After endless cancelations and postponements, the Rhode Island Rams were finally able to host their Atlantic 10 home opener at the Ryan Center Wednesday night, welcoming the now 7-7 St. Joseph’s Hawks to Kingston. Coming into the game, the SJU Hawks were 7-6, but don’t let their record fool you, they were a formidable adversary, brimming with physicality and enthusiasm. What started as an end-to-end contest eventually petered out, especially for St. Joseph’s, who simply couldn’t keep up with the speed and trickery the Rams guards possessed. Rhode Island ultimately came out with the win, 75-64.
An Exhilarating First Half
During warmups, I was watching the St. Joseph’s players as they went through their routines, and I was worried. They were warming up with a level of energy and enthusiasm which you don’t see very often, a level which usually reflects how they want to start the game. And, well, they started the game hot. From the opening tip, you could tell that this was going to be a thrilling contest. Both teams traded the lead numerous times during the opening five minutes before SJU jumped out to a six-point lead. That lead, however, was short-lived courtesy of Sebastian Thomas’s 3-Point jumper, giving the Rams a two-point lead with just over 11 minutes remaining in the half. Thomas came off the bench and put on an impressive show, scoring 7 points (tying his season high), as well as dishing out 2 assists in 8 minutes. Following the Sebastian Thomas showcase, the game would continue to flow end-to-end until the halftime buzzer, with the Rams heading to the locker-room with the advantage, up 43-37. Makhel Mitchell was the Rams’ MVP during the first half, putting up 14 points and 3 rebounds in 17 minutes. The Rams were in a good position, but it was now down to simply keeping the Hawks back, and not letting the events of their heartbreaking collapse last week against Davidson repeat themselves.
A Head-Scratching Second Half
You might be asking yourself, why head-scratching? Well, both teams may well have scored near 30 points each in the second half, but they could’ve had so many more, particularly St. Joseph’s. The second half wasn’t nearly as thrilling or as fast-paced as the first, with sloppy turnovers and poor passes leading both teams to suffer scoring droughts throughout the final 20 minutes. Coming out of the locker room, the Rams managed to keep their lead comfortable, holding the Hawks back by seven points for the most part. Soon, though, both teams would begin to slow down. The Rams lead would dwindle away, with SJU even taking the lead for a brief moment. Once the Rams took a 57-55 lead, however, was when the scoring would end, temporarily. For nearly three straight minutes, neither team was able to register a basket; missing free throws, jumpers, and overall just moving the ball poorly. SJU would eventually register a point on a second chance free throw, but then started another two minute drought where neither team scored. Rhode Island soon found their groove again, and began extending their lead over the Hawks, who simply could not make a shot to save their lives. At one point, the Hawks were 1 for their last 17 from field goal range. They passed up open layups in favor of 3-pointers in an effort to cut their deficit, with very few actually connecting. As the game drew to a close, the Rams’ lead eventually grew to be too much for the Hawks, and as the final buzzer sounded, the Rams were victorious. The Rams came out of this one with a 75-64 win, a win which brings them to 10-4 on the season. Makhi Mitchell and Jeremy Sheppard were the stars of the 2nd Half, with Mitchell putting up 8 points and 3 rebounds, while Sheppard added 7 points, including a clutch 3-pointer which put the game fully out of reach for the Hawks.
The A-10 Is Here… Big Things Ahead?
We can finally breathe a sigh of relief that the Rams’ A-10 season is fully underway, with both their conference and home openers on the books. The Rams took down a physically imposing St. Joseph’s team, one which some writers had being a surprise package before the season started. They’ll be looking forward to a trip to UMass Amherst this coming Saturday (1/15) before a three-match home-stand where they’ll be welcoming La Salle (1/19), George Washington (1/22), and Richmond (1/25) to Kingston. These next four games will be huge for the Rams, with winning 3 out of 4 a serious possibility. Either way, there were a lot of positives to take out of this game vs SJU, especially since the Rams’ shooters came out of the blocks firing. If they can hold their form on the shooting front for the next couple of weeks, a high placing A-10 finish could be in the cards.