CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP)—Will Daniels says confidence comes with being ranked in the Top 25. His Rhode Island teammates obviously have plenty of confidence in the muscular forward.
Daniels scored a season-high 28 points, including 11 of his team’s final 15, and No. 25 Rhode Island held off a Georgia Southern comeback for an 85-80 victory Saturday night in the Islander Invitational championship game.
“Will plays with a lot of energy, and he was big for us when we needed him,” Rhode Island coach Jim Baron said.
Rhode Island (13-1), off to its best start since 1946-47, won its first two games after entering The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 1998-99. Back then, the Rams promptly lost their first two after joining the rankings.
The Rams had reason to lack confidence late against Georgia Southern (9-3) when a 23-point first-half lead dwindled to 76-74 with 2:37 remaining.
Daniels had the answer. His layup put Rhode Island back up by four, and Parfait Bitee made two free throws for an 80-74 lead after the Eagles missed twice in one possession and the teams traded turnovers.
“We never lose confidence as a team,” said Daniels, the tournament MVP after scoring 46 points in two wins. “When you’re ranked as one of the top 25 teams in the country, losing confidence in yourself is not something that ever comes into consideration.”
The Rams actually went to Daniels quite a bit earlier. Georgia Southern scored six straight points to trim an 11-point deficit to five with about 9 minutes remaining when Daniels started his scoring spurt.
Although Daniels got the ball when Rhode Island needed baskets down the stretch, he had plenty of help. Four others finished in double figures, led by Kahiem Seawright with 13 points. Bitee scored 11, as did Lamonte Ulmer, who also had 10 rebounds. Jimmy Baron finished with 10.
Matt Fields led Georgia Southern (9-3) with 18 points, including 14 in the second half. Julian Allen had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Rhode Island took a 29-6 lead in the game’s first 10 minutes as Georgia Southern hit just three of its first 21 shots.
“We just dug ourselves too big a hole against a team as good as Rhode Island,” Georgia Southern coach Jeff Price said. “When you’re missing shots like we were, you’ve got to get stops on the defensive end. If you’re missing shots, and not getting stops, then that’s a bad combination.”