SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Sometimes the shots go in.
The swishes were a welcome - and much-needed – sight for the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team. Buried in a five-game losing streak and an even deeper shooting slump, the Rams broke out of both in a 80-53 victory over George Washington at the Ryan Center Tuesday night.
Rhody made seven of its first nine 3-point attempts and finished at 47 percent, while shooting 54 percent from the floor. The overall number was URI’s best since Jan. 19 against La Salle, while the 3-point mark was its highest since the season opener.
“The basketball gods finally took care of us,” head coach David Cox said. “For the last three or four games, I’ve seen it in these guys’ eyes. I’ve seen it every day in their work ethic. These guys have lived in the gym. They’ve been extremely coachable. They haven’t started making excuses or pointing fingers at one another even though it’s been a tough streak. I just thought, ‘Man, these guys have a tremendous amount of character and at some point, they’ll be rewarded for their hard work.’ Tonight, we were rewarded for it.”
It came at a good time. URI was in danger of falling into the bottom four of the Atlantic 10 standings, which relegates teams to the first day – and essentially the play-in round – of the conference tournament. George Washington, which came in at 4-10 in A-10 play, was one spot behind the Rams and could have leap-frogged them with a victory. URI avoids that fate for now, with three games remaining in the regular season.
In the bigger picture, regardless of opponent or the A-10 race, URI just needed to feel good about itself again. The losing streak included a 29-point home defeat to Dayton, an overtime loss to last-place Fordham and a blowout loss at VCU. URI shot 33 percent in the slide and made a total of 16 3-pointers.
Cox felt things were trending up in terms of effort and execution in Friday’s loss to Davidson. Tuesday brought more tangible results. The Rams made 10 3s and had more points at halftime than they did in the entirety of that loss to VCU. They finished with 20 assists on 32 made baskets.
“There were a few games prior to that where we buckled a little bit,” Cox said. “We didn’t against Davidson and I thought that boded well for today. We talked about that prior to the game, how we had to come out and play really, really hard and play together. I thought that’s what that was for 40 minutes.”
Tyrese Martin and Jeff Dowtin made early 3-pointers to get things rolling for Rhody. George Washington also started hot, making six of its first seven shots, but eventually cooled down and was forced into 13 first-half turnovers, 10 of which came on steals by the Rams.
URI used an 8-0 run keyed by seven Fatts Russell points to take an 18-12 lead. Russell and Omar Silverio drilled 3s in a 12-2 run later in the half that bumped the lead to 18 points. It was a 44-31 lead at the break.
George Washington opened the game in a zone defense, something URI has seen a lot of amid its outside shooting struggles. By the end of the first half, the Colonials had switched to man-to-man.
“We like to move the ball around and play off one another,” Dowtin said. “When we finally hit shots and the ball is moving, the confidence is just up in the air right now. We were able to make open shots.”
The lead was never in danger in the second half. Cyril Langevine scored eight of URI’s first 12 points as the cushion swelled to 19. The Rams shot 52 percent in the second half. At the other end, they finished the game with a season-high 15 steals and held George Washington to 39 percent shooting. The Colonials did not make a 3. Three of URI’s last four opponents had shot better than 50 percent from the field.
“Active hands, being in the proper spots, being urgent,” Cox said. “Really proud of the defensive effort. That bodes well for us moving forward. We are a team that hangs our hat on defense. Obviously, we made some shots tonight, but we’ve got to continue to go out there and play hard on the defensive end in order to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Dowtin had 16 points and five assists. Russell had 14 and also handed out five assists. Langevine chipped in 13 points, while Christion Thompson scored eight off the bench to go with four steals.
Making his Rhode Island homecoming, Johnston native and Bishop Hendricken graduate Justin Mazzulla had five points for George Washington.