Strong start propels Hawks past RPI in Courtyard by Marriott finale

Junior Dalton Prendergast searches for an open teammate after being blocked by an opponent.

The Roger Williams University men’s basketball team came into Saturday playing their third game in four days.

It didn’t matter.

For the third game in a row, the Hawks just had their way. Junior guard Austin Coene scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds while senior forward Jaylen Jennings added 16 points with five boards and five assists as RWU (3-0 overall) used a fast start paired with a stout defensive effort to defeat the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers in the Courtyard by Marriott Tip-Off Tournament finale 70-59 on Saturday afternoon, Nov. 18.

“It feels great,” sophomore guard Rich Pugliese said on starting the season 3-0, “very confident in where we’re starting to come together as a team and things are really starting to flow together.”

All afternoon long, the Hawks owned the inside. The box score may say otherwise, but RWU’s dribble penetration got them into the paint whenever they liked. When RPI’s defense collapsed as a result, the often outcome was a trey, as the Hawks capitalized on 11-of-24 shots from beyond the arc. On defense, the Hawks made the Engineers appear inept offensively. The Hawks soared to a 15-0 run to begin the game with RPI going 0-for-6 from the floor and committing four turnovers during the stretch. The Engineers didn’t score until the 13:50 mark in the first-half.

The Hawks’ bench also played a part in the team’s fast start, as their loud and energetic demeanor seemed to intimidate the Engineers at times. Hawks Head Coach Michael Tully agreed.

“Yeah, no question and what that is, is just buy-in by everybody,” he said. “When everybody’s buying in then that’s what happens and when that happens you got six guys on the court, sometimes seven.”

That buy-in and support seemed to work for the Hawks as RWU’s starters were operating on all cylinders. No more than Pugliese who went 4-of-6 from 3-point range with a career-high 15 points, making his first four triples. Pugliese talked about his comfort level as a starter this season three games in.

“To be honest with you in the start of the season, I was a little bit nervous coming into the role as a sophomore because all the other starters are upperclassmen,” he said, “but now I’m starting to really feel comfortable and start playing with these guys a little more, it makes it easier.”

At the half, the Hawks led RPI 40-27; a sizeable margin but could have been up more if not allowing the Engineers to grab nine offensive rebounds resulting in more second chance opportunities.

In the second-half, the Hawks extended their lead to as large as 26 with 12:31 remaining in the half. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute attempted a late run to try and cut the deficit, but would get no closer than 11 points, as the Hawks eventually got their third win in as many games.

Tully said he was pleased overall with the performance from his players in their first three outings and complimented how well they adjusted to the different styles of basketball they competed against.

“I’m pleased. What I liked is I thought we played three totally different teams, totally different styles and in those three games we’ve had to go just about against everything you’ll see in basketball,” he said. “We played a team that presses. We played a team that was aggressive and aggressive with the dribble, different styles. Today, we played a very methodical team that really executes their offense really well and they’re very skilled and we just took them out of everything they wanted to do. So I’m super impressed with with the way we adapted to all three different games.”

Pugliese, while happy with the victory, said there is much to be improved upon if the Hawks are to sustain their early season success.

“We’ve done a lot well, but there’s always room to improve. I think we always can improve our defense and our ball movement on offense.”

The Hawks will have Sunday off, then return to practice on Monday to prepare for a home game vs. the Wheaton College Lyons on Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 4 p.m.