The Rhode Island Rams are gaining the respect of coaches and players around the Atlantic 10, but unfortunately it’s not resulting in wins. Yet. Rhody lost 75-68 to the #9 Butler Bulldogs yesterday in another tight battle that wasn’t decided until the final minute. The Rams fell to 1-6 in the conference despite putting forth another outstanding effort against one of the best teams in the country. Nikola Malesevic led the way for URI with 18 points on 5-10 shooting. Xavier Munford and Mike Powell added 14 point apiece, but it was not enough to stop Rotnei Clarke (23 points) and the Bulldogs. Here’s a full breakdown of what we saw:
Three Things to Feel Good About
1. The Reputation – Let’s face it – no A-10 team wants to play the Rams right now. Take it from Butler’s head coach Brad Stevens: “They’re a very hard out as you can see.” Rhody is earning respect not only within the conference, but nationally. The CBS-Sports Network announcers gushed over Hurley and the hard-working Rams throughout the broadcast of Saturday’s game. When is the last time you’ve seen this much respect for a 6-14 team? Throw the record out the window – it’s a great time to be a URI basketball fan.
2. Offensive Rebounding – Despite the usual struggles on the glass, Rhody was able to turn in a strong performance on the offensive boards. The Rams grabbed 10 offensive rebounds to Butler’s nine, and it led to a 14-9 URI advantage in second-chance points. Malesevic led the way for Rhody with 4 offensive boards, with Mike Aaman and Jordan Hare each adding two apiece. It wasn’t enough to change the outcome of the game, but the Rams were certainly take any advantage they can when it comes to controlling the glass.
3. Free Throws – After shooting just four freebies in the first half, Rhody made 21 free throws on 24 trips to the free throw line in the second period. Getting to the line was key for the Rams down the stretch as they were able to score 11 points from the stripe in the final four and a half minutes. For the game, URI shot 86 percent from the line, with Malesevic (7-7), Mike Powell (9-10), and Xavier Munford (7-8) making key contributions from the free throw line.
Three Things to Be Concerned About
1. Points in the Paint – The Rams struggled again to keep their opponents from getting into the lane and scoring easy buckets. Butler shot nearly 49 percent for the game as they were able to score 36 of their 75 points in the paint. If you remove the Bulldogs’ made foul shots (24) from the equation, it works out of 36 of 51 points from the floor, or nearly 71 percent of their points coming in the paint. Rhody’s defense is still solid, make no mistake about it. But they need to try to limit teams from getting the ball inside as much as possible.
2. Foul Trouble – While it has been easy (and sometimes obvious) to pin some of URI’s high foul totals on the referees, the men in stripes were not an issue on Saturday. Yet Rhody came away with 23 more fouls, and found themselves dealing with players in foul trouble all afternoon. Jordan Hare fouled out with 1:53 to play in the game. Malesevic and Powell each finished with four fouls. The Bulldogs had their share of foul trouble as well, but Rhody need to make a concerted effort to limit fouls in order to keep their best players on the floor as much as possible.
3. Getting to Brooklyn – The effort from the Rhode Island Rams as of late has been nothing short of outstanding, but keep in mind that the team does have a goal in mind for the season: finishing in the top 12 of the conference and earning a berth in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. And with Rhody sitting at 1-6 in the conference, they certainly have their work cut out for them. The Rams are all alone in 15th place, and while Fordham, Dayton, St. Bonaventure, and Temple are all within striking distance, URI needs to turn some of these Ls into Ws before they can think about packing their bags.
The two powerhouses in the A-10 are now out of the way, and the Rams look ahead to see several winnable games on the horizon, beginning Wednesday night at UMass. We’ll start looking ahead to the Minutemen and a possible win coming up tomorrow.