Ishmael Leggett takes a shot against UMass. Photo by James McIntosh.
It may have been a little later than usual, but the University of Rhode Island Men’s Basketball team returned to the Ryan Center on Wednesday night to secure a necessary non-conference win.
Rhody took on the Seton Hall Pirates, who are one of 13 teams across Division I basketball to make the NCAA Tournament the last four years it was held. The two teams last met in 2017 during the semifinal of the NIT Season Tip-Off, where the Rams would come out with a thrilling 75-74 victory; this game would be nothing short of that.
The Rams opened the game on fire, jumping out to an early 9-0 lead and stretching that lead to 14 with less than 11 minutes to play in the first half. The Pirates would claw into the Rams lead thanks to a pair of runs late in the first half. Seton Hall was led by preseason All-Big East forward Sandro Mamukelashvilli, who would score 11 of the team’s 34 first-half points. The Rams would head into the locker room with a one-point lead.
The two teams would trade baskets for the majority of the second half before a three-pointer from Jeremy Sheppard and a layup from Ishmael Leggett gaveURI a 66-61 lead with less than five to play. From here, the Pirates would struggle putting the ball in the basket, missing their final eight field goals. The Rams would take full advantage of this, finishing the game on a 10-0 run to give themselves a 76-63 victory.
Head Coach David Cox spoke postgame about the importance of the victory against a quality opponent like Seton Hall.
“[It was] good win for the team, good win for the program, great win for the league,” Cox said. “I thought our guys were committed to the game plan.”
He was also impressed with the resilience that his team showed down the stretch, where key three-pointers by leaders Sheppard and Russell iced the game late.
“I thought they showed a lot of resolve, Cox said. “We break the game up into wars like most teams. The second half consists of five four-minute wars and going into our last two wars, we were down a point and we fully accepted that as a team. I could see in the huddle that we felt like we were still in a good place and we were ready to push through, so we went down one to a 13-point win.”
The balanced offensive attack that the Rams have shown to start the season would continue against the Pirates. For the fourth time this season, the Rams would finish with four players in double figures. Senior Fatts Russell led the way with 17 points followed by backcourt partner Jeremy Sheppard, who finished with 14 points. Mahki Mitchell and Ishmael Leggett both finished with 11 points.
“As you’ve seen the past couple of games, we’ve not only had one player in double digits we’ve had multiple players in double digits,” Shepard said. “It shows you that we have depth––we got players who can come off the bench and they’re ready to go, like my guy Ish [Leggett]. He came in ready to play today and that just shows you how we all are all across the board.”
For the Pirates, Mamukelashvilli finished with a game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds. He was followed by Jared Rhoden, who finished with 10 points.
The Rams will get some much needed rest within the next few days. They will hit the floor again next Sunday, Dec. 13, in Bowling Green when they face the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Tip off is set for noon.