SOUTH KINGSTOWN — The University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team ended non-conference play with a clunker and couldn’t avoid another as its Atlantic 10 slate began on Sunday afternoon.
Richmond built a 17-point lead on the cold-shooting Rams at the Ryan Center and had little trouble hanging on for a 69-61 victory. Paired with Thursday’s loss at Brown, the defeat sends the Rams to their first losing streak of the season, a surprising one given the three straight wins that came before.
“The glaring thing right now is, offensively, we’ve changed over the last couple of games,” head coach David Cox said. “As a coaching staff, we’ve got to figure this out. We’re not sharing the ball nearly as much. Our shot selection obviously has gone downhill because of that. Our offense is not looking nearly as fluid as it had been in the first 10 or 11 games, even in defeat. We’ve got to address that.”
The 85 points URI scored in its last win – Dec. 29 at Middle Tennessee – seem like a distant memory as the Rams have encountered their first significant rough patch of the season. The first half of Sunday’s game was a low point, as the Rams shot 21 percent from the field in the first half and Richmond took an 11-point lead to the break. The Spiders, entering at 11-3 off a blowout of St. Joseph’s in their A-10 opener, pushed the lead further early in the second half, using a 7-0 run to go up by 17.
URI shook off the offensive struggles to shoot nearly 50 percent in the second half, but Richmond’s early run and its success from 3-point range made for a steep comeback trail. URI cut its deficit into single digits several times, but Richmond’s final push bumped a seven-point lead out to 12.
“I thought we were solid on defense,” Cox said. “That’s a tough team, two-day turnaround, all of the Princeton stuff that they run. Very good offensive team and a tough team to defend. I thought we defended at a very high level tonight. Just offensively, we didn’t make shots and we didn’t share the game with another on that end. That had a profound effect on the outcome of this game.”
The Rams made seven of 33 field goal tries in the opening half. Richmond was in a similar range for the first 10 minutes but settled in while the Rams slid backwards. They made just two field goals in the final 10:06 of the half. From a 17-17 tie, they went nearly six minutes without a bucket as Richmond ended the half on a 13-2 run for a 30-19 lead.
A steal and layup by Jacob Gilyard, a bucket off an inbounds pass from Grant Golden and a Blake Francis 3-pointer staked Richmond to a 37-20 lead just two-and-a-half minutes into the second half. The Rams made headway from there but needed a good chunk of time just to get back to the halftime deficit, and Richmond continued to keep them at arm’s length.
“Coming in today, after two days of, I thought, really good practice and preparation, I had anticipated us playing a much more cohesive game, particularly at the offensive end,” Cox said. “And that didn’t happen today, so that will be addressed and that has to be changed moving forward if we plan on winning.”
URI solved some of the defensive issues that hurt in the loss to Brown. Richmond, which ranks second in the league in field-goal percentage was held below its average at 42 percent, though the Spiders did hit eight of 19 3-point attempts.
Offense was the larger problem for the Rams. The 19 first-half points were a season-low for a half. Fatts Russell, who entered as the league’s leading scorer, was 1-of-12 from the field for a season-low three points. Dowtin also struggled from the field, shooting 5-for-14.
Martin logged his first double-double of the season with a team-high 17 points and 12 rebounds. Toppin chipped in 12 points and eight rebounds off the bench and Harris scored nine points.
URI was in need of a quick response with Davidson set to come to town Wednesday.