Senior Night Success: Munford Scores 21 as URI Tops Fordham 77-65
Thursday, March 06, 2014
KINGSTON, RI-- It’s tough to pick a player of the game for URI in Wednesday night’s 77-65 win over Fordham. Junior guard T.J. Buchanan set career highs with 14 points and 11 rebounds (and added 7 assists). Freshman sensation E.C. Matthews scored 15points in the 2nd half and finished with 21 for the game. Fellow freshman Hassan Martin finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 blocked shots.
But with all due respect to those players, they’ll have more nights to be recognized individually. Wednesday night was about Xavier Munford.
The lone scholarship senior on the team, Munford overcame a slow shooting start to finish with 21 points. His back-to-back 3 pointers with 5 minutes left in the game were the icing on the cake for an emotional win and a 2-year URI run that included over 1,000 points.
“He’s added credibility to a program that was at rock bottom,” said URI Head Coach Dan Hurley. “He’s matured into such a great student athlete.”
Hurley would know. He’s known Munford for a decade now, first meeting his future shooting guard when Munford was just 12 years old.
Both teacher and pupil reflected after the game on the season they’ve had, one that will end next week at the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Brooklyn barring an underdog run that would make Cinderella blush.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs throughout the season, but we learned from everything,” Munford said of his team.
URI finishes the regular season with back-to-back wins, improving their overall record to 14-17 and their conference record to 5-11. It’s a 6 win jump overall and a 2 win jump in the conference, a jump Hurley is proud of given the adversity the team has endured over the course of the season.
URI will be either the 10th or 11th seeded team in the 13 team conference tournament, likely drawing a first round matchup with either Dayton or Richmond (both of whom the Rams have beaten this season). Win or lose next week, Munford will look back with fond memories of his 2 year URI career.
“This is my family…on and off the court, we’ve been through a lot,” he said after the game. After playing at 2 Junior Colleges in his first 2 collegiate seasons, Munford found a home in Kingston, playing for his high school coach and laying the foundation for a program that had hit the reset button.
So often we criticize college athletics for being dollar-driven or competitive to the point where winning is more important than graduation rates and integrity (looking at you, John Calipari). So while 22 wins over a 2-year period may not be an impressive career for Munford in a vacuum, it says something that he’s on track to graduate this spring and pursue greener pastures professionally with a degree.
Xavier Munford should be a model for JuCo players looking to take strides academically and athletically. He’s what the NCAA should celebrate, but he likely won’t be part of the billion dollar “March Madness” machine, so he’ll remain anonymous outside of Atlantic 10 circles.
--URI won the rebounding battle 48-38 and shot 50% for the game (including 65% in the second half). Fordham’s roster is littered with inefficient volume scorers, and they didn’t disappoint, shooting 34% from the floor, and 28% from 3 point range for the game.
--Senior walk-ons A.J. Kemp and Jonathan Nazarko got into the game in the final minute, receiving a nice ovation from the Ryan Center crowd. Kemp and Nazarko are also on schedule to graduate in the spring, and both were honored (along with Munford) in a pregame ceremony.
--Gilvydas Biruta struggled all game, finishing scoreless and fouling out after battling foul trouble all game. Biruta played just 13 minutes Wednesday, and URI will need a boost from him if they have any hopes of ruffling some feathers in Brooklyn.
--It’s going to be hard to justify not awarding the A-10 Rookie of the Year to Matthews. URI’s most talented player as a freshman, Matthews won 5 conference Rookie of the Week awards this season and his steady improvement over the course of the year makes him an easy choice for the award.
--Hassan Martin was Conference ROW last week, and the big man put on a clinic inside on Wednesday night as well. Martin is a potential All-Conference Rookie Team selection, and his strong finish should put him and Matthews on that team together. The future of the program lies in the two freshmen studs.
--Martin almost didn't play Wednesday night, according to Hurley. Martin had a contusion on his knee from a pregame collision about 20 minutes prior to gametime. There was also a play in the second half where his knee buckled a little bit underneath him on an awkward landing. Martin should be good to go in the conference tournament, as URI has an 8 day layoff to rest before their first game next Thursday.
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