URI beat Western Kentucky 86-82 on Saturday at the Ryan Center.
How it happened: Back on the court after a 15-day break, the Rams seemed in control for most of the night, leading for all but two minutes and fifteen seconds. But after a 3-pointer by Tyrese Martin with 4:47 remaining made it 70-61, they went scoreless for nearly four minutes. Buckets by Dowtin and Russell kept URI in front in the final minute, but a wild last possession ended in a buzzer-beater 3-pointer by Carson Williams. The Hilltoppers missed a contested 3-pointer, grabbed the rebound and missed another, before corralling a loose ball and finding Williams all alone in the left corner. In overtime, Cyril Langevine scored four points and Fatts Russell drilled a 3-pointer for the lead. Three straight defensive stops - including two steals by Jermaine Harris - set the Rams up to ice the game at the free-throw line, which they did.
What it means: This was a tricky one for the Rams. Western Kentucky shaped up as a potential conference champ and solid opponent before a season-ending injury to star center Charles Bassey. The Hilltoppers may yet contend in Conference USA, but the change made this more of a must-win for the Rams than an opportunity. They took care of it and will now hope the win does end up looking good with a strong run in conference play by the Hilltoppers. All in all, URI continues its trend of winning the games it’s supposed to win.
Wobbly finish: From the moment URI opened the second half on an 8-0 run, the Rams had a relatively comfortable lead that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. But the late drought eventually caught up to them. The Hilltoppers made it a five-point game, then a three-point game, then a one-point game before the buzzer-beater. Had URI lost this game, the drought would have really stung - it can’t happen in a game you’ve led basically the whole way. As it stands, URI will take that lesson without the pain. There were too many shots settled for against Western Kentucky’s 2-3 zone.
Response: The Rams probably felt like they shouldn’t be in overtime but responded with steady play and not panic. They worked for good shots at the offensive end and got the stops they needed. Said head coach David Cox: “I like to look at the guys in those instances, to see how they respond and react, and I thought their initial response was fine - just, ‘OK, we’ve got to go a little longer, but we’re going to get this done.’”
Just in time: It was a quiet scoring night from the usual suspects but they were there when the Rams needed them. Jeff Dowtin ended the drought with a driving leaner at the 54-second mark. Beginning with that bucket, every point for the rest of the way came from Dowtin, Langevine and Russell.
Accepting help: Before their late take-over, Dowtin and Russell struggled shooting the ball but made significant contributions as their teammates stepped up. Both finished with eight assists, and Dowtin did it without a single turnover. The Rams totaled 21 assists on their 32 made baskets. Also quiet in the scoring column, Langevine had 14 rebounds.
Support system: Can the Rams win without big games from the big three? They can certainly be within range and they would have done it with a better finish. Tyrese Martin scored a season-high 22 points, Jermaine Harris totaled a season-high 11 and made some key plays, and Georgetown transfer Antwan Walker had 10 points and seven rebounds in his debut. It’s a good sign for the Rams that there’s help if Russell and Dowtin aren’t shooting it well.
Welcome: Walker quickly caught the attention of URI fans. After picking up a foul on his first possession, he ended up with four points, two rebounds, an assist and a steal in his first four minutes as a Ram. There will be challenges to come against bigger frontlines, but Walker can clearly be a big help. Cox said, “We know what he’s capable of doing and he did that. He gave you all a glimpse of that tonight.”
Quotable: “They were positive with one another and they were positive with me. And they played that way in the overtime. You’ve seen that a number of times this year when we’ve been in tight situations. These guys have grown up this year.” - Cox
Next: Another layoff awaits the Rams before they travel to Middle Tennessee on Dec. 29 for their penultimate non-conference game.