SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (AP)—Jim Baron says he would have reacted in disbelief if anyone had told him before the season that his Rhode Island team would open with a 14-1 record.
“I would have said, ‘What are you drinking?”’ Baron said.
But it’s true, whether or not the coach or his team ever imagined it.
No. 23 Rhode Island is off to its best start since 1946-47, winning its ninth straight game Wednesday night, a 94-63 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson in a final tuneup before entering Atlantic 10 play next Wednesday at No. 20 Dayton.
Jimmy Baron, the coach’s son, was 6-of-8 from behind the 3-point line and finished with 22 points. Four other Rams scored in double figures and six reserves combined for 42 points.
Lamonte Ulmer was 6-for-6 from the field and matched a career-high with 13 points and Kahiem Seawright had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Rams, who had their highest point total of the season.
Senior forward Will Daniels, Rhode Island’s leading scorer this season, finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and three steals. Reserve sophomore Delroy James added 10 points, all in the second half.
Baron, in his seventh season at Rhode Island, said he challenged his bench before the game to step up.
“We’ve been building the last couple of years—building chemistry, building program, building infrastructure—and that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
The Rams are ranked for the first time since November 1998, and their blowout victory kept them undefeated at home this season.
Dayton upset then-No. 6 Pittsburgh 80-55 on Saturday but needed double overtime to squeeze out a two-point victory against Akron on Wednesday.
“I’m ready to play anybody. I don’t really care,” Jim Baron said.
Baron, a junior guard, opened the game with a 3-pointer, then made another from behind the arc with 14 seconds left in the first half to put Rhode Island up 44-31.
Baron’s sharpshooting overshadowed the play of Manny Ubilla of Fairleigh Dickinson (4-7), who set a Ryan Center record with a career-high 39 points, including going 8-of-15 from 3-point range.
The Knights took advantage of Rhode Island’s 5-of-15 start from the field to take an early lead, going up by five points about four minutes into the game. But the Rams went ahead 21-19 at 8:39 in the first half on a layup from Seawright off a feed from Keith Cothran. They held the lead the rest of the game, outscoring Fairleigh Dickinson 50-32 in the second half.
It was the first time since December 2003 that Rhode Island had defeated an opponent by more than 30 points.
“This is the best team we’ve faced this year, there’s no question about it,” FDU coach Tom Green said.
Rhode Island jumped two spots in this week’s Associated Press poll after two wins last weekend at the Islander Invitational in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“We can’t get caught up in the buzz or else it’s going to hurt us,” Jimmy Baron said. “We’ve just got to look at it one game at a time, one practice at a time.”