URI beat St. Bonaventure 75-63 at the Ryan Center Wednesday night.
How it happened: The Bonnies jumped to a 12-4 lead before URI’s defense flexed its muscle. The Bonnies made only two more field goals in the first half, and their 20 first-half points were the fewest by a URI opponent this season. The Rams took advantage, a little at a time and then in one big chunk. After taking its first lead with 7:27 left then giving it up soon after, URI stormed to an 18-2 run over the final 5:26 of the half, which turned an 18-16 deficit into a 34-20 lead. Seven straight points by Tyrese Martin and a dunk by Jeff Dowtin in the final seconds highlighted the surge, which ended up being decisive. The Bonnies outscored URI by two in the second half, but never dug out of the hole, failing to get closer than six points.
What it means: In November, after a loss to Stony Brook, David Cox demanded that his team get back to Rhode Island basketball. He was even more forceful after Sunday’s loss to George Mason, saying he would do whatever it took to get five guys playing that brand of basketball. Both times, the Rams responded. They blew out Brown after the Stony Brook defeat, and this time, delivered a solid win. The first-half defense was particularly impressive - it was the kind of effort that’s a necessity for any URI success down the line.
The truth hurts: Cox had no qualms about challenging his players following the loss to George Mason, saying, “Somebody told me once that everybody, particularly athletes, need a truth-teller in their life. I’m their truth-teller. I’m going to let them know exactly what it is and where they stand, and hopefully they respond accordingly.” It’s safe to say they did. Fatts Russell said the Rams talked among themselves and heard the truth loud and clear: “We had a meeting the other day and we said, ‘It’s not coach. It’s us.’”
Clamping down: The Bonnies made only six first-half field goals and shot 24 percent. They were better in the second half but still only managed to get to 39 percent shooting for the game. They also lost 18 turnovers. It was one of URI’s best defensive showings of the season. The challenge to get back to Rhode Island basketball set the course, and a return to fundamentals in practice provided the tools.
Uptick: URI’s offense also made big strides, with the Rams shooting 54 percent from the field and five of 13 from beyond the arc, three days after their brutal night against George Mason. If the first half of the season is an indication, shooting will come and go for this team. But what the Rams can control is everything that comes before a shot. Their 15 assists on 25 made baskets tonight tell a pretty good story in that department.
More of the same: Tyrese Martin made his second start, this time taking the place of Christion Thompson after previously subbing in for an injured Fatts Russell at St. Louis. In both of those starts, Martin scored 18 points. This time, he did it on 5-of-6 shooting from the field and a 7-of-7 clip at the free-throw line. Yes, that’s one miss in 13 shots. Martin is really emerging, with four straight games in double figures. It would be a surprise if he’s not in the starting lineup again when the Rams visit La Salle Saturday.
Efficient Fatts: This was the first time all season Fatts Russell didn’t hit double-digits in shot attempts. He was an efficient 6-of-9 from the field for 18 points. Russell seemed intent on getting to the basket in the early going, and he took only two 3-point shots. He added five assists and four steals.
Right direction: Thompson was out of the starting lineup for the first time all season after a scoreless game against George Mason. He came off the bench to play 24 minutes and scored four points, which included a 3-pointer from the corner. With their lack of depth, the Rams need Thompson to stick with it and rediscover his steady play from early in the season. Dana Tate also had a better night after going scoreless against the Patriots. He scored six points and delivered an accidental highlight late in the game when he picked up a loose ball and made a turnaround 3-pointer as the shot clock expired.
Quotable: “I wanted to see us play the game the right way. The win is a byproduct of playing the game the right way. We played the game defensively and offensively the right way. That’s all I want to see moving forward. We’ll stack wins at some point, but we have to start playing the right way more consistently. Now the next challenge is can we do it again?” - Cox
Next: URI heads to La Salle on Saturday.