This season has not been the one that the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team has envisioned. After a 21-9 record last season, the team entered Tuesday night at 9-12, as injuries, and of course, a pandemic has made the 2020 season an odd one.
Nonetheless, the feeling at the Ryan Center last night was different. It was senior night, the final game at the Ryan Center for guards Fatts Russell, Jeremy Sheppard, and Umberto Brusadin. Prior to the game, all three were honored with family in the stands, just not fans.
The Rams were facing a very good Dayton team, that came to Kingston with an 11-6 record. And neither team wanted to leave the Ryan Center with a loss…
First Half Recap
URI got off to a hot start early before Dayton settled in defensively. Both teams struggled from beyond the arc in the first half, leading both to attack inside. The Flyers took advantage of turnovers and truly capitalized in the paint, outscoring the Rams 22-14 inside. Nonetheless, the Rams managed to keep it a game, only being down 34-28 at halftime.
Early on, Dayton focused on Russell and Sheppard, double-teaming both the moment they crossed half-court. URI had a well-balanced offensive attack entering halftime but was being killed by Dayton freshman forward Zimi Nwokeji who had 12 points entering halftime. To put that into perspective, Nwokeji averaged just over four on the year going into Tuesday’s game.
Things Got out of Hand
Coming out of the locker room, the Flyers did not hold back offensively, as senior guard Jalen Crutcher led their attack. Between Crutcher, Nwokeji, and others, the Flyers extended their lead to 18 points with just under ten minutes to go. Just like that, it seemed as if the fan-less Ryan Center was completely deflated.
In that moment, Fatts Russell said how “I looked up to my family, I said ‘I’m not going out like this,’” in the post-game press conference.
Then, the Comeback Began
The next points came on a three-point shot by freshman Ishmael Leggett, whose deep shot ability came up huge. Leggett would go onto hit two more three-point tries as the clock ticked under six minutes, and Russell, with the help of Sheppard and Makhel Mitchell, would take the lead with 1:33 remaining. And just like that, the Rams completed an 18-point comeback with under ten minutes to go to force overtime with the score being 69-69.
An empty center or not, the Rams wanted this win more than anything. Especially the seniors, as Russell and Sheppard combined for six points and two assists to eventually force double overtime at the score of 78-78.
In double overtime, it was the freshman Leggett who took over, totaling eight points (two three-pointers) quickly, as the Rams closed things out defensively. In the end, the Rams sealed a 91-89 victory over the Flyers on senior night in a physical, and hard-fought comeback win.
A True Team Effort
The Rams trailed in turnovers, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and defensive rebounds. However, it was the complete team effort that won the game.
Russell posted 20 points, with seven assists and five rebounds on the night. Not to mention, his four steals earned him the all-time record for most steals in program history.
Meanwhile, Sheppard was the source of multiple runs on offense, as he shot 7-12 for 17 points, six rebounds, and four assists. Additionally, Leggett added five three-point shots with his 18 points, while Mitchell and Antwan Walker both had double-doubles, combining for 26 points and 22 rebounds.
Again, this has not been the season anyone expected. Now 10-12, they head to a 3-9 George Washington team, followed by visiting a 1-14 Saint Joseph’s program. And who knows what will happen in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
At the same time, fans will never going to forget Tuesday night’s game. After all, an 18-point, double-overtime comeback win is a memorable way for Russell and the seniors to leave the Ryan Center.