What a game that was. Following two defeats in a row at the hands of St. Louis and St. Joseph’s, URI was able to exorcise their demons, particularly at the 3-point line, defeating the Duquesne Dukes 79-77. Though Duquesne’s Primo Spears dropped 30 points, he couldn’t get the Dukes over the line, with the Rams narrowly edging them out in a fiercely competitive contest for a spot in the next round.
A Below Standard First Half For The Rams
The Rams shot 64% from 3-point range in the first Half. Coupled with the fact that they hadn’t gone to the line, thus not missing any free throws, one might argue this was a solid half from the boys in Keaney Blue. While those stats are good, they did find themselves down four points at halftime, 37-41, against a team with 1 conference win all year. In truth, they were lucky the deficit wasn’t more. The Rams’ first half was plagued with needless turnovers thanks to sloppy passing and missed opportunities. To put it in perspective, Duquesne finished the first half with 16 points off turnovers, compared to 0 for the Rams. Every errant pass was being punished by Dukes. The Rams were even being stripped of possession at mid court, caught sleeping while trying to search for an opening. Either way, the Rhody defense was able to step up and make stops when it was necessary, particularly during the back end of the half, in order to keep the game close.
Primo Spears was a one-man wrecking ball against the URI defense. The freshman guard put up 17 points during the first half, going 7-12 from the field and 2-4 from 3 point range. No other Dukes managed to hit double digits in the first half, with Jackie Johnson III and Kevin Easley coming the closest with 7 points each.
For Rhode Island, the scoring was more spread out. No one on the Rams hit double digits in the first half, with Antwan Walker and Ishmael Leggett both managing 8 points. Jeremy Sheppard also contributed with 7 points and 3 assists.
An Anxiety Inducing End To The Second Half
I came to the conclusion today that, if you, as a team, are the worst free-throw shooting team in your conference, then no lead below 10 points you have is safe. This was exactly the case for the Rams towards the back end of the game. The Rams came out of the locker room knowing exactly what they had to do, push hard at Duquesne and break their rhythm. And, they did so. Rhode Island was able to regain the lead after just over 3:30 minutes of play. Then they began adding to their lead. Duquesne would occasionally peg them back, however, keeping the deficit within five points for the majority of the half. But, once the game clock ticked below two minutes, the game became much more frantic.
With 1:59 to play, Rhode Island made it a seven point game following a driving layup from Makhi Mitchell. That would be their last field goal of the game. Duquense, through pure desperation, began fouling Rhode Island ever chance they could. Given that free-throws have been a major factor in URI’s 2-11 record the second half of the season, all Rhody fans in attendance, including myself, were on edge. Walker was fouled first, and made both, extending the lead to six. Sheppard was fouled next, and he made only one. Duquesne then drove up the court and finished a layup to cut the deficit to five. After four free throws, two for each team, I witnessed one of the most bizarre plays I’ve seen all season. Following the inbound, Leggett found himself wide open on the fast break. But, instead of holding the ball and dribbling out what was left of the 00:21 on the clock, he decided to go to the basket. Whether he wanted to dunk but mistimed his jump, or didn’t decide how he wanted to finish in time, I don’t know. But what I do know is that he missed the bucket, turning the ball over to the Dukes, who subsequently made a layup to cut the deficit to merely three points. I was stunned, the bench was stunned, and Coach Cox was stunned. However, what was done was done, and now the Rams had to hold on for 13 more seconds and the game was over. Sheppard would be fouled once again, this time missing one of his free throws. Duquense then took the ball back up the court, finished a layup and it was a measly one point game. That said, with five seconds on the clock, Sheppard was fouled one more time, making one of his two, and leaving little time for Duquense to mount an offensive. As the buzzer blared, the Dukes last gasp heave of the basketball fell short, and the Rams came out victorious, 79-77.
For Duquense, Primo Spears capped off his A10 Tournament debut with a 30 point display, coupled with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Kevin Easley finished with an impressive 20 points, while also putting up 7 rebounds and 3 assists. The duo carried the Dukes on their backs, but in the end, fell just short.
Antwan Walker was the star of the show for the Rams today. The redshirt junior forward had 17 points and 11 rebounds, both of which were team highs. I asked Antwan how it felt to help lead the team to victory during his third start in a row, and he responded by saying that he “was more happy about us [Rhode Island] getting the win. Everyone played hard and all I was worried about was trying to get to the next game.” Walker was supported with double-digit performances from Sheppard, Leggett, and the Mitchell Twins. Sheppard finished the game with 15 points and 6 assists, while DC native Ishmael Leggett finished with 12 points and 7 rebounds. The Mitchell Twins, both of whom are also DC natives, contributed with 10 points each off the bench, with Makhi also managing 8 rebounds.
Back On The Court In 24 Hours
The Rams may celebrate a bit tonight, but they have a tough challenge in the form of the #6 seed Richmond Spiders tomorrow night. Richmond got the better of Rhode Island earlier in the year, defeating the Keaney boys 70-63 in Kingston on January 25th. But, the Rams will be hoping to ride their momentum from their opening game in order to topple an old foe and get through the second round. Tip-off between the Rams and the Spiders is tomorrow night, March 10th, at 8:30 pm on the USA Network.