Photo: Basketball Hall of Fame/Johnnie Izquierdo
By KEVIN McNAMARA
Defense travels, even to Bubbleville.
That’s the takeaway from the University of Rhode Island’s five day/four game trip inside the Mohegan Sun’s college basketball Nirvana. The Rams drove back to Kingston Sunday night with smiles on their faces following a convincing 84-71 win over the San Francisco Dons.
A 2-2 record in the Bubble against four solid – or better – teams will pay off in strength of schedule juice but coach David Cox says he likes the lessons his team learned on the trip.
“It seems like we’ve been here forever in Bubbleville,” Cox said. “As a coach, I’m most excited about the synergy we’ve shown.”
Lesson number one was surely defense. After losing a 94-88 shootout to nationally ranked Arizona State and then failing to execute late in a loss to Boston College, Cox says he barely slept. He awoke ready impart some pointed lessons to his team.
“After we lost to BC I probably didn’t handle that too well,” he said. “We got together prior to breakfast and COVID testing and I let them know that we’re looking forward, not backwards. If we continue to trust one another, particularly on the defensive end, we were capable of reaching our goals.”
Following a 84-68 win over South Florida where the Bulls never mounted a serious offensive charge, the Rams squared off against a USF team that was coming off a shocking 61-60 upset on No. 4 Virginia. But a 38-28 first half set the tone as the Dons (2-2) shot just 29 percent. They’d finish making just 33 percent of their shots in a game that URI led from start to finish.
Fatts Russell: 21 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists
Antwan Walker: 14 points, 10 rebounds
Ishmael Leggett: 11 points
Jalen Carey: 11 points
*Fatts Russell in Bubbleville was impressive but can be even better. The little guy averaged 17. 8 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds. He shot just 20 percent (5-of-24) from the 3-point line.
“As a senior I’m seeing the game slower and understanding when to pick my spots,” Russell said. “When you stay in a bubble with guys for a week straight you have to like them at some point. It felt like 24/7 with these guys. We helped our chemistry through doing this.”
*The Rams need to make threes to be good. That’s Russell, Jeremy Sheppard and Jalen Carey, specifically. As a team Rhody made 29 percent of its threes in the four games.
*San Francisco will be a team to watch. While securing a great upset of Virginia, the Dons did lose to UMass-Lowell in its first game at Mohegan.
UP NEXT: Seton Hall is set to play at the Ryan Center Wednesday. The Pirates play Monday against Rick Pitino and Iona. The Rams will not face BC a second time as originally scheduled next Friday due to a schedule change.