For the first time in 20 days, the URI Men’s Basketball team played an actual game, although it wasn’t without its struggles and quirks. The Rams were originally scheduled to open their A-10 campaign at home against La Salle (following the postponement of their Dayton fixture). However, the team received the news following their Friday practice that La Salle suffered a Covid outbreak and that their matchup would have to be postponed. As soon as the team learned of the outbreak, they reached out to multiple programs, including many Division 1 teams, but weren’t able to make anything work, until American International College responded. The Division 2 school based out of Springfield, MA, agreed to the non-conference matchup, not only providing the Rams with much needed relief, but a much needed bounce back game in order to regain momentum ahead of the start of A-10 Conference play.

A Rusty Showing In The First Half

Following the announcement that the Rams would be facing up against the 5-6 AIC Yellowjackets on Sunday afternoon, many expected the Rams to run wild, and utterly decimate their opponents. However, we can’t underestimate the effects both Covid and a sudden break can have on a college basketball team. The start of the first half was dull and deprived of any excitement. As Coach Cox said, “it looked as if we hadn’t played in 3 weeks”. The team’s rust showed as the Rams were slow to get out of the gate, only scoring 6 points during the first five minutes of the half. American International weren’t any better, however, with the Yellowjackets only scoring 6 points themselves. This offensive ineptitude wouldn’t last for very long, as the Rams would soon get into their groove and jut out in front of the Yellowjackets, and would keep them at arms length for the remainder of the half. The highlights of the half were a series of three-point baskets, three in a row in fact, that were made by the Rams. The nine point series extended the Rams’ lead to 11 over their D2 adversaries, a lead which they would hold comfortable heading into the locker room. The first half ended 35-22 in favor of Rhode Island, with Makhi Mitchell being the star of the show with 11 points and 5 rebounds.

A Comfortable Rhody Second Half

The Rhode Island Rams came out of the locker room to start the second half with a substantial lead, and wouldn’t give it up for the remainder of the game. The Rams kept the Yellowjackets at more than arm’s length for the entirety of the second half, not letting their lead drop below 11 points for the entire 20 minutes. It was at this point where Coach Cox started to make use of his bench and gave Freshmen Tres Berry, Ileri Ayo-Faleye, and Sebastian Thomas substantial minutes. Thomas played a major role in the team’s game plan throughout the game, putting up 2 points, while racking up 5 assists and 4 rebounds. Berry had a season high 7 points off the bench, eclipsing his previous high of 5 that he accomplished vs Georgia St. Ayo-Faleye, though he didn’t have much of a prolific time on offense, was a presence in the paint, putting up 3 rebounds and 2 steals as he rotated in and out with the Mitchell twins. When asking Coach Cox about his decision to play the freshmen trio, he said that “they’ve worked extremely hard and have been patient this season, and this was the perfect game for them to get in there and get their feet wet”. With the help of their bench, the Rams were able to comfortably see off their non-conference opponents, winning the game 70-55, marking Coach Cox’s 100th game as head coach of the Rams with a win, his 58th in total.

Stars of the Show

In addition to the trio of freshmen putting in emphatic performances when called upon, there were a few other players whose performances deserve a mention. Makhi Mitchell was the star of the show, racking up 19 total points, along with 8 total rebounds. Ishmael El-Amin was also on top of his game as well, racking up 14 points, including four exhilarating three-pointers to keep the Yellowjackets at bay. On the defensive end, URI’s “Mr. Reliable” Malik Martin put in an impressive performance off the bench, coupling his 9 points with 11 total rebounds in juts over 21 minutes of action. It’s safe to say that today’s win was a true team effort, with clutch performances coming in from all parts of the squad.

Time For A-10 Play (Please?)

After what has been an uncertain period where the Rams haven’t been able to kick off their Atlantic 10 campaign, that all should end soon as the Rams travel to Fairfax, VA to face off against the 7-6 George Mason Patriots on January 5th. The Atlantic 10 is shaping up to be an extremely competitive conference this year, with 11 of the 14 teams all holding winning records going into conference play. Nevertheless, the Rams will be looking at the upcoming campaign with optimism, optimism that they’ll be able to perform beyond expectations, even through the disruptions caused by Covid.