Fatts Russell has been asked to be a leader since day one of the David Cox-era in Kingston, and Sunday was just the latest example of the point guard fulfilling his responsibilities.
Russell led the Rams in points, assists, steals, free throws and tied for the team-lead in rebounds with 8, but it was his play at the end of regulation that helped the University of Rhode Island Men’s Basketball team escape with a 85-77 win in overtime over St. Joseph’s University.
After sophomore Cameron Brown missed the front end of two free throw attempts with eight seconds left that would have put the Hawks up four, Rhody restarted play 94 feet away from the hoop. Russell took the inbounds pass, dribbled down the right side of the court near the corner of the arc and forced a shooting foul on Hawks guard Myles Douglas. The senior hit all three free throws calmly to tie the game at 70 heading into the extra frame.
“I’ve been struggling all year, but my confidence hasn’t withered,” Russell said about his late-game execution. “My confidence is not going to go anywhere. I am going to continue being a leader for this team and staying confident.”
URI took firm command of the game for the first time all afternoon in overtime. Jalen Carey scored a layup five seconds into the extra period, and the Rams never trailed after that. A D.J. Johnson-three with 16 seconds left in overtime with the shot clock expiring put the Rams up six, before two late free throws by Russell capped a perfect day at the line (10-10) for himself and gave Rhody the victory.
Rhode Island has now won five straight in the series for the first time since a stretch of seven consecutive wins from 1987-1990. The Rams climb to 5-5 on the season, and 2-1 in conference play, with the win for Cox and his team.
“It was a good, hard-fought, Atlantic 10 conference game,” said Cox. “We showed some grit, particularly at the end and in the overtime period to come out with a win, but I have to give St. Joe’s a lot of credit. I thought they came up here and played really hard and had a great game plan.
The Hawks entered the contest without a win on the year due to a tough schedule. St. Joe’s lost to Kansas, Tennessee and Villanova in the early part of the season, all teams ranked in the top ten of the AP Poll at time of tipoff. Sunday’s loss drops them to 0-7 on the year.
St. Joe’s were without leading scorer Ryan Daly, who averaged 17.2 points per game in five games prior to Sunday. Forward Taylor Hunk stepped up in Daly’s absence, putting up a career-high 29 points on 11-21 shooting. Brown also scored double figures with 21 points.
History was made on multiple fronts for URI as they collected 53 rebounds versus the Hawks, the 15th most in program history. With five steals, Russell climbed to third in program history with 192 steals, passing Tom Garrick.
Up next for the Rams is a road matchup against Atlantic 10 favorite University of Richmond on Wednesday followed by a trip to the Siegel Center to take on Virginia Commonwealth University over the weekend. Coach Cox expects it to be a tough swing of games, starting with the Spiders.
“I’ll have a good night’s sleep tonight, and then all hell will break loose tomorrow as I try to get ready for Richmond,” he said. “We gotta travel on Tuesday and we got to be ready to play on Wednesday. I’ll worry about Saturday [vs. VCU] after Wednesday.”