By ERIC RUEB
KINGSTON – There is still something left to play for.
The losses have piled up all season and have come in different fashions. There have been blowouts, there’s been tough overtime losses and games where the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team just didn’t deserve to win.
Wednesday the Rams didn’t necessarily deserve a victory; they were outrebounded and gave up a 10-point first-half lead, and with a shot to win came up with no legit looks at the basket to end the game there.
But they didn’t deserve the 72-66 overtime loss handed to them by St. Bonaventure.
“It’s still tough on us,” URI’s Andre Malone said. “We want to win so bad. We’re playing hard, practicing hard and we’re just not getting the win. We should have had this one.”
At 3-18, 0-6 in the Atlantic 10, there will be no talk of the postseason. Any NCAA hopes – which weren’t really there before the season began – ended quickly during non-conference play and any of the faux-tourneys were out of the question once the Rams hit double digits in the loss column.
Sitting in last place in the A-10, it looks like URI’s chances of making the conference tournament are slowly slipping away as well. With 10 games left in the season – starting Saturday on the road against Dayton – the Rams will need to win at least half of them if they don’t want their season to end March 3 against Massachusetts.
And while that’s an unlikely probability, it doesn’t mean it’s time to pack it in. The Rams might not be competitive in the standings, but that inner drive hasn’t been killed quite yet.
“We’re playing for the future. We’re playing for every day trying to get better down the stretch so we can finish up as strong as we possibly can,” URI coach Jim Baron said. “There’s a lot of basketball left to be played and again when you’re close, you have to keep working to grab one and to keep pulling together as a unit.”
Overtime the Rams weren’t a unit. They played sloppy and passive and St. Bonaventure took advantage. The Bonnies hit both shots attempted in the overtime – starting with a Da’Quan Cook jumper 1 minute, 6 seconds in – and made seven of 12 from the line.
URI hit none of its six shots from the floor and scored five points in OT on free throws, but the Rams were in the game until 26 seconds left when freshman Mike Powell turned the ball over on a pick-and-roll where Powell got stuck under the basket after being fronted by Youssou NDoye.
St. Bonaventure’s Matt Wright was fouled 10 seconds later and made both free throws; a last ditch miss on a 3-pointe by Billy Baron didn’t matter much and SBU’s Chris Johnson made two free throws with five seconds left for the game’s final points.
“He didn’t use the ball screen and now he couldn’t break anyone down coming off the screen and he kind of got stuck in the air,” Baron said, “and just couldn’t complete the play.”
“We have to grow up,” Malone said. “… We have a freshman point guard at the end of the game turn the ball over; it was all right, we weren’t too mad at him but we have to limit the little things like that in crunch time of the game. There were a couple of games we lost because of turnovers at the end of the game.”
Turnovers weren’t the reason the Rams didn’t score at the end of regulation.
Up 10 at half, St. Bonaventure went on a 15-2 lead to start the second half and the game was a battle the rest of the way, with neither team leading by more than three. There were eight lead changes and four ties, the last coming when Orion Outerbridge rebounded and put back a Malone miss with 1:10 left.
After a missed 3-pointer by SBU’s Demitrius Conger with 41 seconds left, Outerbridge corralled the rebound and URI held for one last shot. In all but expected fashion, it was a rushed 3-pointer by Malone and the ball was rebounded by St. Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson, who was then stripped by Billy Baron.
URI called timeout and ran in inbound play. The inbound pass by Powell went to Outerbridge, who flicked it to Baron, who threw up a desperation shot that never had a chance.
“They have a play that is a lob play [we looked for] with 2.5 left,” SBU coach Mark Schmidt said. “I’m not sure what they ran, but thank goodness it didn’t work.”
“The out of bounds play, I set that up for Andre to get the ball because he was hot at the time,” Baron said. “… It was just bad.”
Things could have gone better for URI Wednesday night, but it’s been the story of the season; things have not gone well and the results have shown it.
So while there will be no Big Dance, no NIT, no whatever the names are of the tournaments no one cares about and, very likely, no shot to make it to Atlantic City for the A-10s, the Rams will continue to play and continue to play hard, which means finding a goal and trying to achieve it.
“We’re playing to win every game,” Malone said. “We ain’t trying to look forward to next year or anything like that. We’re trying to win every game left in the season.”