Men’s basketball road struggles continue despite spirited resilience in St. Louis

Leggett led the team with 20 points against St. Louis, half of which came from the free-throw line PHOTO CREDIT:

It was another tough stretch for the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team, who’s search for their first road win of the season will continue following losses at Saint Joseph’s and St. Louis this week.

The Rams would begin their three-game road stretch with a trip to Philadelphia to take on Saint Joseph’s Hawks on Wednesday, February 1. The Rams fell behind early and struggled to claw their way back out throughout the night, going into the halftime break down 10 points (36-26).

A large part of the first-half success for St. Joe’s came from their perimeter shooting. URI struggled to defend the Hawks from beyond the arc, as they shot 6-16 from three-point territory in the first half, accounting for 50% of the home side’s first-half scoring.

“I thought a 10-point deficit at halftime was something our team has been accustomed to dealing with,” URI head coach Archie Miller said. “Our guys did a really good job in the second half of adjusting, and I think we did a good job defensively.” 

Despite the deficit, the Rams would come out swinging in the second half. They held the Hawks to only 33% from the field and 0-9 from long range, but struggled to put together any offensive runs themselves. Despite the improved defensive performance, URI shot worse than St. Joe’s in the final 20 minutes, hitting only 9-28 (32%) from the field and going 0-7 from deep.

URI cut the lead down to nine points four times in the second half, but that was as close as they would get, because the Hawks were able to maintain their first-half advantage and hand the Rams their 13th-straight road loss dating back to last season.

One bright spot on offense for the Rams came from second-year Brayon Freeman. The only double-figure scorer on the night for URI, the George Washington transfer registered 14 points and for his sixth-consecutive double-figure performance.

Defensively, fourth-year Malik Martin had a career-high night with 13 rebounds. Second-year Alex Tchikou wasn’t far behind with seven rebounds and four blocked shots. Despite allowing 21 points on 18 turnovers, URI outrebounded St. Joe’s on the night, 43-38.

“We got a little ‘pig-headed’ out there in terms of trying to force it at times,” Miller said. “Offense was not easy for us tonight, we struggled around the rim, we struggled sharing the ball. It’s actually a little bit disheartening, because I thought we had so many opportunities to get back in the game, we just couldn’t take advantage of it.”

The Rams returned home for a bye-week following the loss, but would hit the road once again to take on Atlantic-10 frontrunners St. Louis on Tuesday. Still in search of their first win, a resilient effort would once again fall just short.

It was a much quicker start for URI in this one, as they stayed close to the Billikens throughout the entirety of the first half, going into the break down one point, 31-32.

It was another strong defensive showing for the Rams, who held a proficient St. Louis offense to only 33% from the field in the first half.

Rhode Island would continue to make it difficult for the Billikens throughout the second half, and it wasn’t until the final minutes that the home side finally started to pull away. Down 69-61 with 4:09 to go, Rhode Island continued to fight. Martin hit a layup followed by a three-point effort that brought the Rams back within three points at 69-66 and Ishmael Leggett went 2-2 from the line just minutes later to knot the game at 71 with under a minute to go.

“Rhode Island did an exceptional job of coming in here, playing with the right kind of focus and energy, and it showed,” said CBS color analyst and former coach Avery Johnson. “It started at shootaround this morning, they came up just short, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort. Part of their problem tonight is a guy named Yuri Collins.”

Collins finished with eight assists for the Billikens, breaking the Atlantic-10 all-time assists record in the process, surpassing the previous record set by Jacob Gilyard (783) at Richmond from 2017-22.

It was ultimately the home side that would have the last laugh, as Gibson Jimerson hit a three-point shot to retake the lead with just 31 seconds remaining. Jimerson would finish the game leading all players with 24 points. 

Leggett had a final chance from beyond the arc to tie the game again, but his effort couldn’t find the basket and the Billikens came away with the 76-71 win.

Three Rams finished in double-figures. Ishmael Leggett led the way for URI with 20 points and Freeman finished with 14 points for his 19th double-figure performance in his last 20 games. First-year Rory Stewart had his best game in a Rhode Island uniform, finishing with a career-high 11 points. He went 4-4 from the field, including 3-3 from deep in 10 minutes of action.

“Tonight in the second half in particular, Rory was able to give us a boost, and we were able to make some shots,” Miller said following the loss. “And I think once we started to make some shots, it really helped us believe that we were gonna be right there at the end of the day.”

Despite the loss, Miller maintained positivity, citing improvement from the St. Joe’s loss.

“We came here, we prepared hard, we improved from our last road performance [in] which we weren’t very good,” Miller said. “I got no problem with our team. I told those guys we gotta keep showing up the way we’re doing it, and good things will happen.”

The Rams will conclude a three-game road stretch at George Mason on Saturday, with tip-off set for 2 p.m. on ESPN+ and The Varsity Network.