URI beat La Salle 66-63 on Saturday afternoon at the Ryan Center.
How it happened: Hot streaks, cold spells and a nervy finish for the Rams. URI led 7-0, then fell behind by as many as six as La Salle hit seven of its first nine shots from the field. The Explorers inevitably cooled down and URI found its defensive footing en route to a 39-33 halftime lead. Both teams scuffled early in the second half but La Salle had to ride out a longer stretch, and URI opened up a 52-38 lead. Suddenly, the Explorers caught fire again with a 17-2 run to take the lead, but URI outscored them 8-2 over the next two-and-half minutes to regain just enough control. Two key defensive stops in a three-point game and four free throws by Jeff Dowtin and Fatts Russell helped URI hang on. La Salle had an opportunity to tie the game twice in the final seconds, but an offensive rebound off an intentional miss free throw led to a putback instead of a kickout 3. And a last-second inbounds heave was knocked away.
What it means: In the postgame, the Rams seemed to be viewing this one through a survive-and-advance lens, less worried about giving away the lead than they were happy about continuing their win streak. Being able to hammer the nail in when the lead is at 14 with 10 minutes left is still something the Rams are working on and they obviously know it. But they were happy to respond when they needed to. Their four-game win streak is the longest of the season. At 4-1 in league play, they remain on track for a showdown on Wednesday at the Ryan Center with Duquesne, who’s off to a perfect start in conference.
Right place, right time: URI sometimes puts itself into unnecessarily difficult spots, a tendency they might be more worried about if they weren’t so good at doing what they need to do in those situations. With a few exceptions, if it’s a game they’re supposed to control, they’ll hold on tight when they really have to. This time, they took the punch by La Salle and responded with better execution on offense and shut-down defense. After the Explorers took a 57-56 lead with 4:07 left, they made only two more field goals. URI was also 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 2:12.
Wobbling: Still, there was the fact that the game got to that point. What followed after the 52-38 lead was a nice stretch by La Salle, but also a rough patch for the Rams at the offensive end. They turned the ball over four times, missed two 3-pointers and missed a shot in the lane. The best teams in college basketball are good at kind of playing well when they’re playing poorly - staying true on defense, battling, continuing to take the right shots even if they’re not falling. Some improvement in those stretches would help URI get a little steadier, but again, they’re also pretty good at shaking off the bad spells and finding a way.
All hands on deck: URI didn’t put a player into double digits until the 2:12 mark of the second half. It was a low-scoring game, but good balance also played a role in that. Seven players scored at least seven points for the Rams, one of their most balanced efforts of the season. Antwan Walker and Mekhi Long provided the biggest lift with nine points each. Walker added six rebounds and two assists in his best game since two tough ones earlier this month.
The stripe: URI was busy and pretty solid at the free throw line, making 22 of 32 from the line. That helped make up for 41 percent shooting from the field and five fewer field goals than La Salle finished with. Cyril Langevine struggled from the line at 0-for-5, but everyone else came through. Langevine did have a better night shooting the ball from the field, making four of six for eight points.
Stealing it: The Rams had a season-high 15 steals and converted a lot of them into offense, netting 26 points off turnovers. La Salle finished with 22 turnovers, also a season-high for them. URI’s defense has really come back to life in the win streak, holding four straight opponents to 63 points or less.
Passing game: It was a rough three-point shooting night for the Rams, who made four of 17. That sometimes corresponds to a poor-sharing kind of game, but not this time. The Rams had 13 assists on 20 field goals.
Quotable: “These guys showed tremendous poise and resiliency down the stretch today, as La Salle came back and actually took a lead. They made the right plays down the stretch and allowed us to get out of here with a huge victory.” - David Cox
Next: It’s a big one Wednesday. Duquesne is 5-0 in A-10 play and 15-2 overall. Cox is certainly looking forward to it, saying in the postgame, saying he'll never forget last year's blown lead in Pittsburgh.