The Rhode Island Rams were given a stark reality check tonight, in a game which ESPN gave them a near 90% chance of winning prior to the tip off. The Rams welcomed lowly ranked Sacred Heart Pioneers (3-7) to the Ryan Center, a team whose only win this season against an A-10 opponent came vs 3-4 La Salle. For the fans, this shaped up to be an easy, run of the mill victory for the Rams, but it was anything but that for a majority of the game.

A Shocking First Half Display

The Rams were put under pressure almost immediately after the start of the game. Sacred Heart came flying out of the gate, draining three 3-pointers in the opening four minutes, flying out to 9-3 lead. Following what was an abysmal six minutes for his starters, Coach Cox decided to do a full lineup change, bringing on 5 new players, including freshman phenom Sebastian Thomas. Thomas would go on to have a stellar game, racking up 25 mins, 4 pts and 5 assists, as well as a respectable 4 rebounds considering his 6’1 stature. In the mean time, however, the Rams need a response, and they needed it quickly. Following a strong four minute stretch from the five substitutes, Leggett and Mitchell (Makhi) were subbed back into the game to help kickstart the comeback. As the clock winded down, the Rams began to chip away at the lead amassed by the Pioneers, and then taking their first lead of the game with just over three minutes remaining thanks to Antwan Walker bucket. The lead would be short lived, however, thanks to a turnover and a few missed opportunities. The Rams would end the first half on the losing side of a shocking 31-29 scoreline. Everyone in the building knew that Coach Cox needed to make some changes if the Rams were going to get anything out of this game, but only time would tell if those changes would prove successful.

A Rejuvenated Second Half

After the game, Coach Cox was quoted saying that he was “pleased” with the way his team came out in the second half, particularly on defense. Defense in the second half was indeed a strong part of the reason the Rams came out of the Ryan Center with the win tonight, but their offense was also quite clinical. In the first half, the Rams went 0-5 from beyond the arc, a pitiful percentage, one which I, myself, was preparing to address during the post match presser. But, much to my joy and surprise, the Rams came out of the locker room and knocked down five 3-pointers in the second half, going 5-7 over the 20 minutes. For a team that has been rather inconsistent from 3-point range this year, shooting great in some games and poor in others, this was a very encouraging sign that the Rams are starting to understand the flow of the game more, and are able to make the changes necessary in order to succeed. Ishmael Leggett had an impressive second half display, putting up 8 points and 3 assists, including two clutch threes to tie the game and then extend the Rams lead over the tiring Pioneers. I asked him what went through his mind as both shots fell, and he said that he was “just trying to provide energy” to the game and bring that extra push in order to get the win. After a back and forth first five minutes of the second half, the Rams snatched the lead and held on until the end, crushing the hopes of the free-shooting Pioneers, even with the impressive 30 point performance put up by their star guard Tyler Thomas. The game finished 72-62 in favor of Rhode Island, pushing them to 7-3 on the season.

Tonight’s Player Takeaways

Tonight was a nerve racking game for all involved. What was thought to be an easy victory against a weak opponent turned into a topsy-turvy matchup that had upset written all over it. Thankfully for the Rams, Coach Cox was able to steady the ship and help lead his guys to victory. Three performances stood out tonight as the A-10 regular season draws closer. The stars of tonight’s game for the Rams were Sebastian Thomas, Ishmael Leggett, and Makhel Mitchell. Mitchell and Leggett both combined for 26 points, 5 assists and 10 rebounds. Their offensive contributions, coupled with the Mitchell twins dominance in the paint, help drive the Rams towards victory tonight.

However, note must be made for the performance put in by the Rams’ freshman X-Factor Sebastian Thomas. Following a slow start from tonights starters, Thomas saw his most minutes in a single game to date at Rhode Island. Like I mentioned before, through roughly 25 minutes of action, Thomas racked up 4 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds. Obviously, the 4 turnovers aren’t much to be happy about, but Coach Cox clearly isn’t worried. I got the chance to speak to him after the game, and he was quoted saying that he was impressed with Thomas’ performance, that “the theme of the day was energy, we needed guys out there on the floor who were going to provide us with energy, or give us a boost, energy wise, and he definitely did that throughout the game”. Cox also noted the “couple freshmen mistakes” Thomas made, in reference to the turnovers and a few missed shots, but stated that “it comes with the territory” and that “the kid is growing up, he’s maturing day by day, and that he helped us win this game today.”

Looking Towards The New Year

The Rams improved to 7-3 with tonights win, the best 10 game start to a season under the Coach Cox era. Next week, the Rams are on the road to face a struggling Milwaukee team, then a trip to Washington D.C. to play the College of Charleston in the DC Holiday Hoops Fest. For a team that boast 4 players and a head coach from the DC area, there’s a lot to look forward to this holiday season. The Rams’ next home game is against in-state opponent Brown just before Christmas on the 22nd of December. All three of these games are probable wins for the Rams, and could serve as the perfect confidence builders for Cox’s men as they head towards the A-10 regular season. The A-10 is shaping up to be an extremely competitive conference this year, so if the Rams want to stand any chance of competing, they have to come prepared to play. But, optimism is high in Kingston, with thousands of eager Rhody fans ready for the ride.

Ryan Preston Go Fund Me

A GoFundMe has been set up for the family of former URI Basketball star Ryan Preston in order to cover funeral expenses following the 24 year old’s sudden passing last month in Bahrain. Any donations would be greatly appreciated, and the Preston family thanks you for your support during this trying time.

Link to the GoFundMe: https://gofund.me/bc7d0c7e