Rhode Island beat Alabama 93-79 at the Ryan Center Friday night.
How it happened: The Rams dominated the first half, leading by as many as 22 points. A combination of their solid defense and sloppy offense by Alabama led to 13 turnovers for the Crimson Tide. They also missed all 10 of their 3-point tries. URI took full advantage with its best basketball of the season, shooting 56 percent from the field and turning all the turnovers into 19 points. Two 10-0 runs allowed the Rams to build the lead. Alabama played better in the second half and made several charges uphill, but URI held them off each time. The final answer was decisive as URI finished the game on a 12-3 run after the Tide had worked within five points at the 3:28 mark.
What it means: After missing out on a chance for a signature win on Saturday at Maryland, URI seized this one. It’s not as significant, of course - a win over a top-10 team on the road would have allowed URI to write its ticket. But it’s a solid one for the resume, especially if Alabama can find itself as it moves forward in year one of the Nate Oats era. The Rams will be rooting for that. This is a team that lost to Penn in its season opener, so it remains to be seen where the Tide end up. For the Rams, the performance also matters in and of itself. URI did not shrink from the moment or struggle against the size and athleticism of a power-conference team. Instead, they delivered their best performance of the young season.
Opening statement: A crowd announced at 7,021 had plenty to cheer about early, so much so that it actually got a little quiet late in the first half. That’ll happen when the lead is 22 points. The Rams couldn’t have scripted it better for the first 20 minutes. They share the ball, they shot it well, they played strong defense and they didn’t falter when Alabama settled in. The Maryland first half, in which URI led by 12, was one of those situations where you feel like the team that’s up should be up by more. And sure enough, back comes the team that’s down. This time, there wasn’t a whole lot URI could have done better. A 17-point halftime lead was plenty.
Final push: Just as important as the start was the finish. Six days after the big fade against the Terrapins, URI shot 48 percent in the second half and responded when Alabama made its runs. Twice, the Rams scored out of timeouts that had been called to stop the bleeding. They also came up with more takeaways, and continued turning them into points.
Big game guys: It’s a little early for “Tournament Jeff,” but Jeff Dowtin and his fellow veterans were up for the big moment. Fatts Russell was in his element from the start and finished with a game-high 22 points, on 8-of-18 shooting. Dowtin scored 21 points and made 9 of 11 shots. Cyril Langevine had a quiet day in terms of his usual favorite stat, grabbing only five rebounds, but he handed out a career high six assists and was 10-of-12 from the free-throw line. And Tyrese Martin scored 11 points.
Steady hand: Dowtin’s play was particularly impressive. He controlled the offense and was super efficient. He credited improved shot selection for the season-high in points, saying he had texted David Cox after the Maryland game to apologize for poor shots. Cox felt Dowtin’s work in the lane was the key. He took only one 3-point try, instead getting to the paint for mid-range jumpers, drives to the hole or passes to teammates.
Bench help: Add “Up for Big Moments” to Jacob Toppin’s quickly-growing resume. The freshman made three 3-pointers on his way to 11 points and added three rebounds. Dana Tate was also great off the bench, scoring nine points and making some key buckets when the lead was dwindling.
Speed: Alabama likes to play fast. It could be tempting for a defensive-minded team like URI to try to slow the pace, but instead the Rams opted to run right alongside. The Rams outscored the Tide in fast-break points 21-17 and were willing to play a high-possession game, exceeding their season average by about seven trips.
Swipes and stops: Some of Alabama’s turnovers were of the sloppy variety, but URI was credited with 13 steals. Russell and Martin each had four of them. Cox was also thrilled with the defensive effort at the 3-point line in the first half, saying, “It was really our defense that allowed us to build that lead and build that confidence.
Quotable: “I thought we played very well tonight. I thought the Maryland game prepared for this particular team. We were battle-tested, we played physical, we stuck to the game plan. We came out with a great win.” - Cox
Next: URI has its home date in the Jamaica Classic tournament on Tuesday as Nicholls State comes to Kingston. Then it’s on to the island, with games beginning there next Friday.