URI beat VCU 71-65 Wednesday night at the Ryan Center.
How it happened: URI fell behind early, struggling against VCU’s league-best defense. It was a 20-10 game with 8:32 left. Rhody went nearly seven minutes without a field goal before Cyril Langevine started a 6-0 burst. That surge made it a four-point game and the Rams remained within striking distance for the rest of the half despite shooting 28 percent. VCU’s 13 turnovers helped the cause. URI started the second half with four straight points and steadily took control. A 14-3 run highlighted by a diverse scoring effort - four from Jeff Dowtin and two each from Tyrese Martin, Jermaine Harris and Dana Tate - gave them a nine-point lead. After URI bumped it to 12 late, VCU made a final charge and came within two, but Harris hit a jumper, Christion Thompson drew a charge and URI made its free throws to seal the victory.
What it means: The victory over West Virginia was the benchmark of the David Cox era to date, but with the Mountaineers struggling since, this victory can take its place. And you could make a case for it even if West Virginia hadn’t been scuffling. VCU has been the A-10’s most consistent contender for the better part of a decade and their brand of basketball has bullied plenty of teams. URI had gotten over the hump against them lately, winning a series of all-out wars. For this young Rhody team to do the same is impressive, even moreso given its first-half struggles. In the big picture, the upward trends of wins over St. Bonaventure and La Salle continued against much stiffer competition. And URI now owns a big A-10 win.
Switching sides: URI scored 21 points in the first half, its second-lowest total of the season. It followed with 50 points in the second, its highest-scoring half of the season. For that turnaround to happen against that defense is pretty remarkable. URI also didn’t just start shooting the lights out, finishing with only one 3-pointer. Instead, Rhody executed well, went hard to the basket and didn’t seem to get flustered by VCU’s defense. After getting just a handful of true open looks in the first half, URI forced its way to plenty of them in the second.
Short game: URI’s one 3-pointer was a season-low, but no one seemed to notice because previous low totals coincided with a lot of attempts -- 3-for-25 against George Mason, for instance. This time, the Rams took only nine 3-point tries. That’s two games in a row where they’ve seemed intent on getting shots inside the arc, having taken eight 3s against La Salle.
Leading the way: Fatts Russell was the poster boy for that trend again, scoring a game-high 19 points while taking - and making - only one 3-pointer. He finished 7-for-16 from the field and added six rebounds. Over his last three games, Russell has scored 18, 20 and 19 points while shooting 49 percent from the field.
Spread it out: Russell was one of four Rams in double figures, with Jeff Dowtin scoring 14, Tyrese Martin tallying 12 and Cyril Langevine getting 10. Jermaine Harris was solid with eight points and Dane Tate chipped in six.
Big shot: Harris had a funny game. Early on, he looked a little overwhelmed by the physicality and high level of play. But he stayed in it and tallied the eight points. Then, down the stretch, he grabbed two crucial rebounds in traffic before making perhaps the biggest shot of the game. With 33 seconds left and the shot clock running down, Harris hit a jumper from the free-throw line that pushed a quickly-shrinking two-point lead back to four. The play wasn’t exactly drawn up. Head coach David Cox joked, “I figured I’d clear it out and call a Jermaine Harris iso. Great call on my part.” He added, in seriousness, “They gave him some space. He’s a really good 15-foot and in shooter and he stepped into it and knocked it down. Huge shot.”
Pushing through: Christion Thompson did not score as his recent scuffles continued, but he continued to earn his keep. He drew a charge right after the Harris shot, which set the Rams up to seal the game at the free-throw line. He also played all but one of the game’s final 13 minutes, a nod to what his presence can still mean even when he’s not scoring.
Quotable: “It’s been a process and I’ve started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I think the Rhody fans here tonight witnessed what I’ve been seeing and talking about the past few weeks.” - Cox
Next: URI heads to UMass on Sunday. The Minutemen have struggled to an 0-5 league mark but will be dangerous.