It was a crazy day in college basketball yesterday, and the Rhode Island Rams were no exception. Rhody came into St. Louis and topped the Billikens 82-80 in overtime, moving URI to 6-10 on the season. The Rams also picked up their first win in Atlantic 10 conference play, and their 1-2 record moves them out of last place for the first time this season. Every Rhode Island player who saw minutes had at least one made basket and at least one rebound, with Rhody being led by Xavier Munford’s 24 points. The game featured 11 ties and 21 lead changes before the Rams were able to put away the back-and-forth affair late in overtime. After the game, Dan Hurley referred to the victory as a “signature win” for his ball club. It was one of the better games of the season, for sure. Let’s break it down a little further:
Three Things to Feel Good About
1. Shooting – Rhody has not shot the ball particularly well this season, and with a tough St. Louis defense it wasn’t looking good coming into this one. Well forget all that. The Rams shot 55.1 percent from the floor, including a mind-blowing 63.6 percent in the second half en route to a season-high 82 points. It’s the first time Rhode Island has cracked the 80-point mark this season. Rhody also connected on 10 three-pointers in 19 attempts, good for 52.6 percent. Once again, Munford led the charge, going 4-8 from long range.
2. Rebounding – It was a battle we thought they’d win, but the Rams came up big on the glass last night. URI out-rebounded the Billikens 34-27, and this was all without gritty big man Mike Aaman. Jordan Hare and Andre Malone led the way with nine boards apiece. Malone also tallied three offensive rebounds, and Hare pulled down two. Ryan Brooks also had two offensive boards as part of his three total, and T.J. Buchanan had three rebounds of his own. 6’11″ Rob Loe had seven rebounds of his own for St. Louis, but no other SLU player had more than three.
3. Free Throws – Besides making big shot after big shot, the Rams also took care of business at the line to seal the victory. Besides Nikola Malesevic (4-7), no other URI player missed a free throw as they shot 18-21 (85.7 percent) from the stripe. Malone, Munford, and Mike Powell combined to shoot 14-14, and those three Rams recorded a perfect performance from the line in overtime (10-10). Rhody used those late, clutch free throws to put away the Billikens and secure the win.
Three Things to Be Concerned About
1. Turnovers – Rhode Island lost the turnover battle in a big way, recording 18 miscues to just 11 for St. Louis. It wasn’t as damaging as it could have been, however, as both teams recorded the same amount of points off turnovers (18). But the lack of ball control for the Rams was a big concerning, and that many turnovers doesn’t usually win games. Xavier Munford led the way with a dangerously high eight turnovers, and Andre Malone had four. The good news is that Mike Powell only had one in 41 minutes of running the point, but Rhody prides themselves on taking care of the ball. They’ll have to work on it as they prepare for their next game.
2. Perimeter Defense – Yes, St. Louis likes to shoot the three ball – they attempted 26 long-range shots on the night. The only problem is, they made 14 of them, good for 53.8 percent. Kwamain Mitchell led the way for the Billikens, burying seven threes in just 10 tries. Cody Ellis and his blue-streaked hair netted 4-6 from downtown. Those were the only two SLU players to reach double-figures, but the Rams usually pride themselves on defending guard play. It was those most threes URI has allowed all season, and a lot of them were big shots that allowed St. Louis to stay in the game for all 45 minutes.
3. Foul Trouble – Let’s get this out of the way first: the officiating was not great last night. Both coaches were ticked off at various points, and they didn’t seem to establish any control of the game until this second half. But the Rams had three players (Nikola Malesevic, Alwayne Bigby, and Jordan Hare) with two fouls in the first half (one of Hare’s fouls was a technical). But what’s tough about that is the fact that Bigby is the only sub who can play Nik’s position. Hurley strategized the foul situation very well, and as it turned out, no Rams ended up fouling out. In fact, no Rhody player ended up with more than three fouls. But the first half ended with the Billikens holding an 11-6 advantage in the foul column. With this URI squad lacking depth, they have to bring the discipline that they brought in the 2nd half and OT to avoid losing players for prolonged stretches.
Simply put, this was the best win of the season to date, and it got the Rams out of their winless hole in conference play. As fantastic as they played, it will be even better if they can build on this win as they schedule starts to fill up this week and beyond. Rhody now heads home to take on the George Washington Colonials Wednesday night. We have a lot to come in the next few days on that one, as Hurley and Co prep for another tough contest.