URI beat Rhode Island College 93-53 in an exhibition game Saturday night at the Ryan Center.
How it happened: URI was never going to have too much trouble with the D-III Anchormen. The Rams trailed briefly at 7-6 then went on a 13-0 run and remained well in control from there.
What it means: With just over a week to the season opener and only two weeks before the Rams hit one of their biggest tests of the year with a road trip to Maryland, the Rams need all the tuneups they can get. It’s good to be at game speed, regardless of opponent. For the freshmen, it was an opportunity to take the Ryan Center court in a game atmosphere for the first time.
Question marks: One of the biggest storylines comes from who wasn’t on the court. Antwan Walker was not dressed as he continues to wait for a waiver from the NCAA, as had been previously reported by Bill Koch of the Providence Journal. But juco transfer Jeremy Sheppard was also sidelined. Coach David Cox said that Sheppard, too, is in the waiver process. Cox said in the postgame that the NCAA does not give a timetable for such decisions: “We’re anticipating [knowing] before the season, but in all honesty, we anticipated that we would have known by this point. It doesn’t put us in the best place right now.”
Usual suspects: With Walker and Sheppard out of action, it was URI’s returning core on center stage for a lot of the night, with the other newcomers mixing in. They were generally up to their usual tricks, too, with all four scoring in double figures, the only Rams to do so. The known commodities will carry the water for URI, even as its depth has been enhanced.
Smooth soph: Tyrese Martin was the breakout star of URI’s freshman class last year and appears ready to pick up where he left off, while staying on the same upward trajectory. Martin led all scorers with 20 points and was extremely efficient, shooting 9-of-13 from the field. He also had seven rebounds. It continued a strong preseason for Martin, who had 20 points in URI’s secret scrimmage with Boston College. He’s the kind of player who does it quietly, where you look at the box score and say, ‘He had 22?’ URI has three preseason all-conference picks around him, but Martin is poised for a great year. Asked about improvements, Martin said he’s trying to be more aggressive, but Cox was more effusive: “His overall skillset has truly gone to the next level. His ball-handling, his passing, his vision. He’s just a lot more comfortable on the basketball this year.”
Steady: Last seen in the role of “Tournament Jeff,” it’s a little tough for Jeff Dowtin to impress on this kind of stage, when he’s been so impressive in big moments. He didn’t force anything, settling for 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. He had only one assist, but didn’t have to facilitate much with RIC giving up a fair amount of easy baskets.
All around: Fatts Russell did it all with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. He also turned it over just once. Russell consistently went to the basket, with only two of his 14 attempts from three. Cox loves the way Russell has been playing in the preseason, saying, “If this young man can continue to play he’s been playing the way throughout the preseason, his efficiency, his selflessness, I think that bodes well for us moving forward.”
Back in business: Cyril Langevine missed the Boston College scrimmage with an injury, but appeared to be back to full health. He was a little limited by foul trouble in the first half and played 18 minutes. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds. He missed a few around the basket, so there was the potential for more.
Inside: Jermaine Harris finished with nine points on 2-of-6 shooting, while making 5-of-6 at the free throw line. He had only two rebounds. Limited by what looked like cramps, Harris played 14 minutes. Fellow sophomore Dana Tate finished with six points and seven rebounds.
Newcomers: Mekhi Long was the first of the newcomers off the bench, followed by Gregory Hammond, Jacob Toppin and D.J. Johnson. Toppin made the splashiest impression with a steal and a 360 dunk on the break. Long led the newcomers with six points and looked pretty smooth and comfortable. Toppin had four points, Toppin scored two and Johnson had one. All of that quartet brings length and athleticism to the table. If Walker and Sheppard remain sidelined, some of the freshmen will have to contribute.
Cold but concerning?: For the fans still scarred from last year’s woeful three-point shooting, a 4-for-19 performance against RIC might be a bit alarming. But in this particular case, it may have been a who problem, more than a what problem. DJ Johnson took two 3’s. So did Jermaine Harris. Jacob Toppin and Mekhi Long took one each. And some of the looks weren’t great. In regular season action, those guys should be more judicious from deep. Walk-on Eric Dadika also took one late. Take those away, and URI was 4-of-12. Make no mistake - this probably still isn’t a team that’s going to light it up. But wait on signs of big trouble.
Quotable: “Obviously, we had the upper hand in terms of manpower, size and athleticism, and I think that was the key tonight. Our defense was solid, not its greatest. Our offense was solid. We moved the ball relatively well and played at great pace. We’ve got to shoot the ball a little bit better, we’ve got to get to the line and make those free throws, and we’ve got to finish a little bit better. We left a lot of meat on the bone tonight. We’ll get back in the lab and our focus now is LIU.” - Cox
Next: The real thing happens a week from Tuesday when URI hosts LIU in the season opener.