KINGSTON – The last play will be the easiest to remember, especially because of the way it turned out.
Everyone in the Ryan Center knew Marquis Jones was getting the ball and that explains why La Salle did everything it could to prevent him from taking it to the basket, instead forcing the senior to take a 3-pointer deep off the left wing.
It was the play that decided Saturday’s game, but it wasn’t the reason URI lost to La Salle, 76-75, Saturday afternoon.
No, there were plenty of reasons why the Rams lost to La Salle Saturday afternoon, and the play looked like it was thought up on the playground wasn’t the one.
But it certainly won’t be forgotten.
Down 76-75 after a pair of Jones free throws – of course, because he’s been the Rams’ most clutch player the last two seasons – Delroy James and Orion Outerbridge trapped Aaric Murray on the inbound pass and forced a jump ball.
Leaving a pair of timeouts in his pocket, Jim Baron didn’t have to design a play because if there was one player who he wanted to take the last shot, it was his senior point guard.
Only problem was, La Salle knew that too.
Jones tried to run a pick-and-roll, but the play was snuffed out by Murray at the top. Jones went to the left wing and with the clock winding down, forced a contested 3-pointer. The shot missed, James pulled down the rebound in traffic. He faded away, but the shot – and the game – was swatted away by Murray, where Jones tried to chase it down, only to get to it after the buzzer.
He grabbed the ball with two hands in disgust, dropped it, and walked off the court.
“I should have drove to the basket, but I settled,” Jones said, later adding “I knew what I wanted to do. I think everyone knew I was going to take the shot. Unfortunately I didn’t finish.”
“Most teams, when it comes down to it, and the game-winning shot (Jones hit) against Richmond reflected that, when it comes down to it you try to put the ball in the hands off your best playmaker and give the screen and let him make a read on the play,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “We thought he would do that and Aaric gave a great hedge on the play and Tyreek (Duran) was strong on the ball. It was just great ball-screen defense.”
“Marquis has won a lot of games for us and I just thought getting the ball in his hands, something good would happen,” Baron said. “I thought he got a great look at the basket with the clock winding down.”
While URI couldn’t make a play on offense when it matter, the Explorers did.
Tied at 73, La Salle forced a shot-clock violation – Jones chucked up a bad 3-pointer that was tipped by Duren and James’ putback never had a chance to hit the rim – and put the ball in the hands of its best offensive weapon, Murray, on a screen and roll.
The Rams knew the play was coming and couldn’t stop it. Murray took a pass from Earl Pettis, went up strong and was fouled by Will Martell as the ball went in the hoop.
“That was all my fault,” Martell said. “I knew the flex cut was coming. Jamal (Wilson, guarding Pettis on the play) called it out at the last second. I thought he might have faked off the flex and come off the down screen so I sort of hesitated. He got the ball in the middle and I didn’t foul him hard enough.
“I put the loss on me.”
Martell was brave to take the blame, but the senior center was hardly the reason URI lost. It was, in fact, a team effort.
The Rams struggled to do anything offensively in the first half, turning it over nine times, hitting just 8 of 30 from the floor and making only 3 of 16 3-point attempts.
Luckily, La Salle wasn’t playing much better. The Explorers went 12-for-32 in the first half, had 12 turnovers and a 32-20 lead with 4:06 left before the Rams closed out the half on an 8-0 run.
The momentum carried over to the second half, where URI scored on its first three possessions to tie the game at 35.
“I didn’t think things were going that badly in the first half,” Martell said. “We just weren’t hitting any shots.”
As the shots started to fall, URI started to build a lead.
When they weren’t scoring in transition, the Rams ran an efficient half-court offense and led 58-47 after a 3-pointer by Akeem Richmond with 9:49 left, but La Salle answered, going on an 11-0 run in a 1 minute, 59 second span.
In the final 7:49, there were five lead exchanges and three ties and no one led by more than four points at any time in that span.
But when it came time to make the game-changing play that time, La Salle found a way when it mattered while the Rams didn’t, and that was what decided the game.
“There was never any sense of panic,” Martell said. “It’s always been, since I’ve been here, the upperclassmen have to come through. Marquis has to hit shots, Jimmy Baron has to hit shots, Kaheim (Seawright) has to make stops and when it was my turn to do it, I wasn’t up for the task. It always comes down to the seniors doing their job and I didn’t do mine today.”
“We were up 11 and we didn’t execute as much as we should have,” Jones said. “It’s disappointing. We still should have won that game.”