UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Should the performance in these last two games at Mohegan Sun Arena be repeated with any sort of regularity, the University of Rhode Island will be just fine this season.
The Rams smothered South Florida, 84-68, on Saturday and followed it up by making a fellow mid-major NCAA Tournament contender look pretty ordinary on Sunday.
San Francisco was on the receiving end through 40 grueling minutes here in Bubbleville, as URI was in firm control for the majority of an 84-71 victory to end the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off.
The Rams built a 17-point lead with 10:01 left thanks to a 12-0 run and were never seriously threatened from there. Ishmael Leggett’s tough rebound inside and putback forced the Dons to burn a timeout. San Francisco never closed within two possessions over the final 13 minutes.
“I think you’re starting to see right now what we’re capable of,” URI coach David Cox said. “Once we get back in the gym and get some more practice under our belt, I think we can take it to another level.”
Fatts Russell did the bulk of his damage for URI at the foul line while posting a team-high 21 points. Russell was a perfect 11-for-11 from the stripe, and the end result shouldn’t have been a surprise given his career track record. The Rams improved to 32-8 when Russell attempts at least five free throws in a game.
“Throughout my career, there have been a lot of film sessions — tough film sessions — about moments where I was being immature and going too fast,” Russell said. “As a senior now I’m seeing the game slower and understanding when to pick my spots.”
URI called a team meeting on Friday morning following opening defeats against No. 18 Arizona State and Boston College. The Sun Devils were a hair too talented and Russell fouled out early in a 94-88 loss, a Wednesday result that prompted a fair bit of optimism. It was a different feeling the next night as the Rams staggered to a 69-64 setback against the Eagles.
“I let them know we’re looking forward, not backwards,” Cox said. “If we continue to trust one another and play together — particularly at the defensive end — we’ll be capable of reaching our goals.”
URI finished with four players in double figures for the third time in four games, as Antwan Walker notched his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Leggett and Jalen Carey each chipped in with 11 points as the Rams received a total of 47 from their four true guards. Russell added five rebounds and four assists in a strong all-around effort.
“You just feel so comfortable when you go into battle with Fatts on your team,” Cox said. “He’s a tremendous leader and a tremendous player. He had a tremendous weekend.”
URI (2-2) built its lead in the early going by holding the Dons without a field goal through a 5:57 stretch. The Rams mounted a 7-0 run capped by a Leggett drive to the hoop, and San Francisco wound up missing nine straight shots. The Dons (2-2) were just 10-for-34 through the opening 20 minutes and finished 4-for-16 from 3-point range.
“Our communication was really good tonight,” Cox said. “They’re a tough team to defend because they run that Princeton offense with great pace.”
It was the deep ball that helped power San Francisco to a national upset here on Friday. The Dons wrapped up three games in as many days by stunning No. 4 Virginia, 61-60. San Francisco knocked down 13 3-pointers in that one, but the Rams were able to dial in on their perimeter assignments while holding the Dons to just 11-for-40 from deep.
On Twitter: @BillKoch25
SAN FRANCISCO (71): Jurkatamm 3-6 0-2 6, Kane 0-1 0-0 0, Bouyea 8-17 3-3 22, Milstead 1-6 1-1 3, Shabazz 5-19 2-3 15, Ryuny 6-13 2-2 19, Kunen 2-9 0-1 4, Visser 0-0 2-2 2, Hawthorne 0-3 0-0 0; totals 25-74 10-14 71. RHODE ISLAND (84): Walker 6-7 2-2 14, Makhe.Mitchell 2-2 0-0 4, Martin 2-3 2-2 7, Russell 4-11 11-11 21, Sheppard 1-7 2-2 4, Johnson 1-3 0-0 3, Carey 3-7 5-6 11, Leggett 3-3 5-6 11, Makhi.Mitchell 0-4 5-6 5, Harris 1-3 2-5 4; totals 23-50 34-40 84.
Halftime — Rhode Island 38-28. 3-pt. goals — San Francisco 11-40 (Ryuny 5-11, Bouyea 3-8, Shabazz 3-12, Jurkatamm 0-1, Hawthorne 0-2, Kunen 0-2, Milstead 0-4), Rhode Island 4-15 (Russell 2-6, Martin 1-1, Johnson 1-3, Carey 0-1, Harris 0-1, Walker 0-1, Sheppard 0-2). Fouled Out — Jurkatamm, Ryuny. Rebounds — San Francisco 35 (Ryuny 10), Rhode Island 37 (Walker 10). Assists — San Francisco 11 (Bouyea 5), Rhode Island 9 (Russell 4). Total fouls — San Francisco 25, Rhode Island 16.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: URI takes care of business again, tops San Francisco, 84-71