Yesterday the Rams began conference play at St. Louis. This game was a real gut check for the team, as they were without sophomore starting guard Fatts Russell. This was Fatts’ first career missed game, resulting in the Rams first change to the starting lineup this season. Facing a St. Louis team that many have picked to win the A-10, Coach David Cox was forced to rely heavily on his freshmen. Although they didn’t come away with the win, there were certainly some positive aspects to examine.
Stepping in for Russell was freshman Tyrese Martin. Martin is a great young asset for this team. With his length and athleticism, he led the team with 18 points on 7-14 shooting and 4-6 from beyond the arc. He also contributed 6 rebounds. Martin was not afraid to play more aggressively than usual.
“With me only averaging (5.3) points, I knew me getting that wasn’t going to be enough,” Martin said. “I knew I had to do more and be more aggressive on the offensive end.” – As relayed to The Providence Journal
URI fans saw him shoot a career high in field goal attempts. This included the Rams first made three pointer of the game and a couple of big shots down the stretch. One play that stuck out to me was in the second half, as Martin grabbed a board and went coast to coast for a hard take to the basket. Even though he didn’t finish, URI fans saw flashes of an aggressive wing scorer that they’ve been lacking. He has the potential to be that guy, as he once put up 31 in high school going toe to toe with Duke’s Cam Reddish (#3 recruit in Class of 2018) leading his team to the win.
Speaking of wing scorers, Dana Tate had another quality game yesterday in St. Louis. Coming off of a great game vs. Middle Tennessee, Tate was subbed in much more quickly than usual and saw increased minutes. He finished with 9 points and 10 rebounds in 31 minutes, and had to play big in the first half. After Jermaine Harris suffered an ankle injury early in the game and Cyril Langevine got into foul trouble, Tate was forced to play the 4 and patrol the middle of their 2-3 defense. Billikens center Hassan French took advantage of that, as he tallied 8 points in the first half. Yet, Tate was solid overall, coming up with 6 boards and another 3 pointer.
After going down 11-4 four minutes into the game, Cox elected to go into a 2-3 zone and it worked. St. Louis failed to shoot the ball effectively, going 2-10 from 3 and 1-6 from the FT line. Despite no Russell, Harris’s injury and Langevine’s foul trouble, the game was tied 25-25 at the half.
Ultimately it would be a lack of production from veterans, mental mistakes and a scoring drought that would do the Rams in. That and a career high 24 points from Javon Bess. Bess would score 16 of that 24 in the second half.
Jeff Dowtin, who was averaging 17 points, had only 11 on 2-10 shooting. Cyril Langevine, who was averaging 14.6 points, had only 6 on 1-8 shooting. Christion Thompson had only 5 points and fouled out with 8:37 remaining after giving up an and-1 three to KC Hampton. Those were Hampton’s only 4 points for the game. This put the Billikens up 50-45 and they would not give up the lead.
That mistake by Thompson combined with poor shot selection, a technical foul on Cox and multiple turnovers would all contribute to the Rams mental errors down the stretch. When you are one of the worst shooting teams in the country and score 0 points in the last 2:03, these are mistakes you can’t afford.
However, the Rams shouldn’t hang their heads after that game. After facing adversity, young guys stepped up and were in a close game with possibly the best team in the conference the entire time. Martin and Tate have proved that they can hold their own and serve a role for the team. They can provide assistance in areas that the Rams are lacking, particularly 3 pt shooting.
Next up the Rams are in Richmond, as they take on a 6-8 (0-1) team on Wednesday at 7:00 PM. They return for their conference home opener on Sunday vs. George Mason (8-7 / 2-0).