URI beat Duquesne 77-55 on Wednesday night at the Ryan Center.
How it happened: The Rams couldn’t do a lot right in the first half and Duquesne looked the part of a 15-2, 5-0 team. With Cyril Langevine on the bench in foul trouble for 17:42, URI had trouble on the boards and seemed to be in a funk as it trotted out some unusual lineups. The Dukes took advantage with a 10-2 run and went to halftime up 38-30. But in the second half, the Rams did basically everything right. They opened by outscoring the Dukes 16-3 over the first six-plus minutes, then kept the pedal down. After Duquesne fought back to a tie, the Rams went on a 9-0 run keyed by Fatts Russell and never looked back. A putback dunk by Langevine and a 3 by Jeff Dowtin pushed the lead into double digits, and an off-balance, end-of-shot-clock 3 by Dowtin served as the exclamation point, making it a 15-point game, and the Rams cruised from there.
What it means: URI now owns a second signature A-10 win to go with its road victory at VCU. The Dukes were off to a perfect start in conference play, upstarts at the top of the conference, but the Rams looked like the residents of that territory that they are. They’re now tied with Duquesne and Richmond for second place in the league. And if they continue playing the way they did in the second half, they may very well stay there. At their best, the Rams can be very good.
Explosive 20: Pick a statistic from the second half - basically any statistic - and there’s a good chance URI dominated it. It was by far the best half of basketball URI has played this season and it was reminiscent of the kind of runs their predecessors - A-10 contenders and NCAA Tournament teams - were capable of. URI outscored the Dukes 47-17 in the second 20 minutes. URI has had some big offensive halves already - 50 against Alabama, 48 against West Virginia and Middle Tennessee. But the combination of 47 points and 17 allowed - the lowest by an opponent in any half this season - was stunning. The Rams shot 59.4 percent from the field and 62.5 percent from 3-point range, while Duquesne had four field goals in the entire second half. They scored 28 points in the paint to four for Duquesne. They turned the ball over twice, while the Dukes gave away nine. Even beyond the numbers, the Rams simply looked like a team riding at its absolute highest.
Humble beginnings: For the first 20 minutes, it did not look like the Rams would be delivering that kind of performance. Out of sorts on offense and struggling to contain Duquesne inside, they shot 38.7 percent from the field and made only one 3-pointer. Duquesne killed them on the glass, with eight offensive rebounds leading to 14 second-chance points. That one statistic told a lot of the story - the Rams missed Langevine and weren’t playing the role of bullies like they so often do. After halftime? Duquesne had two second-chance points.
Turnaround: Coach David Cox credited his veterans with sparking the turnaround. In the locker room at halftime, they had already taken the lead when he walked in: “I walked into the locker room, I sat for the first two minutes because those guys were talking to each other. They were talking to each other about whatever it was - they were trying to figure it out. [Dowtin, Langevine and Russell] were leading the conversation.”
Shut down: URI’s defensive dominance started inside. With Langevine out, the Rams had trouble containing Michael Hughes in the first half, and double-teams were leaving guys open on the perimeter. In the second half, Hughes scored one point, and the Dukes managed just four points in the paint after totaling 20 in the first half. In turn, the open looks outside vanished, and the Dukes made just one of 10 3-point attempts.
Presence: Langevine provided the spark in the second half, playing all 20 minutes and setting the course for everything that changed. He finished with no spectacular numbers, six points and three rebounds, though he did have five assists, but his presence made him the MVP of the turnaround. With him on the floor, the Rams had their toughness and their swagger back, and they ran with it. It all happened with Langevine nursing an ankle injury. He didn’t practice leading up to the game and Cox credited trainer Daniel Anthony with an assist to get Langevine ready to play.
Key moment: If there was one jumping-off point for the run, it may have been a brief tense sequence. Jermaine Harris was called for his fourth foul. The fans and the Rams didn’t like it. Langevine actually ran interference when Russell looked headed for a possible technical foul. Duquesne was a little chippy, too, but after the Dukes made one of two free throws on the ensuing trip to the line, it was all Rams. A 12-0 run followed.
Leading man: As usual, Russell was at the center of URI’s biggest runs. He scored the first four points of the second-half surge, buried an early dagger from deep and had a steal and dunk after Duquesne briefly stopped the tidal wave. Russell finished with 23 points, three assists and no turnovers. On the same day he was announced as a member of the National Defensive Player of the Year midseason team, he also nabbed four steals, giving him 59 on the season. That moves him into a tie for fifth on the school’s all-time, single-season list - with 12 games still to play. If he were to keep up his average of 3.24 per game, he would end up at the top of the list with 97. The current record is held by Tom Garrick in 1987-88 with 88 steals, well ahead of the rest of the pack.
Core: URI also got big games from Dowtin and Tyrese Martin. Dowtin scored 17 points to go with five assists, and he also didn’t commit a turnover. Martin notched a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Perhaps it’s not a surprise that this kind of performance coincided with big games from the veterans. Antwan Walker also came off the bench for eight points and played big minutes in the second half, when Jermaine Harris picked up his fourth foul.
Quotable: “Defensively, without a doubt (the best half). Offensively, to put up 47 points on this team - 16 assists - we played very well. But I was just so proud of that defensive effort.” - Cox
Next: URI heads to St. Bonaventure on Saturday. The Bonnies were also 4-1 in the A-10 entering the night but were blown out by league-leading Dayton.