URI lost to St. Bonaventure 68-51 Saturday in the Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals.
How it happened: URI was the aggressor in the early going, getting easy buckets on pick-and-rolls and drives to the lane. Jeff Dowtin, Christion Thompson and Fatts Russell added 3-pointers. A day after starting slow against VCU, Cyril Langevine scored eight first-half points. At the other end, the Bonnies made only four of their first 21 field-goal attempts and URI’s lead ballooned to 15. What followed was URI’s worst stretch of the tournament. The Rams didn’t score the final 4:08 of the half and the Bonnies caught fire, ending the half on a 13-0 run. URI stayed close in the second half, but the pendulum had swung in the Bonnies’ direction. In the final seven minutes, URI went 2-of-13 from the field as the Bonnies pulled away.
What it means: The improbable ride is over for the Rams, and their season is likely over. An NIT bid seems a long shot and coach David Cox said the department would have to discuss a CBI or CIT opportunity if it was presented. The general thought is the Rams would not play in those tournaments.
Bad four: The four-minute drought at the end of the first half completely changed the game. The way St. Bonaventure dominated the final 24 minutes, it’s safe to wonder whether that kind of stretch was destined to happen at some point regardless, but the way it went felt particularly costly for URI. Had the 15-point lead bumped to 20 at the half, maybe the dwindling battery life gets a recharge and maybe the Bonnies fade. Instead, URI wobbled for the first time in a long time and had trouble steadying itself. Add in the fatigue and the Bonnies’ abilities, and you get what you got.
Sliding back: From the first few weeks of the season, there has always been a wide range of outcomes for this URI team. Over the last three weeks, they narrowed it significantly and in tourney play, they ended up on the right side so many times, it started to feel like an inevitability. But the wide range was still there, and fatigue may have exacerbated it. URI shot 35 percent from the field. The big shots that were falling against VCU weren’t in the second half. The Rams also lost their grip defensively, with St. Bonaventure shooting 55 percent in the second half and scoring 20 points in the paint.
Screened: URI had a lot of success in the first half with pick-and-rolls and ball screens, just as it did against VCU. St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said a small adjustment helped his team: “I thought in the first half, we call it shocking the ball screen, trying to knock the ball back but we would release it a little bit too early and they would hesitate and then go. And the adjustment at halftime was to try to stay another second, so our guy that's guarding it can come back and square the ball up, and that's what we tried to do.”
Youth movement: St. Bonaventure’s freshmen shined again. Kyle Lofton led all scorers with 23 points, while Dominick Welch and Osun Osunniyi were also in double figures. Tyrese Martin had eight points and 10 rebounds for URI.
Summing up the surge: It was an emotional press conference for the Rams, with Cox heaping praise on his players and hearing it in return. Throughout the win streak, Cox always couched his comments in the fact that there would be another game. But the end brought the full tally: “in over 20 years of coaching, I've never been prouder of a group of young men, for all the adversity they fought through, for their resiliency and for staying together. I thought that they went out this weekend and they represented themselves very well. They represented the University of Rhode Island and they represented the basketball program with great -- with great pride.”
Setting the stage: To some extent, this season always felt like part of a two-year narrative, and the story was not shaping up well three weeks ago. The win streak and the noise URI made in the tournament provide something to build on, though the Rams would have obviously liked to be building on something more substantial. With everybody eligible to return other than Ryan Preston and former walk-on Will Leviton, the future is bright. The Rams will take confidence and belief from this run, as well as motivation, since it ultimately fell short.
Quotable: “It should be a confident group of young men. Now they know what it takes to win, to compete at a very, very high level. So that bodes well for the future. But with that being said, you know, the team we just played, they have some young guys, too. They will be back. VCU will be back. Dayton will be back. The league will be very, very strong next year. So we've got to get to work. We've got to get to work right away, and we've got to get better.” - Cox