nine of his 15 in the second-half, while junior guard Jake Heaton hit two timely 3-pointers in the game, including a triple that put the Hawks up nine, 64-55, with 9:23 to go in the frame. Freshman forward Andrew Hart came in and took a charge and played solid defense in only nine minutes of action, then finally Pfohl stepped into the starting role with six rebounds.

“I think it’s great,” Tully said of the contributions of his younger players. “Anytime you get contributions like that from your bench and younger guys who haven’t played a lot, they can come in and fill a void from a starter, senior captain, it’s a really good thing.”

“I was really comfortable,” Pfohl said on stepping into the starting lineup. “Our teammates make it really easy to do that because everyone’s so positive towards each other. Everyone’s just one big family. It was really easy actually, the transition, and they made it really easy. Coach was just saying play like you regularly play. It’s no difference, it’s just the spot. Just play the way you know how to play.”

The Hawks outscored the Seahawks 47-28 in the second period to turn the night in their favor. RWU held Salve to only nine points in the first 11 minutes of the half to get an advantage.

Tully wouldn’t disclose the message he gave his players at halftime that led to the Hawks’ stifling second-half defense, but said his message was received nonetheless.

“It didn’t matter what I said, but it was loud,” he said. “We just didn’t have the intensity and enthusiasm and communication that we have when we’re playing well defensively and that’s what they did in the second-half and it changed the game.”

With the victory, RWU captured their third straight victory and improved to 14-6 overall while 8-5 in the conference.

Next on the schedule is Wentworth Institute of Technology. The Hawks will head north to Boston for a Saturday afternoon tip-off with the Leopards looking for payback. WIT defeated the Hawks in Bristol 66-60 on Jan. 18.

“That game, coach really emphasized that we didn’t play our best defense and we’re really looking forward to that game because we wanna prove that we’ve gotten better and that we know how to play defense,” Pfohl said on the upcoming matchup. “If we play defense like we did second-half, then we’re a very tough team to beat.”

“They’re a good defensive team,” Tully said of Wentworth. “They got a really good scorer who can really shoot and they have a really good post player. And it’s a tough gym to play in, but we’ll be ready.”