Men’s basketball outlasts Coast Guard Academy in season opener

Andrew Wuebker, Sports Editor

It was only one game, but the Hawks got off to the flying start to the season they were looking for.

The Roger Williams University men’s basketball team came away with an 83-76 victory in their 2017-18 season opener over the Coast Guard Academy Bears on Wednesday night, leading nearly the entire way despite multiple runs attempted by the Bears to close the gap.

“We just kept telling ourselves we got to play good defense, communicate on offense and everything and as long as we stick together and everything we’re gonna make our own runs too,” said junior guard Austin Coene, who led the Hawks in scoring with 25.

Coene was one of four Hawks to score in double figures on the night. Senior guard Nick Marini added 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting while senior forward Conor O’Brien had 16 and nine boards. Senior guard Jaylen Jennings also chipped in with 10 points.

Opening night couldn’t come soon enough for what was an excited Hawks team that’s seeking to follow up a masterful 2016-17 campaign with an even better season. With several new faces on the back end of the roster and two starters from last season graduated, the Hawks had some work cut out for them against Coast Guard, but quickly showed how good they can be as the night went on.

The matchup between the Hawks and Bears was the second game of a doubleheader at the Campus Recreation Center’s main gymnasium on Wednesday. The women’s basketball team posted a thrilling 61-60 comeback performance over Brandeis to begin the night. So with over 175 students in attendance, the pressure was on the men’s squad to also get a dub.

The Hawks found themselves trailing early to start when the Bears got off to a quick 5-0 lead, but the Hawks answered with an 8-2 run to take their first lead of the night at 8-7.

Fluid movement on and off the ball by RWU was a major factor in their offensive performance throughout the evening, but especially in the first 20 minutes when RWU shot 54 percent from the field, as highlighted by freshman JJ Pfohl’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer from half court which gave RWU a 46-38 lead at the break.

Coene and O’Brien did a bulk of their damage in the first-half with Coene scoring 16 of his 25 in the frame and O’Brien scoring 11 of his 16 in the period also.

Coast Guard wouldn’t go away quietly however. The Bears used 15 second chance points off 14 offensive rebounds to keep themselves afloat and steadily began to crack down on the Hawks defensively, causing 14 second-half turnovers and no longer allowed RWU clean cuts to the basket.

The Bears eventually pulled to within one at 56-55 with just under 14 minutes to play in the second-half, but the Hawks answered right back with a 12-2 run, capped off by sophomore guard Rich Pugliese’s 3-pointer with 8:36 left, increasing RWU’s lead to 11.

But again, the Bears wouldn’t go away. With the Hawks up 68-60 with just over eight minutes to go, back-to-back turnovers by Marini resulted in easy scores for Coast Guard.

Like many times earlier in the night however, RWU stuck together and made the key run that put the game away. Over the next three possessions, RWU got the stops they needed and capitalized with three consecutive 3-pointers. One each by Pugliese, O’Brien and Jennings, making the score 77-64 with 5:20 to play.

Forced to press in the last few minutes, Coast Guard got to within five, but with little time left were forced to foul and the Hawks converted on just enough free throws to keep the Bears at bay, ultimately making RWU 1-0 to start the year.

Coene said it was a great first win of the season for the team and was made even better with young guys like Pugliese, Pfohl and Andrew Hart stepping up, but also said there’s much to be improved on.

“Big improvements are definitely defense,” he said. “I don’t know how many points they had but it was way too much and then offensively we got to slow down sometimes — a lot of turnovers, especially myself, but other than that we looked good and there’s a lot of things to work on.”

Up next: The Hawks host Emmanuel College in the first game of the Courtyard by Marriott Tournament on Friday, Nov. 17 at 5:30 p.m.