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Duke hands Rhode Island its first loss of the season

NCAA Basketball: Hall of Fame Tip Off-Rhode Island at Duke David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The Rhode Island Rams have a lot to build on after a solid outing in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament Championship.

After defeating Cincinnati yesterday, Rhode Island just couldn’t get anything going against Duke, falling to the Blue Devils 75-65 in the championship game on Sunday.

With preseason All-American Grayson Allen struggling throughout the contest — and three talented freshmen sitting out with injuries — someone had to step up offensively for the Blue Devils.

Luke Kennard and Amile Jefferson proved they were up to the task.

The Rams had no answer for Kennard or Jefferson.

Kennard led the way with 24 points while Jefferson tallied a second straight double-double outing (17 points and 15 rebounds). Kennard bounced back like any college veteran would. The sophomore had disappointing 5-of-16 shooting performance in Duke’s semifinal win against Penn State on Saturday. But Kennard stepped up by leading the team with a season-high in points on 8-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-5 from long range.

The bright side for URI was forward Hassan Martin —who led the Ram frontcourt with 15 points, six rebounds and five blocks. But Duke was able to exploit Rhode Island's lack of size due to the fact the Rams are without a true center, snagging 11 offensive rebounds.

The game was close early on as both offenses were slow to find a rhythm, but Duke started to pull away with a 17-4 run that began towards the end of first half and carried through the first media timeout in the second half. E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell—who was another bright spot for URI with 22 points—had helped Rhode Island cut the deficit to 25-24, but the Blue Devils finished the first half on a 9-2 spurt. Kennard came out firing on all cylinders and scored the first five points out of intermission to put some distance between them and Rhode Island.

Stanford Robinson — the transfer from Indiana — provided some help from the bench, finishing with 10 points and six rebounds. But Duke’s defense kept Matthews in check the entire game by holding the URI star to just nine points on 3-of-7 shooting.

This is the type of game the Rams can learn from as they progress through the season. It’s not a bad loss because URI fought the 40 minutes and prevented the Blue Devils from blowing the game out.

Rhode Island’s next game is against Belmont at home on Friday.