Rhode Island improved to 12-5 (4-1) in a 66-63 win over the La Salle Explorers yesterday. The Rams are now tied for third place in the Atlantic 10 and are an impressive 8-1 at the Ryan Center. Although it wasn’t a dominant win, it was a win nonetheless. Let’s take a dive into the game and see what took place for the Rams.
Beyond The Arc
It’s no secret that URI has struggled from deep this year. The Rams are shooting just 30.0% from three-point this year, ranked 307th in Division I. Yesterday they experienced more of the same, shooting 4-17 on threes (23.5%). La Salle capitalized on this weakness early, as they made 5 threes in the first half alone, allowing them to lead by as much as six. This came after a 9-2 run where the Explorers hit three from downtown.
The Rams bounced back from this early deficit, but it is undeniable that they need to improve on this area of their game. They have made a living off of turning defense into offense, this is where teams can take advantage of the Rams. It is exactly how they got upset by Brown and Richmond, and they need to address the issue.
Bread and Butter
Once again, the Rams were simply dominant on the defensive end. Rhody compiled 15 steals and forced 22 turnovers from La Salle. Six different players had at least two steals, and URI scored 26 points off of turnovers and had 19 fastbreak points. This is undoubtedly the Rams’ biggest strength, as Coach Cox has done a good job of building a tough, gritty, defensive squad. They can make up for some of their offensive woes with sound defense and limiting opponents’ production.
A great example of this was a steal by Jeff Dowtin with 1:12 remaining in the game. After a 17-2 run in the second half to erase a 13 point Rhody lead, the Rams were able to get their lead back up to three points. La Salle looked to erase the one-possession lead, and Dowtin came up with a crucial steal for the Rams. The next possession La Salle came back and URI got a stop again to essentially seal the game.
“We pride ourselves on the defensive end,” Fatts Russell said. “We look at ourselves as a defensive team honestly, so every day we come to practice and the main focus is defense.”
Lack of depth has been difficult for the Rams, especially now that Dana Tate has officially transferred out of the program and Jeremy Sheppard is out for the year. However, Rhody’s bench outscored La Salle 20-11 in yesterday’s contest. Mehki Long and Antwan Walker each added nine points and a three-pointer, with Walker also leading the team in rebounding.
Walker, Long and Jacob Toppin are the only bench players for the Rams, as DJ Johnson is an expected redshirt.
“The three guys off the bench have been really solid for us,” Coach Cox said. “All three of them bring tremendous energy. All three of them bring tremendous versatility. You know I can play them in multiple positions and Mekhi came in, stepped in, and hit a big three in the first half off an assist from Fatts. And then in the second half, Antwan’s energy was kind of contagious on both ends of the floor.”
What’s Up Next?
Next up, Rhode Island has an opportunity to pick up a game in the Atlantic 10 as the face first place Duquense (15-2, 5-0). It’s a home game at 7:00 PM that can be watched on ESPN+ this Wednesday. The Dukes are led by junior Marcus Weathers, who leads the team in points, rebounds, and steals. As their stadium is under construction, Duquense hasn’t played a true home game this season, but rather at a number of courts near Pittsburgh.
Coach Cox said, “We could play this in Mackal for all I’m concerned. I’m excited about this game obviously… I’ll never forget that game, (last year), we were up 20 points and we lost that game, so just as a coach you never forget games like that.”
URI currently ranks 72nd in KenPom, as they are a team on the outside of the bubble looking in. Their road win at VCU boosts their resume, as they need to take care of business in conference play. The Rams should be a favorite on Wednesday night, as students will be back and the Ryan Center will be rocking.
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