St. Louis beat URI 72-62 on Sunday at the Ryan Center.
How it happened: URI fell into a hole immediately, missing its first seven shots and commiting four turnovers. St. Louis got out to an 11-0 lead as URI didn’t score for the first 6:13. The struggle continued for the rest of the first half, with the Rams shooting just 27 percent from the field. Their 19 points at the break matched a season-low for a half, a mark they also hit in the loss to Richmond. All that said, URI trailed by only seven at the break and scored four of the first six points in the second half. But St. Louis responded with an 11-0 run that left the Rams teetering for the rest of the night. They still worked it back to four with 8:17 left but St. Louis had another answer. One final response after it got to five with 5:34 left sent the Billikens to victory.
What it means: URI’s NCAA Tournament at-large hopes take a serious hit. The consensus heading into this stretch run was that the Rams could lose to Davidson and Dayton but had to win everything else. This takes them off that path. If URI somehow regroups to beat No. 4 Dayton on Wednesday, they may have a chance. Short of that, they’re facing an uphill battle. You never know how things will take shape on the bubble, but it’s going to be a tough road back from this for the Rams.
Dictating: At Thursday’s media availability, David Cox described St. Louis as the most physical team in the Atlantic 10, then had a front row seat as the Billikens flexed that muscle. They made it their kind of game from start to finish, scoring a whopping 56 points in the paint and clamping down at the defensive end. They also had 13 offensive rebounbds. That points in the paint mark was the most allowed by URI all season. Cox said, “That’s who they are. They pound the ball inside, and we couldn’t match their physicality.”
Put-back breakers: Several of the offensive rebounds given up by the Rams really stung. Nine came in the second half and they led to 11 points. The first of the crucial putbacks came when it was 47-43 and triggered a 6-0 burst after the Rams had finally made headway. Later, URI got a stop when it was trailing 57-50, but Jimmy Bell Jr. got the rebound, put in the follow, got fouled and made the free throw to bump the lead back to 10 with 4:24 left.
Playing with fire: Since losing to Dayton, URI had run into trouble at every stop. They won by 18 over St. Joe’s but it was a grind. Then came the overtime loss to Davidson and the escape act at Fordham. Beyond the resume, getting on the road back will also require rediscovering the kind of basketball that allowed the Rams to win 10 in a row, because they haven’t been able to find it consistently since the end of the streak.
Record: Fatts Russell set a school single-game record for steals with eight. That also gives him 84 on the season, just four away from Tom Garrick’s school record 88 in 1987-88.
Battling: Cyril Langevine and Jeff Dowtin played with the desperation you’d expect of seniors. Just four days after missing a game with a shoulder injury, Langevine played the full 40 minutes and had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Dowtin hadn’t practiced in a week as he nurses an ankle injury and played 31 minutes, mixing in time on the exercise bike when he wasn’t on the floor.
Quotable: “Travis Ford did a much better job than I did preparing our guys. Started from the beginning - we knew about their physicality, a bunch of grown men, and they really took it to us. The numbers that are telling are the 13 offensive rebounds by them. That’s a physical, extremely big and athletic team, and they know who they are. They have an identity. We didn’t match that intensity or that physicality today.” - Cox
Next: URI hosts fourth-ranked Dayton on Wednesday.