Antwan Walker sails in for a score in the Rams win over Seton Hall. Photo – Drew Adames, Rhode Island Athletics
By KEVIN McNAMARA
In basketball finishing fast is almost always a very good thing. Just ask the Rhode Island Rams.
After starting fast but getting caught by Seton Hall Wednesday night at a barren Ryan Center, the Rams faced a tough spot. Tied with just over six minutes left, Rhody took the correct turn and blitzed the visiting Pirates down the stretch to secure a badly-needed 76-63 victory.
URI (3-2) was in need of a marquee win after losing two chances at victories over Basketball Six conference teams Arizona State and Boston College. Wins over South Florida and San Francisco steadied the ship but aren’t going to raise a lot of eyelids come Selection Sunday.
A win over Seton Hall (1-2) may, but only if the Pirates cure their ills. They are nowhere near the Top 10 juggernaut that sailed through the Big East a year ago. Transfer Bryce Aiken (Harvard) did not play in this game and the Hall won’t be an NCAA tourney team if he doesn’t return and play at top form.
“Good win for the team, good win for the program, great win for the league,” URI coach David Cox said. “I thought our guys were committed to the game plan tonight.”
Shavar Reynolds filled in for Aiken and while he did a good job harassing Ram star Fatts Russell into a 4-of-12 (17 points) shooting night, he battled foul woes. The only reason the Pirates came back from a 23-9 first half deficit was big man Sandro Mamukelashvili. The native of Georgia threw in 25 points, four 3-pointers, and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Yet down by just 66-63 with 3:08 left, the Pirates hit the skids and never scored again. The Rams scored the final 10 points and grinded out one defensive stop after another.
URI’s other scoring guard, Jeremy Sheppard, scored 14 points. Makhi Mitchell posted his first collegiate double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds and impressive freshman guard Ishmael Leggett added 11 points as well.
In what can only be a positive sign, the Rams flashed more depth and punch than the Pirates with four players in double figures. Jared Rhoden (10) was the only other Hall player in double digits.
URI will travel to Western Kentucky this weekend before beginning Atlantic 10 play. At least that’s the schedule today, but things can change. Rhody could use another game sometime next week but may not be able to secure one.
Seton Hall has over-scheduled. They are in a four-games-in-seven-days swing that takes them to Omaha, Neb., for a date against Oregon Friday and to Penn State Sunday.
“I knew this was going to be hard,” Hall coach Kevin Willard said on his post-game radio interview. “My whole point is being ready for Dec. 11 (and the Big East opener), being game sharp for Dec. 11. We’re a quarter of what we need to be. We’re playing hard, we’re just not playing well. I’m going to be patient.”
URI 76, Seton Hall 63
SETON HALL (63): Mamukelashvili 8 5-9 25, Rhoden 5 0-2 10, Cale 2 4-6 8, Reynolds 2 0-0 5, Obiagu 1 3-4 5, Molson 2 1-2 6, Samuel 2 0-0 4, Long 0 0-0 0, Stevens 0 0-0 0; totals – 22 13-23 63. URI (76): Russell 4 6-6 17, Sheppard 5 2-2 14, Makhel Mitchell 2 3-7 7, Walker 3 0-0 6, Martin 1 3-4 6, Leggett 4 1-2 11, Makhi Mitchell 5 1-1 11, Harris 2 0-2 4, Johnson 0 0-0 0; totals – 26 16-24 76.
Halftime – URI 36-35. 3-pt. goals – SH 6 (Mamukelashvili 4, Reynolds, Molson); URI 8 (Russell 3, Sheppard 2, Martin, Leggett 2).