Coming off a statement win that saw Rhode Island defeat Duquesne 70-54 at the Ryan Center this past Saturday, the Rams simply couldn’t capitalize on their momentum, losing to the St. Louis Billikens 80-74. In a game that mattered more than normal, the Rams have done themselves no favors and now find themselves dealing with the possibility of an A10 Conference Tournament Play-In game.
A (Majority) End To End First Half
The first half of this game opened with an Ishmael El-Amin 3-point jumper, which set the tone for the remainder of the half. For the first 10 minutes of the half, both the Rams and Billikens traded baskets, finding themselves tied on a few occasions. Then, at around the 11:00 mark, Rhode Island started a 15-5 run, ultimately putting them up 30-20 with just over 6 minutes to play. However, the momentum would then swing in favor of the Billikens. St. Louis would go on a run of their own to finish the half, outscoring the Rams 19-3 before heading to the locker rooms with a 39-33 lead. Fred Thatch Jr and Gibson Jimerson led the charge for the Billikens, with each of the guards putting up 12 and 11 points, respectfully. Both guards were efficient from the 3-point line as well, with Thatch Jr going 2-3 and Jimerson going 3-5. But, this was to be expected from the 3rd best 3-point shooting team in the conference, coming into tonight. The Rams, on the other hand, had no double digit scorers. The Mitchell Twins and Jalen Carey each had 7 points coming off the bench, while Ishmael El-Amin finished the half with 6 points, shooting 2-2 from the 3 point line. It was clear that the Rams’ tactics were working to an extent during the first half, but once their scoring run came to an end, they just weren’t able to ride another wave of momentum. Though they were only down 6 going into halftime, Coach Cox needed to tweak his game-plan in order to prevent St. Louis from coming out the locker and riding their own momentum any further.
A Second Half That Came Up Just Short
Well, what Coach Cox and his men might’ve feared about the second half came to fruition very quickly. Within seven minutes, the Billikens were able to extend their lead to 15 points, going on a 19-12 run, leading 58-43 with 13:08 left to play. At that moment, the momentum crashed for St. Louis and subsequently rose for the Rams. Rhode Island started their emphatic second-half run, outscoring St Louis 20-5 over the following seven minutes to tie the game at 63. This run culminated with an impressive 7 point display from true-freshman Sebastian Thomas in just over a single minute of play. Sebastian had 0 points and only 1 assist up to that point. From the 7:00 mark onward, Rhode Island and St. Louis would trade the lead twice, before the Billikens ultimately closed out the game. St. Louis outscored Rhode Island 8-5 in the final 3 minutes of the game, subsequently coming out victorious with a final score of 80-74. Thatch Jr and Jimerson were the stars of the show once again for the Billikens, with the pair combining for 20 points, shooting 7-14 from the field, 3-6 from 3-point range. Jeremy Sheppard did all he could to keep the Rams in the game during the second half. The senior guard put up 14 points, going 6-6 from the field, and 2-2 from 3-point range. Regarding the game overall, the Billikens finished with two 20+ point scorers (Thatch Jr, 21 & Jimerman, 22). As for the Rams, Jeremy Sheppard led the team with 16 points, while Makhi and Makhel Mitchell put up 13 and 10 points, respectfully. But, when it was all said and done, the Rams ineptitude from the free throw line, as well as a plethora of sloppy turnovers, cost them dearly; a theme which has stretched across numerous games throughout conference play this season. At the time of writing, Rhode Island sit at the bottom of the Atlantic 10 for free throws converted, shooting an abysmal 62.8% from the line this season. Ironically, Rhode Island leads the Atlantic 10 in Opponent FT Percentage, with the Rams’ opponents shooting 74% from the line.
A10 Play-In Game On The Horizon?
I asked Coach Cox if he’s been paying any attention to the A10 Standings, and where URI’s position may be, come the end of the season. I received an emphatic “not at all, not one bit”. Even so, the fate of the Ram’s positioning in the A10 Conference Tournament bracket relies both on their own performance on Saturday, and that of rival UMass Amherst. In order to avoid the play-in, Rhode Island must beat St. Joesph’s in Philadelphia, but also needs a UMass loss to George Mason in order to leapfrog them out of the bottom four. When asked about the situation, Sebastian Thomas put it perfectly from a player’s perspective, “we can only focus on Rhode Island and what we can control. Looking at it like that, it doesn’t matter what the outcome of the other games are, we’re just going to focus on ourselves and take momentum into the A10 Tournament.”
Rhode Island plays its final game of the season on Saturday, March 5th, away at St. Joesph’s. The tip-off is at 1:00 pm EST on ESPN+.