KINGSTON – The University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team hadn’t played a real game since December 6, so, an extra five minute period against Western Kentucky? Bring it on, said the well-rested Rams.
Despite having led nearly the entire contest, the Rams needed an overtime session to dispatch the Hilltoppers on Saturday. After the supporting players helped the Rams through regulation, the stars took over in OT to guide URI to an 86-82 win.
“Great win for us,” URI head coach David Cox said. “That’s a potential resume-building win. They’re going to be really good in their conference.”
The Rams built out a second half lead all the way to 11 points, thanks to heady contributions from Jermaine Harris and Antwan Walker. Harris had a season-high in points, and made three crucial plays down the stretch in overtime. Walker, in his first game wearing Keaney blue, came off the bench to score 10 points, grab seven rebounds and contribute to a win.
The Hilltoppers were without star forward Charles Bassey, who is out for the season. Carson Williams stepped up for the visitors, scoring a game-high 26 points and hitting the 3-pointer that sent the game to OT.
Williams hit a buzzer-beater from the corner to end both the first and second halves. With the game on the line, the Hilltoppers were throwing up desperation shots as time dwindled down.
A scramble drill ensued and the ball bounced its way out to Williams in the corner. He backed up past the 3-point line and calmly drilled the shot to force an extra five minutes.
URI never trailed in the second half or overtime. The veteran Rams collected themselves, and showed poise in the overtime period. Fatts Russell had a quiet day overall, but scored seven of his 15 points in the do-or-die period.
“We locked in when we needed to lock in, which was in the overtime period,” Cox said. “Some timely plays – Jermaine Harris had some big steals and deflections.”
Harris made two deflections on defense that led directly to steals. Then, with Jeff Dowtin attempting to salt the game away at the free throw line, Harris went up for an offensive rebound and managed to tip it to Russell. Russell hit both of his free throws, preventing another dramatic comeback from the Hilltoppers.
“I look for a lot of the small things with Jermaine,” Cox said. “It’s a developmental process he’s going through. He was good early, made a couple baskets.
“His defense has been solid for us all year. His physical presence, he is the anchor back there. He doesn’t get the rebounds that Cyril [Langevine] does, but he’s always in the right position.”
Langevine and Russell were uncharacteristically quiet for most of Saturday’s game. Langevine failed to record double-digit scoring for just the fourth time this season. Russell’s 15 points broke a seven-game streak where the guard scored at least 20 every night.
“Fatts, 20 points in seven straight games,” said Cox. “He can’t do that for the rest of the season, nor should we have to rely on him to do that. We have an outstanding group around him.”
That outstanding group is why the Rams led WKU nearly the entire way. Tyrese Martin handled first-half duties, scoring 15 of his 22 in that span. He took a game-high 23 shots, but with the Hilltoppers in a zone, Cox was okay with the sophomore letting it fly.
“That was huge,” Cox said. “Tyrese did a great job of carrying us in the first half. He was aggressive, he took some really good shots. He was aggressive getting to the basket. Thus the 23 shots. I was okay with that.”
Georgetown transfer Walker finally made his much-anticipated debut and he did not disappoint. He hit a pair of silky-smooth free throw line jumpers, and did a little bit of everything else as well (two steals, a block, two assists). A nifty no-look pass garnered the appreciation of the 5,300 fans in attendance.
“He was,” up to the task said Cox. “After he got his legs up underneath him and saw the ball go in the net for the first time, it was right back to playing basketball.
“He’s been around this program for over a year. We know what he’s capable of doing. He did that today, gave you all a glimpse of that tonight.”
“It feel good to be back out there with my team again,” Walker said. “Just had to get that first possession out and play ball.”
Walker twice was whistled for a foul early into shifts off the bench. Once that rust was behind him, he looked like a dynamic bench player that will help Rhody fill out their short rotation.
Russell and Jeff Dowtin combined to go a unsightly 8-for-33 from the floor in the win. Dowtin has struggled with his shot all season, but made up for that inefficiency on Saturday by dishing out eight assists to 0 turnovers. Russell also had eight dimes, and only one turnover.
“Keep my confidence up, knowing I can make shots,” Dowtin said. “No matter what I’m going to keep shooting the ball if I’m open. My confidence is never going to go down.”
The Rams won’t return home again until after the new year. They play at Middle Tennessee on December 29, and at Brown on January 2. The next game at the Ryan Center is their Atlantic 10 opener against Richmond on January 5.