BATON ROUGE, La. -- Rhode Island's first two trips to power conference teams resulted in lopsided losses against SMU and Arizona.
However, the Rams came away with a huge victory in their third game of the season against one of the major conference teams. E.C. Matthews scored 21 points as Rhode Island held off a late rally and defeated LSU 74-70 on Saturday.
Rhode Island lost by 31 points to SMU of the American Athletic Conference and by 28 points to top-ranked Arizona of the Pac-12 Conference. The Rams withstood numerous second-half rallies from the Tigers to pick up the victory.
"This was definitely our best out-of-conference win because (LSU) is really good," second-year Rhode Island coach Danny Hurley said. "We just competed really, really hard. We had great resolve and it's because of the schedule we've played. Some of the road tests prepared us for a team of this caliber."
Rhode Island (9-6) scored eight consecutive points to go ahead 67-59 with 4:58 remaining. LSU (9-3) got within one point at 71-70 following two foul shots by Andre Stringer and a field goal by Johnny O'Bryant.
LSU had two chances to take the lead. One possession ended with a turnover by O'Bryant, and Anthony Hickey missed a runner in the lane on the next possession. Xavier Munford connected on one of two foul shots with 18 seconds remaining to give the Tigers one last opportunity.
Hickey missed a long 3-point attempt and Matthews rebounded for the Rams. Matthews, a freshman, then sank two foul shots with 1.4 seconds remaining to clinch the Rhode Island victory.
"I think I had nine rebounds this game," Matthews said. "LSU is real athletic so I just happened to jump up fast and grab the rebound and secured it at the end. This was a big game. Coach Hurley did a nice job of preparing us for this game. We played our hardest for him."
The 21 points matched Matthews' season-high. Gilvydas Biruta had a double-double with 19 points and 14 rebounds -- both season-highs. Munford added 17 points. Rhode Island outrebounded LSU 46-32. That edge on the boards lessened the damage from the Rams' 22 turnovers.
"We obviously rebounded," Hurley said. "Our pre-game goal was to be plus one and we ended up being plus 14. If you watch the last minute, they had chances to get tip-ins during some of those wild skirmishes. We had perimeter guys flying in and swatting the ball away. Our effort was just amazing."
Jordan Mickey led LSU with 21 points, Stringer had 13 and O'Bryant finished with 11.
"We came out not as sharp as we needed to," LSU coach Johnny Jones said. "We continued to battle in the first half, but we settled a bit too much. We didn't execute offensively and we didn't make the tough plays.
"In the first ten minutes of the second half, our guys did an excellent job of getting back in the game and tying it. Rhode Island did more of the same. They made the tough plays, played well inside and wound up getting out of here with a victory."
Rhode Island dominated the second part of the first half to take a 36-30 lead into the break. Trailing 17-11, the Rams scored 13 consecutive points over a three-minute stretch. Biggie Minnis converted a three-point play and Matthews made a 3-pointer.
Sparked by Stringer, LSU scored seven-straight points to tie the score at 24. Stringer made two baskets, including a 3-pointer, and passed to Mickey for a field goal. Another 3-pointer by Matthews put Rhode Island in front 27-24 with 4:46 remaining in the half.
Another basket by Matthews and two field goals, including a 3-pointer by Jarelle Reischel, gave the Rams a 34-28 lead. A wide-open layup by Biruta with two seconds remaining gave Rhode Island its 36-30 halftime lead.
Biruta was a one-man show for the Rams at the outset of the second half. He made four baskets, including a 3-pointer, as Rhode Island extended its advantage to 12 points at 45-33 with 15:56 remaining in the game.
For the first time since early in the first half, LSU then showed some life by outscoring the Rams 11-2. Mickey converted a three-point play and made a dunk. A 3-pointer by Hickey and a three-point play by Stringer left Rhode Island on top 47-44 with 12:44 to play.
After giving up baskets to Munford and Matthews, the Tigers went on a 10-0 run thanks to their turnover-forcing full-court pressure. Mickey made two baskets, while Stringer sank a pair of foul shots. Field goals by Malik Morgan and Hickey gave LSU a 54-51 lead with 9:40 remaining in the game.
Rhode Island regrouped and built a 59-55 advantage. Munford sank a 3-pointer, while Matthews made two foul shots and converted a three-point play. LSU tied the score on two field goals by Mickey. But, the Rams came right back with a game-deciding eight-point outburst.
Munford started the spurt with a 3-pointer. Ifeanyi Onyekaba made a basket before Munford sank two free throws. Biruta made one of two free throw attempts to put the Rams in front 67-59 with 4:42 remaining in the game. Rhode Island was able to protect its lead over the final few minutes.