Fatts Russell nearly had a triple-double against a team that hadn’t played in more than a month.
Still, the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team failed to build on last week’s stirring comeback against Dayton, sliding into unfamiliar territory in the process.
George Washington delivered an emphatic final run in a back-and-fourth game, outscoring URI 15-2 in the final 4:07 en route to a 78-70 victory on Sunday in the nation’s capital. The loss dropped the Rams to 10-13 and 7-9 in Atlantic 10 play. Barring a scheduling change, the Rams have just one game remaining and will finish the regular season with a losing record for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
“Gut-wrenching loss,” URI head coach David Cox said. “A game of runs. We thought we tightened our defense up in the second half. We started out well in the second half, went on a nice little run. They battled back. I thought we gained control again midway through the half. The last couple of wars, they executed really well at the offensive end and we got the shots we wanted for the most part, but we just didn’t finish. That last three-and-a-half minute stretch, it did us in.”
Russell was just one rebound shy of the second triple-double in school history, keeping Delroy James’ 2011 achievement as the only one in the URI record books. Russell finished with 14 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. He logged his 10th assist with 16:11 remaining, matching his career-high, and his ninth and 10th points with 11:26 to go. He had eight rebounds with about 11 minutes to go but added only one more.
“He was absolutely sensational,” Cox said. “He played almost a perfect floor game. He took his opportunities when they were there, he delivered the ball on target to get those assists. And he sacrificed his body to go down there and get those rebounds. That’s what he promised the team, the staff and the rest of Rhody nation that he was going to do.”
Triple-double watch ceased being the headline as George Washington refused to let URI deliver the knockout punch. A 12-0 run early in the second half put the Rams up by eight, but the Colonials came back to take the lead five minutes later. URI went up 61-54 with 6:35 left before the Colonials doubled them up over the next three minutes, forcing a 68-68 tie.
By then, the Rams were in the early stages of a costly drought that eventually stretched to four minutes. Ishmael Leggett’s 3-pointer with 4:30 left that made it 68-63 was URI’s last bucket until a driving layup by Russell with 18 seconds remaining. The Colonials made four of their last five field-goal attempts to power the 15-2 surge. A free throw by Noel Brown gave them the lead for good. The Rams missed five 3-pointers in the final stretch, along with a layup, a jumper and a free throw. They also gave away a turnover.
Cox said after the win over Dayton that he hoped the Rams could bottle their efforts in coming back from an 18-point second-half deficit, but any momentum faded into more of the inconsistencies that have defined URI’s season.
“We came off a great comeback win against Dayton,” Cox said. “We dove into the gym. There were some unknowns going into this game but we thought we met all those challenges head-on, the right way. We prepared for an 11:30 start, got the guys to bed early last night. It just didn’t happen for us today.”
Defense was perhaps the most significant missing piece, as the Colonials became just the second team all season to shoot better than 50 percent against the Rams.
“Twenty minutes into the game, they’ve got a certain level of comfort. Even with our initial run, they were comfortable and confident at that point,” Cox said. “We can’t let a team be comfortable and confident like that. The first eight minutes of the game I thought was a lackluster performance from us.”
The Colonials hadn’t played since Jan. 17 due to an extended COVID-19 pause, but didn’t look rusty. They missed only three shots in the game’s first 10 minutes and built a 22-14 lead. Russell led URI’s comeback efforts, dishing out three assists and burying a deep 3-pointer to power a 14-3 run. The 3-pointer gave the Rams their first lead. A steal and dunk by Jermaine Harris made it a five-point cushion, but the Colonials took the punch and hit back, outsourcing URI 10-3 over the final 2:30. Battle’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer put the Colonials up 37-35 at halftime.
Leggett led four Rams in double figures with 16 points and Makhel Mitchell scored 14. Jeremy Sheppard had 10. George Washington guard James Bishop led all scorers with 28 points and teammate Jamison Battle added 26.
The Rams are slated to close out the regular season next Saturday at Duquesne. It will be their second trip to Pittsburgh this season following a series of scheduled adjustments by the Atlantic 10, including the move of the start of the A-10 tournament to March 3.