URI beat Middle Tennessee 72-60 at the Ryan Center Sunday night.
How it happened: The Rams found themselves in a dogfight for much of the game. The Blue Raiders hit three 3-pointers en route to an early lead. After the Rams steadily gained control, they went cold late in the first half, scoring only three points in the final 7:28. It was a 29-27 URI lead at the half. Middle Tennessee started the second half even faster, outscoring URI 17-8 to take a 44-37 lead with 15:35 to go. The Rams turned the game around from there with a 26-3 run capped by a Fatts Russell steal and layup that made it 63-47 with 7:24 left. The Blue Raiders never got back into the game as URI finished out the win.
What it means: The Blue Raiders profiled as the kind of opponent that would allow URI to coast into Atlantic 10 play. Instead, their uncharacteristic hot shooting from deep - they came in at 29 percent on the year - and a lackluster first 25 minutes by the Rams made it a grind. Whether it was the effects of a long trip back from Hawaii or just more ups and downs in an up-and-down non-conference slate, the Rams weren’t at their best until the second-half run. That means they’ll hit the A-10 season with much the same identity they’ve had throughout November and December, where it’s hard to peg exactly what they’ll look like from one game to the next.
The run: While the overall performance wasn’t what the Rams were looking for, the run that changed the game was one of their best stretches of the season. They allowed just one field goal in a seven-and-a-half minute stretch, with Middle Tennessee going on to miss its last 10 3-point tries after a 9-for-11 start. At the other end, URI executed well. Paint touches for Cyril Langevine and Jermaine Harris got the comeback started, with a drive to the basket by Fatts Russell also included. The success at the rim opened things up, with Dana Tate and Jeff Dowtin both connecting from deep to keep the run going.
Fresh faces: With Cyril Langevine in the midst of his worst game of the season - six points, four rebounds - URI needed some help and got it from its freshmen. Dana Tate made three 3-pointers en route to 15 points and tacked on six rebounds. Tyrese Martin had seven points and eight rebounds, and Jermaine Harris added nine points. It was the best performance of the season for the freshman class, and it comes at a good time with URI needing all the help it can get as A-10 play gets started.
Breakthrough: Tate’s 15 points matched Harris’ 15 against Brown for the best scoring night by one of the freshmen this season. He was trending up with nine points against Bucknell in Hawaii and continued the trend with a good all-around performance. The point total is a career high. Head coach David Cox said, “This is the Dana Tate we knew we would get.”
Right direction: The shots may never fall at a great clip for this team, but URI has moved past much of what caused its early-season offensive stumbles. The Rams had 16 assists on 24 made baskets in Sunday’s win and didn’t settle for off-the-dribble jump shots. They made eight 3-pointers for the third time in the last four games. The biggest negative for the Rams were the 14 turnovers, though they did force the Blue Raiders into 16 giveaways of their own.
The core: URI narrowed down its rotation in Hawaii and stuck with it in this one, as only seven players saw double-digit minutes. Tate and Martin came off the bench to join the five starters. Omar Silverio and Ryan Preston saw limited action.
Aris update: Freshman Aris Tsourgiannis was not with the Rams Sunday after also not making the trip to Hawaii. Cox said he’s away from the team for personal reasons but would not elaborate on his status going forward. Tsourgiannis has played in only one game so far.
Big picture: The Rams finish non-conference play at 7-5. It’s not where they wanted to be, particularly in light of the games that got away from them in Hawaii. Cox said, “We’ve made progress but I’m not satisfied at all and this is not where we wanted to be. Seven and five is unacceptable. We had a couple of games that we should have definitely won and that’s going to bother me for a while.”
Quotable: “We’ve got to turn this corner. I’m accepting nothing less than winning. That’s the culture we’ve established here. Those are the expectations.” - Cox
Next: URI opens A-10 play next Sunday at preseason league favorite St. Louis.