McNeese falls despite Hardy's 24 points

KINGSTON, R.I. — Kevin Hardy scored 14 of his career-high 24 points in the second half as a McNeese State rally from a 21-point deficit with just under 13 minutes to play fell short in a 76-71 loss to Rhode Island here Tuesday night in the final game of the four-game NIT Season Tip-Off.

Trailing 56-35 with 12:45 to play, the Cowboys connected on their next six shots and 15 of the next 20 field goal attempts to cut the deficit to 72-69 with 19 seconds to play after a Hardy layup. Hardy missed on the free throw to complete a three-point play and Rhode Island connected on its final four free throws to secure the win.

The loss dropped the Cowboys to 2-5 on the season. Rhode Island won its third-straight game to improve to 6-2.

Hardy hit 11 of his 17 shots from the field and was 2 of 3 at the line. He also led the team with seven rebounds, five assists and four steals in playing the entire 40 minutes. Adrian Fields and Craig McFerrin added 12 points each.

The Cowboys connected on 31 of 63 from the field for 49 percent and were a whopping 19 of 32 for 59 percent in the second half. McNeese made just 3 of its 16 3-point attempts and hit 6 of 10 from the charity stripe.

Xavier Munford led the Rams with 26 points as Gilvydas Biruta added 17, T.J. Buchanan 13 and Jarelle Reischel 11. URI hit 45 percent from the field (22 of 49), 10 of 23 for 44 percent from long range, and hit 22 of 24 from the free throw line.

Just like the night before against East Carolina, McNeese scored the game’s first four points and led 6-3 after a McFerrin layup. URI responded with an 11-0 run to take a 14-6 lead with 13:23 to play in the half and the lead climbed to 34-19 with 2:29 to play before the Cowboys scored seven of the game’s next 10 points to trail 37-26 at the half.

Rhode Island opened the second half on a 13-4 run to build a 50-30 lead with 15:03 to play. A 3-pointer by Reischel put the Rams up 56-35 with 12:45 to play when the Cowboys started to chip away.

A 6-0 run behind layups from Hardy, Pete Kpan, and a jumper from Brandon Regis cut into the lead and after cutting it to 66-55 with 4:54 to play, McNeese scored seven straight behind back-to-back jumpers and two free throws from McFerrin and another free throw by Fields to make it 66-60 with 3:32 to play.

The Cowboys got the ball back after a missed trey from the Rams but Ledrick Eackles, who was held to a season-low four points, misfired on a 3-pointer that would’ve cut the gap to three points. URI followed up with two free throws by Buchanan to make it 68-60 but Eackles came back with a layup to make it 68-62 with 1:17 to play.

After both teams swapped layups and URI hit two free throws to put it back up by eight points at 72-64 with 35 seconds left, Shaun Johnson nailed a 3 to cut it to 72-67 with 29 seconds to play.

Hardy closed the gap to 72-69 after a layup, but his missed free throw led to two foul shots by URI and the lead increased to 74-69 with 18 seconds left. Fields followed with a layup with eight seconds to go to make it 74-71.

Rhode Island hit its next two free throws and a 3-pointer by Hardy with three seconds to play fell off the mark.