URI beat Manhattan 73-64 at the Ryan Center on Wednesday afternoon.
How it happened: It was a slog in the early going, with Manhattan making it a grind-it-out kind of game. From the 13:51 mark of the first half until 8:49, URI didn’t make a field goal and Manhattan made only one. The Rams found their way eventually, outscoring Manhattan 14-3 over the last five minutes of the first half for a 13-point lead at the break. The score remained in that range throughout the second half, with neither team able to put a big run together. URI answered the charges Manhattan did make and found enough offense to hold off the Jaspers, who shot 53 percent from the field in the second half.
What it means: Another take-care-of-business win for the Rams, who have yet to have a misstep. They finish the November slate at 5-2, with both losses slotting into the missed opportunity files. Like the win over North Texas in Jamaica, this victory also showcased URI’s ability to win in multiple ways. Three days after scoring 83 points in a loss, they won with 73.
Counting their blessings: URI should be thankful, as always, for its veteran guards. Jeff Dowtin and Fatts Russell combined for 44 of the 73 points, and that probably had to happen in a game like this, against a defense like this. Manhattan plays a tricky matchup zone that morphs into man-to-man at times. It wasn’t going to be a pretty offensive performance by the Rams, and they finished with just seven assists. Tasked with creating offense out of that, Dowtin and Russell did the job with drives to the basket and just the occasional deep jumper. Dowtin scored a season-high 24, while Russell had 20, reaching that plateau for the fifth consecutive game.
Leaving early: The only downside for Russell was how his night ended. He was whistled for two technical fouls just nine seconds apart late in the second half. On the first, he was heard telling referee Evon Burroughs “Good call,” in what was interpreted as a sarcastic manner. The second seemed to come out of nowhere. Russell was urging on the crowd ahead of a timeout and it did not appear that he said anything to Burroughs, who was nearby. Unless there was something said that wasn’t readily apparent, that can’t merit a technical foul, particularly a second one. Coach David Cox said, “I didn’t get much of [an explanation] and I don’t really want to go into that. I know that Fatts did not say anything that should have produced those two technicals. He did not curse at anybody. He did not in any way, blatantly disrespect that referee. We’ll leave it at that.”
High five: Russell’s last five games have been terrific. Since scoring five points in the loss at Maryland, he’s averaged 22.5 points for one of the best sustained stretches of his career. He was lights out early in the second half, scoring 10 of URI’s first 12 points. When he gets on a heater like that, watch out.
Driving: Dowtin took 16 free throws, making 13 of them, a sign of where his priorities were in this one. He was getting to the basket and making things happen. He and the Rams are at their best when that’s his approach.
Chipping in: Tyrese Martin was the only other Ram in double figures with 13 points. He also had eight rebounds. Cyril Langevine had seven points and nine rebounds. Jermaine Harris was only 1-of-7 from the field for three points but he did grab seven boards.
Rotate: Even when Russell was ejected, URI did not go to freshman guard Gregory Hammond, instead plugging Mekhi Long in as part of a big lineup. The rotation is being cemented at eight for now, with Dana Tate, Jacob Toppin and Long coming off the bench. Antwan Walker will join that crew in a few games.
Difficult December: The toughest teams on the non-conference slate may be behind the Rams, with Maryland and LSU already crossed off. But there’s still a lot to come, and December is marked by no respite from it. URI has only four games next month. West Virginia, Providence, Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee await, with no filler in between.
Quotable: “Another hard-fought, tough victory. We’ve had a number of those this year. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but we showed some resiliency down the stretch. I thought that was a really well-coached, a hard-playing and a very physical team. At times, we didn’t match that physicality, but I thought in the second half, we buckled down on defense, we made some good plays and I thought Jeff had an amazing performance.” - David Cox
Next: URI visits West Virginia on Sunday for a 2 p.m. tipoff on FS1.