Guard Jeremy Sheppard (17 points) led the Rams to first Atlantic 10 win (Photo: Drew Adames/Rhode Island Athletics)
By KEVIN WEHNER
Twenty-eight days is a long time without a healthy, hearty smile. Just ask David Cox.
“We’ll take any win, it’s been three and a half weeks, four weeks almost since I’ve been able to smile,” said the URI basketball coach after a sluggish victory over St. Bonaventure Wednesday.
Rhode Island (4-5, 1-1 A-10) outlasted an experienced Bonnies team (2-1, 0-1 A-10) 63-57 despite committing 24 turnovers, the most since a decimating 76-42 defeat at VCU on Feb. 19, 2019, when they had 20 giveaways.
“We didn’t play our best ball,” Cox said. “We still came out with a victory. That shows that we have the talent and that we have a high ceiling.”
Amidst apparent struggles to take care of the ball, URI’s stifling defense held the Bonnies to just 57 points on 39 percent shooting. SBU had averaged 79 through its first two contests.
If the Rams want to fulfill their aspirations for competing at the top of the conference, this was a game they needed to win against a well-coached St. Bonaventure team picked to finish fourth the A-10 pre-season poll. Although it wasn’t pretty, the Rams will happily stuff this one in the win column.
A sloppy first half saw 22 turnovers between the two sides including 13 for URI. Fatts Russell (2-of-9, 9 points) had five of his six giveaways in the first twenty minutes. The Bonnies led 29-27 heading into the locker room. St. Bonaventure star Kyle Lofton led with 11 points at the break but was quiet in the second frame and finished with 13.
Rhode Island started the second half firing on all cylinders with a 13-0 run led by Jeremy Sheppard who sunk two three-pointers during that stretch. The senior guard led all scorers with 17 after scoring just three in the last two contests.
The visitors quickly responded with a 10-0 run of its own, capitalizing off turnovers to trim the deficit to 40-39 with 10:22 to go.
From there, the two traded blows until a Makhel Mitchell fast-break slam, and Antwan Walker wide-open three brought the lead to five for URI with 4:29 remaining.
“Everybody plays their role and everything will come,” said Antwan Walker about the team’s mindset in close contests. He posted his second career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
St. Bonaventure big man Osun Osunniyi fouled out of the game with a 3:47 to go, a relief for the URI offense and a major hit for the visitors. The junior Preseason All-A-10 selection blocked four shots and altered plenty more.
In the closing minutes, the backcourt duo of Russell and Sheppard made 6-of-6 from the charity stripe to ice the game and secure the team’s first Atlantic-10 victory.
The Rams shot an impressive 52 percent in the decisive second half. In addition to the turnover bug, the Rams shot just 60 percent from the charity stripe. That’s an area that must improve to keep adding to the win column.
“If we’re happy and content with this we’re in trouble,” Cox said. “If we have aspirations of turning this thing around… We have to tighten up.”
ST. BONAVENTURE (57): Adaway 5 2-4 12, Osunniyi 4 0-3 8, Lofton 6 1-1 13, Welch 2 0-0 6, Holmes 0 0-0 0, Creal 0 0-0 0, Roberts 3 1-2 8, Vasquez 2 0-0 6, Shaw 2 0-0 4; totals – 24 4-10 57.
URI (63): Walker 5 0-0 11, Mitchell 3 0-5 6, Russell 2 4-4 9, Sheppard 5 5-6 17, Martin 2 2-2 6, Harris 3 2-2 8, Betrand 0 1-2 1, Leggett 1 1-2 3, Carey 1 0-2 2, Johnson 0 0-0 0; totals – 22 15-25 63.
Halftime – SB, 29-27. 3-pt. goals – SB 5 (Welch 2, Roberts, Vasquez 2); URI 4 (Walker, Russell, Sheppard 2).