URI rallied past Nicholls State at 70-65 on Tuesday night at the Ryan Center.
How it happened: URI found itself in a back-and-forth game from the start. It was 10-10 at the first media timeout and neither team would lead by more than seven all night. The Rams used a 10-0 run to grab a lead late in the first half. After Nicholls State worked back to a tie, URI got an alley-oop dunk from Jacob Toppin to go to the break leading 32-28. The start of the second half was a disaster for the Rams, who gave up a 10-0 run and faced an uphill battle from there. Trailing 57-50, they went on an 8-0 run to regain the lead, then finished strong. Tyrese Martin ended a drought with a 3-pointer to turn a 62-60 hole into a 63-62 lead. Cyril Langevine’s three-point play with 1:10 left gave them the lead for good. They ended up outscoring the Colonels 20-8 over the final 7:29.
What it means: URI coach David Cox said he didn’t sleep much in the days leading up to this game, seeing it as a big potential pothole in a promising start, and the Colonels were every bit the formidable foe that he feared. What the Colonels lacked in pure skill and shooting ability, they made up for with frenetic defense, athleticism and no back-down. Despite all that, this is the kind of game a team like URI has to win, and the Rams did. The Rams head to Jamaica at 3-1. Short of an upset of Maryland for what would have been a perfect first segment of the season, hitting this milepost at 3-1 is where they want to be.
New finish: URI finished strong against Alabama, holding on for the win. This time the Rams finished with a rally. Both stretch runs showcased the power of URI’s veteran presence and maturity. Is this a game they lose last year? Very possible. The early-season tilt with Stony Brook comes to mind - in a funk against a good low-major team and they never got out of it. This time, they did.
Foul trouble to double-double: Cyril Langevine contributed to the disastrous second-half start when he picked up two fouls in the first two minutes, giving him four for the game and sending him to the bench. He came back in with 8:45 left and contributed in an even bigger way to the great finish. In that 8:45, he grabbed seven rebounds, scored five points, dished out one assist and blocked a shot with 17 seconds left when Nicholls was looking for a comeback. The point total included the go-ahead and-1, and he finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds. And Langevine never got his fifth foul, ending the game on the court and celebrating.
Finishing Fatts: Fatts Russell played a big part in the finish and was a force all night. He led all scorers with 24 points, most coming on strong drives to the basket. Russell also had six assists and only two turnovers, plus five steals. The big night really got going out of a nervy moment for the Rams, when Russell went down with an apparent knee injury and limped to the locker room. He was back four minutes later and scored seven straight points to spark a key run. Russell said he tweaked his knee but wanted to go back in immediately. The injury will be something to watch, as Russell was limping slightly on his way to the postgame press conference. But it didn’t slow him down on this night. Cox heaped praise on him, saying, “You’re going to look at his numbers and say he had an awesome game, but that doesn’t tell half the story. His leadership throughout the game, particularly in some of those timeouts, is really what got us over the hump.”
Against the swarm: Nicholls State overplays just about everything on the defensive side, a rare defensive approach that teams don’t see very often. URI had some trouble with it, just as they’ve had trouble with a similar Fordham defense in the past. It was evident in the rough start to the second half and a number of other droughts. Even down the stretch, URI had a few shaky possessions when it went more than three minutes without a bucket. They executed after that, though, making the extra pass on Tyrese Martin’s 3 and getting a pretty pick-and-slip for Langevine’s go-ahead bucket.
Hanging tough: On the other side, Rhode Island had some defensive lapses in Nicholls State’s runs, but came up with some key stops when they turned up the intensity late. The Colonels had only three field goals in the final 7:57 and finished with a 42 percent shooting clip. They were just 4-of-19 from 3-point range. In their upset of Pittsburgh earlier this season, they were 11-of-24, so the Rams kept that part of the upset formula off the table.
Ups and downs: After a great night against Alabama, Jeff Dowtin made his first three shots then missed his final seven, closing with eight points. His preferred patience was perhaps not the best approach against the Nicholls’ defense, while Fatts Russell’s speedier drives worked well. Tyrese Martin was also a little off, but hit the big 3 and finished with nine points.
Growing inside: Jermaine Harris ran into some of his familiar issues with rebounding and not finishing inside, but his 10 points matched a season-high, and he held down the fort reasonably well with Langevine on the bench. The Rams are still looking for more out of him.
Quotable: “I think I aged about 10 years after that one. It was a hard, hard fought victory. Really proud of our guys . . . I thought the resiliency we showed at the end again got us over the hump.” - Cox
Next: URI leaves early Wednesday morning for Montego Bay. The Rams face North Texas on Friday at 4:30 p.m. and LSU on Sunday at 2:30. Both games are on CBS Sports Network.