URI beat St. Louis 65-54 Saturday afternoon at the Ryan Center.
How it happened: After falling into an early 4-0 hole, URI went on a 12-2 run and remained largely in control of the game from that point forward. St. Louis’ 4-2 lead with 18:29 left was its last. The Billikens worked back to a 17-17 tie late in the first half as URI made only one field goal in six-plus minutes, but Tyrese Martin hit a 3-pointer that sent the Rams back to the lead. The lead hovered around four for most of the second half, with neither team getting on a significant run. After St. Louis made its charge to tie the game 39-39 with 9:07 left, Martin drove for a layup that gave URI the lead for good. The freshman later provided the exclamation point with a pair of dunks as the Rams finished strong.
What it means: URI avoided what would have been its first three-game losing streak in Atlantic 10 play since 2014, when E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin were freshmen. Though there were rough patches in the years that followed, the Rams have been remarkably consistent in conference play. This win kept another two-game slide from hitting three as URI bounced back in solid fashion from its blown-lead loss to Duquesne Wednesday. As important as the victory was in terms of what came before, it’s just as crucial for what comes next. URI visits league-leading Davidson Wednesday and hosts 7-2 Dayton next Saturday. Had the Rams lost here, they might have been in some trouble.
Desperate times: The Rams did all that against a team that was more desperate for a win than they were. St. Louis - the preseason A-10 favorite - had lost three in a row, with NCAA at-large hopes fading and a shot at the top of the conference standings slipping. And as a defense-first squad, the Billikens are the kind of team that can make desperation translate on the court. URI handled it well.
The grind: URI and St. Louis could play 10 times and the game might never get out of the 60s. Two good defensive teams with some offensive shortcomings are not going to create a work of art. The Rams pushed through that circumstance, too, overcoming a long first-half drought and never hitting another dry spell in the second half. They also took care of the ball, committing only seven turnovers after giving it away 17 times in their first meeting with the Billikens. URI also dished out 13 assists on 22 made baskets.
As Dowtin goes: Jeff Dowtin didn’t have his best game against Duquesne, scoring 12 points on five of 13 shooting. He responded with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting against the Billikens, and his turnaround started early, which seemed to chart a course to overall success. Dowtin scored eight of URI’s first 17 points as the Rams took control.
Sustained: Tyrese Martin’s breakout is in cement at this point. Following a career-high 23 points at UMass and 10 at Duquesne, Martin logged his first career double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. He also shined in big moments. His driving bucket that gave URI the lead for good in the second half came with the shot clock dwindling.
Everything else: Cyril Langevine scored six points, matching a season-low and didn’t even get into the scoring column until the seven-minute mark of the second half. But by that time, he was already having a big game. He finished with nine rebounds, five blocks and four assists in what David Cox called a “monster performance.”
Shut down: Javon Bess, the leading scorer for St. Louis, tallied only two points after scoring 24 against the Rams in January. URI ran three different defenders - Martin, Dowtin and Christion Thompson - at Bess. That focus, combined with St. Louis’ apparent desire to get the ball inside, added up to a quiet night for one of the A-10’s best.
Quotable: “We’ve been talking about handling prosperity all year, and we’ve struggled with that a little bit. The other day, we got hit in the face with adversity at a high level and we didn’t handle that well either. I was looking for these guys to handle some adversity today.” - David Cox
Next: URI faces one of its toughest tests in A-10 play Wednesday as it visits league-leading Davidson.