The David Cox era at the University of Rhode Island has come to an end. After 4 years, and a 64-55 overall record, Coach Cox has been relieved of his position as Head Coach of URI Men’s Basketball. More on the ramifications of that decision later; first we need to discuss last night’s collapse against #6 Richmond in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Second-half collapses are what defined Rhode Island basketball this season. Single-digit leads or double-digit leads, it did not matter, since the Rams somehow found a way to throw them away consistently this season, resulting in their 15-16 record. Facing Richmond is a perfect example of this. The Rams and Spiders played each other earlier in the season at the Ryan Center. With 5:50 left to go, URI led the Spiders by 7 points. They would not register another field for the remainder of the game, while Richmond found their offensive spark. The Spiders mounted a comeback which saw them come out victorious, 70-63; ironically, by a 7-point margin. The Rams tendency to throw away leads, as well as their sheer ineptitude to convert from the free throw line and prevent needless turnovers, cost them this season, and ruined their promising 12-4 start; a start which managed to fill all Rhody fans with hope and allowed us to dream.

Most fans last night didn’t give URI a chance against Richmond, and why should they have? #11 Rhode Island only beat #14 Duquesne by 2 measly points, making the win as hard as possible for themselves to achieve. Nevertheless, Coach Cox and his Rams blocked out the outside noise and focused on what they could control, their own game. And, in front of a rowdy, Richmond heavy crowd, they did just that, with everything from the opening tip seemingly going to plan.

After the opening 10 minutes of the game, Rhode Island found themselves leading 19-10, commanding the court both offensively and defensively. The Rams defense was smothering the Spiders in the pant, while also keeping their shooters quiet. Rhode Island would continue to pound Richmond on offense until the halftime buzzer, heading to the locker rooms with a 14 point lead, up 35-21. The Rams were in dreamland.

Malik Martin and Makhi Mitchell led the first-half offensive charge for the Rams. Martin finished the half with 14 points and 4 rebounds, while Makhi Mitchell contributed with 11 points and 4 rebounds off the bench. Grant Golden was Richmond’s star man during the first half, putting up 10 points and 2 rebounds.

With a 14-point lead, the Rams went into the locker room with hope and confidence. They were taking the game right to Richmond and silencing a sea of red shirts in the stands at the Capitol One Arena. Cox was fired up, the players were fired up, I was fired up. The Rams were giving Rhody fans a reason to believe and making even the most diligent of followers in myself a reason to be blissfully ignorant. But, as we know now, it simply wasn’t meant to be.

The second half was an almost perfect flip in performances from both sides. From the start of the second half, Richmond was on the offensive, chipping away at the sizable lead held by the Rams. After 15 minutes of turnovers, poor decision-making, and a lack of creativity, the Rams’ advantage vanished, and the game was tied at 55. Jalen Carey’s jumper at 6:04 was the final made field goal for the Rams, as the Spiders pressed and squeezed Rhode Island until it finally caved in. The final few minutes will haunt the Rams as they failed to capitalize on numerous mistakes from the Spiders, while only managing to put points on the board through free throws.

In the end, the Spiders managed to save themselves and come out on top, winning 64-59; besting the Rams for the second time this season. Malik Martin was the player of the game for Rhode Island, finishing the night with 20 points and 9 rebounds, a season-high in points, as well as matching his career-high. Makhi Mitchell was the only other double-digit scorer with 13 total points and 8 rebounds. For Richmond, Grant Golden and Tyler Burton were the team’s saviors. Golden put up 19 points and 3 rebounds, while Burton contributed with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Jacob Gilyard also deserves a mention for his 10 point performance, including his game-tying 3-point jumper to fully swing the momentum in favor of the Spiders.

Sadly for the Rams, what’s been their achilles heel all season came back to bite them when the stakes were at their highest, free throws, 3-pointers, and turnovers. The Rams shot 11.8% from the 3-point range and 46.7% from the free-throw line, abysmal. In addition, the Rams had 18 turnovers compared to the Spiders’ 10 and just 9 points-off-turnovers compared to the Spiders’ 23. Simply put, the Rams continued their theme of being a first-half team, falling apart at the final hurdle, and ending the season in heartbreak.

In the fallout of Rhode Island’s loss to Richmond, the URI Athletic Department came to the decision to part ways with Head Coach David Cox. The DC native leaves the Rams with a 64-55 overall record, having gone 34-36 in A10 Conference play over his 4 years at the helm. In a statement from the university, Athletic Director Thorr Bjorn said “David Cox is a first-class individual, and I am grateful for his hard work and the manner in which he represented the University throughout his time at Rhode Island. This is not a decision I take lightly, but a change is necessary. I have tremendous respect for David, and I wish nothing but the best for him and his family.”

Coach Cox responded to the news of his dismissal saying; “It is disappointing news as I had hoped and expected to return to finish the job I started four years ago. But I respect the decision and I’m grateful for the opportunity. […] I’d like to thank my family for all their love and support. I want to recognize my staff for their dedication to this program and players. Rhody Nation, you all have been so awesome in your support of the program, my family and myself. And, to ALL the players who I have coached during my time in Kingston, know that I love you all and will forever cherish the memories.”

The University of Rhode Island will now undergo a nationwide search for a new head coach, and will not make any further comment on the matter until that search is complete. Rumored candidates for the job include Vermont’s John Becker, Bryant’s Jared Grasso, and former NBA Champion and URI alum Lamar Odom.