The University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team wouldn’t change a thing in its approach to scheduling this season and its willingness to take on challenges.
Except for the final scores.
URI couldn’t keep up with No. 13 Wisconsin on Wednesday, losing 73-62 in a game that was scheduled just two days prior, after each team ended up with unexpected time off in the pandemic-scheduling shuffle.
URI fell to 3-3 on the year, with all three defeats coming against power conference teams in hastily-arranged games. URI also lost when it played pinch-hitter in the Empire Classic against Arizona State and Boston College. Since then, the Rams had been victorious in three straight, including a quality win over Seton Hall.
“Our goal has been and continues to be to get better and improve every day,” URI head coach David Cox said. “Obviously, we want to win and we would love for our record to be undefeated right now. But we learn a lot from our wins and especially from our losses. Playing a team like this, they exposed us in a couple of areas that we’re going to have to tighten up on. But the ultimate goal is to get better. We’ll be able to go back and watch this film and actually look at areas we can improve in.”
Wisconsin was originally slated to host Louisville on Wednesday in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, but the Cardinals are on pause due to COVID-19 testing. URI had a game with Boston College canceled last Friday when the Eagles opted to move into a matchup with Florida.
The game with the Badgers will still help URI’s strength of schedule numbers, but hopes of a season-making upset were handicapped quickly. The Rams led once, at 2-0, then gave up 10 straight points and saw the hole get deeper from there. A late push in the second half got them back into the game, but Wisconsin held them off.
“Proud of the fight. Disappointed in the start,” Cox said. “But we challenged ourselves coming out here and I think we will grow from this game.”
While the Badgers looked the part of Big Ten powerhouse, URI didn’t deliver near the kind of high-level performance it needed to hang, mostly due to struggles in the opening half. Eleven turnovers and 7-of-27 shooting - plus an 0-of-8 mark from 3-point range - made for a brutal first 20 minutes. Averaging 79 points per game, Rhody managed just 16 at the break and trailed 33-16.
“We’ll have to go back and review where it went wrong in the first half,” Cox said. “I just thought we seemed a little uncomfortable initially, we seemed a little sped up, kind of unsure of ourselves. That can occasionally happen to teams, especially when you’re on the road playing a big-time team like this. But I didn’t really expect that from our guys. That was disappointing and we talked about that a lot at half.”
An enormous Badger front-line - highlighted by 6-foot-11 all-conference forward Nate Reuvers - figured to give URI trouble, but it was guard Brad Davison who caused the early problems. He made three 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the game to power the 10-0 run. The 6-foot-4 senior ended up out-scoring URI by himself in the opening half, with 17 points.
URI made five of its first seven shots in the second half, but found itself trailing by the same margin at the first timeout, as the Badgers also shot the ball well. The lead eventually grew to 22.
It was 18 around the six-minute mark, when URI suddenly made its move. Two Makhi Mitchell free throws, a driving layup by Malik Martin and a 3-pointer by Jeremy Sheppard added up to a 9-0 run that made it 60-51. Another Sheppard 3 got the Rams within eight soon after, but a 3-pointer by Aleem Ford with 3:35 left put the Wisconsin lead back into double digits. The teams largely traded points from there. Wisconsin made frequent trips to the line down the stretch, finishing the game making 26 of 36.
URI’s second half improvements came thanks to 63 percent shooting and just three turnovers, a far cry from the first-half difficulties. URI also made 23 trips to the free throw line - though they only made 60 percent - after taking just two foul shots in the first half.
“That will be one of the positives that we can take out of this,” Cox said. “We continued to fight. We stayed connected. We touched paint a lot more in the second half. And we got to the foul line.”
Sheppard led URI with 13 points and Jalen Carey added nine. Fatts Russell was held to eight points on 3-of-14 shooting. Davison finished with 23 to lead all scorers and Micah Potter added 13 for the Badgers.
The Rams were slated for a charter flight back to Rhode Island Wednesday evening. They’ll depart this weekend for a Sunday game at Western Kentucky.