Pace University is no powerhouse. But a Friday night in Kingston is a great way for URI to kick off the 2014-2015 basketball season. Car-starved URI students that didn’t make it down the line can prime the pump for next Saturday when the Rhody Rams host the nationally ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers at the Ryan Center.
Indeed, the big questions answered in the first game of the season will have more to do with Nebraska next week than Pace tonight. Will Coach Hurley show off his full-court press, letting Nebraska study the film? And will the fans send message to the Cornhuskers that the rowdy ghosts from the old Keaney Closet can rile up the Ryan Center?
The Rams rarely ever lose on opening night. Going back to 1906 they’ve won .787 percent of their season openers (85-23). In home openers they’re even better, winning .880 percent of the time (95-13). URI is 7-1 when they open the season at the Ryan Center.
Pace has a great team nickname, but not a great basketball program. The Settlers went 7 and 19 last season in the D-2 NE-10 Conference, where they play schools such as Merrimack and Stonehill. There are 13,000 students (including grad students, so just a few thousand fewer than URI) and they are spread out on campuses in lower Manhattan and Westchester County. Rachel Ray and Robert Kennedy went to school there. This is the first time the Rams and the Settlers have played each other in basketball.
Pace is coached by Pat Kennedy, who may know a thing or two about upsets. He was an assistant coach under Jim Valvano in the 1970’s at Iona and took over that program when the late legendary coach took over at NC State. Kennedy almost became the URI head coach in 1986, but Rhody hired Tommy Penders instead and Kennedy went to Florida State.
There are great expectations from URI backcourt this season – especially sophomore E.C. Mathews, who’s predicted to be a all-conference-caliber player this season. It’s a good sign for the Rams if he puts up a lot of points tonight. It’s a better sign if they take care of the ball and play good defense.