Freshman guard Sebastian Thomas floats into the lane for a basket in Sunday afternoon’s win against AIC. PHOTO CREDIT: Greg Clark

Last season, the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team was one of the few that went through the year unscathed from COVID-19 related issues, but this season has already brought some.

In their first game back in 20 days, the Rams never trailed on their way to a 70-55 victory against Division II American International College (AIC) to move to 9-3 this season.

“It’s good to be back,” URI Men’s Basketball Coach David Cox said. “It’s been three long weeks. We didn’t anticipate having these types of breaks heading into the season. Obviously today, it looked like we hadn’t played in three weeks, but it was imperative that we got this game in because we haven’t played in three weeks and we needed to get the rust off before going on the road for our first two conference games.” 

The matchup, the first between the two schools since 1941, was scheduled less than 24 hours after URI’s Atlantic 10 opener against La Salle University was postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Explorer’s program. 

“We called every team that we could possibly call,” Cox said. “We are really fortunate that [American International College] were able to take this game and travel down from Springfield and give us this opportunity to play.” 

Due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, redshirt senior Antwan Walker was the lone Ram unavailable for the game. 

As expected, the Rams used the opening minutes to knock off the rust from their 20-day hiatus. They only scored 11 points in the opening 10 minutes of the game, but strong defense and a quick nine points from Mahki Mitchell helped lead Rhody to a 11-8 lead. He would go on to finish with a game-high 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting.

URI eventually settled into the game and stretched their first half lead to as much as 33-18 before going into the half with a 35-22 lead. 

In the second half, AIC trimmed their lead to 37-26 after junior forward Franklyn Batista forced a turnover and threw down an alley-oop for two of his team-high 14 points. From there, the Rams put together a 10-2 run capped by a dunk from Ileri Ayo-Faleye.

“We needed this one,” junior forward Malik Martin said after the game. He nearly recorded a double-double with nine points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. He also revealed after the game that he was forced to isolate himself after an asymptomatic COVID-19 test came back positive. 

“It was pretty tough [coming back],” Martin said. “I was one of the ones that had to quarantine for 10 days. Me and Ish El-Amin only had two or three practices under our belt in the past three weeks.” 

All 10 Rams who saw the floor scored, including Tres Berry who scored a career-high seven points in 11 minutes of action. 

The win also marked the 100th game of David Cox’s coaching career, in which he holds a record of 58-42. He trails only Hall of Famer Frank Keaney, who went 60-40 in his first 100 games leading the program. 

Pending any unforeseen COVID-19 issues, the Rams return to action Wednesday to take on George Mason University on the road in their conference opener. Tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game can be streamed on ESPN+.