KINGSTON – Whether or not the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team deserved to beat Charlotte Saturday afternoon is irrelevant.
It didn’t matter how it looked, because when the Rams left the Ryan Center, the scoreboard read Rams 71, Guest 70.
Akeem Richmond missed a jumper from the right corner with three seconds left in overtime, but Jamal Wilson was in the right place at the right time – and got away with the right move – for a putback just before the buzzer in overtime, giving the Rams the dramatic one-point win to finish off an incredible second half for URI.
“One word – it was just crazy,” Wilson said. “Every time Akeem shoots the ball, I’m pretty sure not myself but everyone thinks it’s going in. I got a pretty good bounce and a good look. Luckily the defender was smaller and I had a bit of an advantage. ”
“We like to make in interesting, don’t we?” said URI coach Jim Baron after the win, the second straight game where the Rams trailed by double figures, only to come back and win.
Last Wednesday’s 67-53 win over Dayton – where URI trailed by 12 in the first half before steamrolling the Flyers in the second – wasn’t as dramatic as Saturday’s.
Down 70-67 with 34 seconds left, URI cut the deficit to one on a Marquis Jones layup and after a timeout, Nikola Malesevic and Richmond trapped Charlotte’s Derrio Green in the far right corner. Malesevic ripped the ball away and URI called a timeout with 7.9 seconds left.
Jones missed a layup after the timeout, but the rebound went out of bounds to URI with three seconds left. The game-winning play was designed for something open on the interior, but Richmond cut to the right corner where James gave him the ball.
The shot looked good when it left his hand, but hit the back iron and flew in the hair as the Ryan Center held its breath. Wilson was in perfect position for the bounce, leapt, grabbed the ball and put it off the glass for the game-winner.
After the game, Wilson explained why he was so open for the game-winner.
“Yeah I got away with a push,” he said. “For a minute I was just walking (Green) down, but the shot, as it bounced off, that’s when I kind of pushed off and got the real good position.”
“That means he probably did,” Charlotte coach Alan Major said when told about Wilson’s confession. “Derrio didn’t say anything.”
With one shot, everything that went wrong for the Rams for the first 21:32 was erased from memory.
URI was outplayed for the entire first half – drawing boos from the home crowd late – and down 40-23 after a layup by K.J. Sherrill, it looked like URI wasn’t going to have the second-half magic that drove by Dayton three days earlier.
It was about then that the magical switch the Rams have been hitting was flipped.
After not pressing the entire first half - a move Baron says he has to do in order to save players’ legs; Jones is the team’s only point guard and the starters who weren’t in foul trouble played at least 37 of the 45 minutes – URI revved things up, throwing the pressure on the 49ers.
With 10 minutes left, the Rams had erased the deficit, outscoring Charlotte 23-6 after creating five turnovers and holding the 49ers to just 1 of 6 shooting from the floor in that span.
It helped that the Rams were red-hot, making 8 of 14 from the floor and 4 of 8 of their 3-pointers, with Richmond hitting all four on four attempts.
The difference in his shooting was being set. He made only 1 of 5 in the first half and the lone make was off a pass from Jones. Every one of Richmond’s three were made without the sophomore taking a dribble, including the 3 he made to tie the game at 46 with 10:02 to play in regulation.
“It helps out a lot because I’m already shot-ready,” said Richmond, who finished with 20 points on 7 of 17 shooting, going 6-for-15 from deep. “When I’m dribbling, I’ve got do a lot of other things, wasting a lot of energy, but it’s much better when I catch it and I’m shot-ready.
One of Richmond’s bigger plays came on the defensive end, teaming up with Malesevic to trap Green in the corner. Malesevic forced the jump ball that gave URI the final possession with 7.9 seconds left and the play was almost expected because Charlotte never showed signs of being able to handle URI’s press.
“Against presses, the phrase you try to use is 'make multiple cuts.' They put James on the ball, who’s got great length and size and the big thing there with us as we continue to improve is not just making the one cut to get open, it’s making the second and third, almost like you’re playing tag like kids in the park. You’ve got that guy trying to stay next to you and you’ve got to get away from him.”
While it could be argued after the way they played the first half that the Rams didn’t deserve to win Saturday, it should also be pointed out that URI should have finished the game off in regulation.
Up 61-57 with four minutes left, the Rams got away from what made them successful and tried to play the clock a little more, which allowed Charlotte to play its way back into the game.
URI led 63-60 with 29 seconds left and after a pair of Sherrill free throws and a foul, Jones had a chance to give URI a three-point lead, but made only one of two from the line.
Charlotte’s Chris Braswell was fouled with eight seconds left and made both, giving the Rams a chance to win, but Jones’ game-winning attempt was blocked by Green.
But when it’s all said and done, no one will remember that fact. All that will be remembered is a team making a comeback from a 17-point deficit, coming up with big plays when they needed and escaping with a win.
This URI team will have to make some changes this week to not make coming back from double-digit deficits the norm. The Rams will be off until Saturday when it plays Massachusetts at 2 p.m. at the Ryan Center.
“I don’t ever think we should lose with the talent we have. We go through stretches where we can beat anybody; I’d try the Sixers if we could,” said Wilson, who hails from Norristown, Pa., not far from Philadelphia. “The talent we had, like you saw tonight, everyone has their own types of games and when it’s flowing, I don’t think we can lose.”