Photo by Autumn Walter |CIGAR|
It’s less than two weeks removed from the lowest point that Rhode Island men’s basketball has found themselves in this season. After clinching their first Atlantic 10 regular season title and celebrating a night that was supposed an emotional but proud senior night send-off, the St. Joseph’s Hawks came into the Ryan Center and delivered the Rams their worst loss in the Dan Hurley era, 78-48.
Now that the dust has settled and Rhode Island picked up a win against Virginia Commonwealth University yesterday, the Rams will face the same team that embarrassed them on their home court, and look to advance to second consecutive A-10 Tournament finals for the first time in program history. Let’s take a look at the matchup that the Hawks present.
Welcome to the Danger Zone
The Hawks’ defensive staple and scheme that Rhode Island had not faced all year was their zone defense. Running a 2-3 zone, with two defenders near the perimeter and three down low, the Rams could not find any wiggle room driving to the basket, and instead elected to throw up 29 three-point shots, making only three of them. It was the worst offensive game the Rams played all season.
The zone defense is something Hawks Coach Phil Martelli prides his team on, and attributes it as a reason why the Hawks have won seven of their last eight and held George Mason to 49 points in their win yesterday.
“It’s part of the run we’re on,” said Martelli. “The zone has been good to us. This might be the first time in my career we’ve detailed the zone offense of the other team.”
The way to beat zone defense is to either have the three-ball fall or execute successful backdoor cuts and slants. In their last matchup, Jared Terrell ran a successful backdoor cut and was left wide open under the basket. However, he bobbled the ball and committed a turnover, a metaphor for the type of game Rhode Island played. Rhode Island has had time to prepare a counter attack for the zone teams like St. Joes runs, and one would expect the Rams will make the necessary adjustments this time around.
Get the Funk out my face
Taylor Funk had himself a career game against the Rams, scoring 17 points on perfect shooting splits. He shot five of five from the field, including three of there from beyond the arc while also going four of four from the charity stripe. At 6’9 and playing a stretch big man role, Funk presents a mismatch for the Rhode Island big men, as he can post up down low while also having the ability to pull up from anywhere.
Funk finished with a double-double yesterday, scoring 12 points while grabbing 10 rebounds over the Patriots. Over his last four games, Funk is averaging 10.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. The Rams have to keep a shade on him the entire game, as if he is left the slightest amount of space or room, he will either fire away or drive to the basket.
Oh great, another high scoring duo to worry about
The athletic duo of Shavar Newkirk and James Demery is one of the best in the A-10. Newkirk and Demery, averaging 17.4 and 17 points per game respectively, the two are the fourth best scoring duo in the A10, behind Davidson’s Peyton Aldridge and Kellan Grady, St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, and La Salle’s B.J. Johnson and Pookie Powell.
In Newkirk’s last game against the Rams he finished with 14 points while dishing out seven assists, while yesterday finished with 13 points and five assists. Newkirk is a streaky shooter, averaging 38.5 percent from the field and 33.1 percent from beyond the arc. His go-to-move is his step-back jump shot, whether it is from deep in mid-range territory or from beyond the arc. The Rams have to narrow in on him and gave him little room to shoot. Force him to drive to the basket and get him out of his comfort zone.
Demery is an athletic-driving guard/forward hybrid. Coming off the bench in his previous four games, Demery has taken on a sixth man role that plays key minutes down the late stretch of games. He finished with a game high 21 points on 10 of 15 shooting last time against the Rams, while contributing 12 points and nine rebounds off the bench against the Patriots yesterday afternoon. Demery is the type of the player that if he is given the slightest amount of room to drive, he will, as most of his points come off of layups, dunks or close-range shots. This is a big reason why he is the team’s second most efficient shooter at 47.5 percent. Should the Rams clog the paint and force him outside of it, Demery is a 28.2 percent three-point shooter on the year, and forcing him to take deep shots is the best way to throw him off a rhythm.