URI’s Fatts Russell makes a free throw that forces overtime against Saint Joe’s Sunday. (Photo: Drew Adames/URI Athletics)
By KEVIN WEHNER
Fatts Russell owns a winning smile as well as pretty mean hoop skills. So when the URI senior was sporting a wide grin Sunday night, everyone around the Ram program noticed.
“I’m still doing Fatts Russell things,” Russell said after a 85-77 overtime win over Saint Joseph’s.
Russell certainly did a big “thing” to avoid a loss to the winless (0-7, 0-2) Hawks. He stood at the free-throw line, down three, with 4.7 seconds remaining, and a chance to force overtime. There were no URI fans silently waving their fingers in the air. just cardboard cutouts in the stands. Nonetheless, the veteran stepped up with confidence sunk all three consecutively from the charity stripe to tie the game at 70.
“That’s what you expect from your senior captain,” URI coach David Cox said. “He’s Fatts… He’s an alpha with the It factor.”
Rhode Island (5-5, 2-1 A-10) escaped in the extra session and won its second straight game. The Rams have won five consecutive games against the Hawks but this one came much harder than planned. Saint Joe was just a costly foul away from a sizable conference upset and its first win of the season.
Saint Joseph’s Myles Douglas was whistled for the foul to set-up the game-tying free throws as he made contact with Russell as he was streaking down the sideline. The veteran showcased his basketball I.Q. to sense the defender and hoist up a shot attempt from deep on the wing.
“Coach set a flat screen for me and I got downhill,” Russell said of his game-saving foul draw. “As soon as he (Douglas} touched me I went up for the three.”
The senior finished with a team-high 20 points, including 13 in the final 7:42 of regulation and overtime. Russell stuffed the stat sheet adding eight assists, six rebounds, and five steals. The five takeaways moved him to third all-time in Rams history with 192 passing Tom Garrick.
It looked like an upset was in the making when Saint Joseph’s Taylor Funk made a clutch lay-up and absorbed contact on a foul from D.J. Johnson to move in front 67-65. Funk posted his career high of 29 points.
After converting from the free-throw line the Hawks led by four with :20 remaining, an ensuing Jalen Carey jumper sliced the deficit in half. A 50/50 trip at the line by Saint Joseph’s Cameron Brown kept it a one possession game.
That set up the game’s most fateful play as Russell was fouled and made the three free throws to force overtime.
In the extra period, the Rams led from the jump. The Hawks cut it to three after a triple from Jack Forrest with :49 to go but a response from D.J. Johnson in the corner stretched URI’s lead to 83-77 with :17 remaining and all but decided an anxious night at the Ryan Center.
The wins all count the same, but URI’s next opponent is Richmond (7-3), a veteran team that is arguably the best team in the conference. That game will come on the road on Wednesday.