URI beat Davidson 69-58 on Wednesday night at the Ryan Center.
How it happened: URI trailed early but took a measure of control in the first half with a series of mini-runs, turning a 16-12 deficit into a 19-16 lead with a 7-0 burst and later scoring six straight to make it 25-20. The Rams made four of their last five shots before the half, including a 3-pointer by Fatts Russell with 10 seconds left that made it 34-30 at the break. The Rams kept it steady from there, building the lead out to nine several times early in the second half and bumping it into double digits on a Russell 3 with 6:12 left. Davidson went more than four minutes without a field goal in the same timeframe. A shaky stretch run for the Rams - with no field goals for more than four minutes - saw the lead go from 10 down to four, but URI held on.
What it means: The Rams needed this one. Stuck in their first losing skid of the season - and their first real rough patch in terms of performance - they were staring at a downward spiral if things had continued to go bad tonight, especially with a trip to VCU looming on Saturday. Instead, the Rams leaned on their defense to dictate the game, rediscovered some offensive flow, capitalized on Davidson’s continuing struggles and found their way back to the win column. In as much of a must-win as you can have on Jan. 8, the Rams delivered. They didn’t click quite as much as they did in some of their best non-conference performances but they got it done.
Subbing in: Russell came off the bench for the first time since his freshman year, with Jacob Toppin taking his place. Head coach David Cox said it was similar to his decision to keep Jeff Dowtin on the bench in the second half of the West Virginia game earlier this year: “It’s a long season, a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes, I have to tinker with the lineup or tinker with these guys’ minds a little bit to get the jolt that I need. After a two-game slide, he’s been our best player throughout the year, he’s been our vocal leader and our energy guy. I wanted to give him a spark and it worked.” Cox said he wasn’t worried about Russell having a negative reaction to the switch. And Russell checked into the game at the under-16 timeout and played almost 36 minutes. Whether it was the jolt or just an up following a down, Russell responded from his season-low three points last time out with a game-high 26 on 10-of-16 shooting. For his part, Russell said, “It didn’t affect me. I just knew he’s got our best interests at heart and he was trying to get a spark out of me. And it worked.”
Off the jump: The other half of that switch also worked out well. Toppin had nine points and four rebounds in his first career start. The freshman has been trending up the last two games, having scored 12 against Richmond.
The foundation: Defense set the course for this one. The Wildcats haven’t been shooting the ball as well as a typical Davidson team in their disappointing first two months, and the Rams didn’t let this game be the breakout. The Wildcats shot 4-of-23 from 3-point range, their second-worst showing of the season. After giving up 13 threes against Brown and eight against Richmond, this was more in line with what the Rams are looking for. They also didn’t allow their aggressive defensive attack to become a weakness inside. Davidson is adept at back-door cuts for easy buckets, but couldn’t get much going in that department. Cox credited the game plan - and more importantly, the proper execution of it for helping the Rams get back to their stalwart ways.
Baby steps: The 69 points made for URI’s second-lowest in a victory this season, behind the slowdown win over North Texas. The Rams shot 44 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3. There’s certainly more in the tank, but the Rams set the stage to keep moving in the right direction by handing out 12 assists on 24 made baskets and getting back to turning takeaways into points. They had 15 points off turnovers and 18 fast-break points.
Seniors: For URI to get back to firing on all cylinders, it still needs more from Dowtin and Cyril Langevine. Both had nine points in this one, Dowtin adding five assists and Langevine nine rebounds. Langevine had five turnovers, as he almost seemed to have a harder time against Davidson’s less athletic frontline than he does against more physical units. Dowtin shot 3 of 7 from the field.
Animation: Cox had more fiery moments on the sideline than usual, particularly in the second half when a few key calls went the other way. When the Rams responded by forcing a shot-clock violation, he was about as fired up as he’s ever been, saying afterwards, “With the ebb and flow of the game, with a couple of questionable calls, at least questionable on my end, that was a huge, huge possession and a huge stop for us. We feed off our defense and we always have.”
Stuck: Both teams were in need of a win. Davidson is living the flipside, having lost three straight and sitting at 0-2 in conference play. Picked second in the league, the Wildcats are down a couple of starters and continue to scuffle. URI will make a trip to North Carolina in February, and it will be interesting to see where the Wildcats are at that point. They still have Kellan Grady and Jon Axel Gudmunsson, who can be two of the best players in the league. URI had lost four straight against Davidson before this one.
Quotable: “Great win. I thought that our guys followed the game plan. Their focus and concentration over the last couple of days was tremendous. Defensively, we did exactly what we wanted to do - limited their 3-point mistakes, they were 4-for-23. And then offensively, I thought we did a good job of sharing the ball and not turning it over a whole lot. I give a lot of credit to these guys for bouncing back, for paying attention to the game plan and for being a resilient bunch.” - Cox
Next: URI travels to VCU on Saturday.