In what was a typical “get right game” following a loss at Dayton, Rhode Island basketball controlled Saint Joseph’s enroute to a 73-55 victory in a Saturday matinee.
In front of a crowd made up of just under 6,700 URI faithful, the Rams strengthened their grip on earning a pivotal double-bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament, and in turn also moved one step closer to the ultimate goal of securing a NCAA Tournament berth.
“It wasn’t our prettiest performance,” said Head Coach David Cox. “They stayed in the game in the first half. I thought our defensive intensity picked up in the second half, that was probably the biggest difference.”
Pacing the Rams was senior guard Jeff Dowtin, who was on a light triple-double watch, finishing the game with 14 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds. Junior guard Fatts Russell once again showed why he’s one of 30 finalists for the Naismith player of the year award, adding 18 points of his own on 6-12 shooting from the field. Russell also tallied six rebounds and five assists, as Rhode Island’s dynamic back court duo combined for 13 of the Rams 16 assists for the game.
Senior forward Cyril Langevine also continued his steady play on the low block. Langevine, fresh off an Atlantic player of the week award for his contributions in wins against George Washington and UMass. It was the second such honor in Langevine’s career. Against Saint Joseph’s it was no different with the big man either. He finished with seven points, 11 rebounds, and always the physical defender, ended the afternoon with three blocks.
“That’s always my mindset,” said Langevine. “To go down there and get as many rebounds as I can. I’m just going out there and playing basketball, doing what my team needs me to do.”
Sophomore swingman Tyrese Martin added another 13 points and 11 rebounds to the stat sheet, getting his fourth double-double of the season. In what was an added bonus and something Rhody will need more of going forward to improve their ceiling as a team, freshman forward Jacob Toppin was able to provide consistent bench scoring, adding 12 points in 11 minutes of action.
“Everytime a coach gets on you don’t take it personal,” said Toppin. “When coach got on me in the first half I took it as a ‘get better,’ so that’s what I did in the second half.”
As the story has been so often this year, it continued to be Rhode Island’s defensive emphasis and effort that they relied on.
“It’s the ultimate priority,” said Cox. “On the offensive end, you can’t always control that. You can’t control the bounce of that ball. Defense is absolutely controllable. It’s effort, technique, will, communication. Things we work on every day.”
The Rams held the Hawks to under 33 percent from the field, and under 30 percent from three. This same defense has them in prime positioning for their third ticket to march in the last four years, as according to KenPom, URI has a top 25 defense in the nation, sitting at 22 in Adjusted Defense. Rhody’s three point defense is also nationally acclaimed, as the Rams check in at ninth in the country in opponents three point field goal percentage, allowing opposing teams to shoot 28.2 percent from deep.
Rhode Island now sets their sights to the Davidson Wildcats, as they travel to North Carolina on Saturday to continue to add to their resume.