The word is out on the Rhode Island Rams. Every single team that Rhody faces has to battle for 40 minutes if they want to come away with a victory. And the Butler Bulldogs found themselves struggling against URI’s toughness and no-quit attitude before finally defeating the Rams 75-68 this afternoon. Rhody held a slim 32-30 lead at halftime, but the Bulldogs outscored the Rams 45-36 in the second half in front of a wild crowd at Hinkle Fieldhouse. With the loss, URI drops to 6-14 on the season, 1-6 in the Atlantic 10.
The Rams led by as many as nine (25-16) in the first half before Butler tied things following a 12-3 run. Rhody hung strong however, holding the Bulldogs scoreless over the final 3:49 and taking the two point lead into the locker room. But whatever Brad Stevens said at the half worked. The first four minutes and fifty-five seconds of the second half belonged to Butler, as they rattled off a 13-0 run to jump on top by nine. The Bulldogs were on top by as many as 13 with 14:04 to play, but once again, URI refused to quit. Rhode Island kept their defecit hovering around 10 points before making a big push late. With three minutes remaining and the score 69-60, Rhody put together an 8-3 run to close within four with 1:01 left. But after a missed and-one free throw from T.J. Buchanan, Rhody couldn’t stop Rotnei Clarke in the lane, fouling him with only three seconds left on the shot clock. Clarke made just one of two from the line, but both Buchanan and Mike Powell missed three-pointers in the final minute. The Rams failed to score in their last last two possesions and the Bulldogs hit the free throws they needed to come away with a seven-point victory.
Nikola Malesevic led the way for URI with 18 points on 5-10 shooting and a perfect 7-7 from the line. Nik also added six rebounds (four offensive) and a steal to his stat sheet in 30 minutes of work. Powell and Xavier Munford had 14 points apiece but X didn’t shoot the ball all that well, going just 3-13 from the field. Munford also injured his ankle in the second half and after coming out briefly to get it re-taped, he was not the same for the remainder of the contest. That will certainly be something to keep an eye on this week. Jordan Hare added eight points for the Rams and Mike Aaman scored four as both freshman continue to improve from game-to-game.
We already knew Rotnei Clarke was an absolute stud, but he really lit things up, especially in the second half as he finished with 23 points to lead all scorers. Clarke shot 8-13 from the field and 5-8 from three-point range, but Rhody was able to force seven turnovers from the senior guard. Roosevelt Jones added 18 points for the Bulldogs and Khyle Marshall rounded out the double-figure scorers with 13. Rebounding was once again an issue for Rhody as Butler controlled the glass by a 32-25 margin. URI did finish with more offensive rebounds however, as it led to a 14-9 advantage in second-chance points for the Rams. The Bulldogs scored 36 points of their points in the paint and shot an impressive 89 percent from the free throw line, two big factors in their victory this afternoon.
The week from hell is now over for the Rams and their schedule will get marginally easier from here on out. The only hope is that they don’t get discouraged by these four straight losses, but instead build on the outstanding effort they have been putting forth. It would be great if they could turn their recent gutsy play into a couple of wins in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we’ll have much more on the Butler game coming up tomorrow.