Jeremy Sheppard led URI with 25 points in a win over La Salle
By KEVIN WEHNER
If anyone deserves a Philly cheesesteak on the trip home, it’s Jeremy Sheppard.
The senior guard posted the highest point total of any URI player this season, lighting up Tom Gola Arena for 25 points to lead URI to a 73-60 victory over La Salle. Sheppard drained five triples as his team improved to 9-8 on the season and 6-4 in the Atlantic 10.
Rhode Island put the game away late, closing the door with a 17-6 run in the final 7:09 to earn its second-straight victory. The URI defense played an important role in finishing the job, holding the Explorers scoreless for 4:14 of the final seven minutes.
“We started to get into the ball a little more, we started to scrape some passes to make them catch the ball further out,” URI coach David Cox said of his team’s late-game defensive effort. “We stayed competitive and we contested every shot for that four or five minute stretch and it was enough.”
The Explorers cut the deficit to as few as three (56-53) after an Ishmael Leggett turnover led to an easy slam for La Salle’s Christian Ray with 7:52 remaining. But the defense tightened down the stretch.
Senior Fatts Russell returned to the line-up after missing Sunday’s win vs. Fordham with a core muscle injury. The Philadelphia native wasn’t the star of the show, but put up a solid homecoming performance with 14 points and six assists.
“I have to give our trainer Daniel Anthony a lot of credit. He spent a lot of time with Fatts to get him right and we needed him today,” Cox said.
Russell is now 11-1 in his career vs. the two conference Philadelphia schools (La Salle and St. Joe’s). His role on this night wasn’t to be the leading scorer, but he had no problem sharing the wealth with his backcourt mate.
“After the first two shots I had he [Russell] told me to keep going,” Sheppard said. “He said it’s your time to shine.”
Shine he did, as the Richmond native buried five three-pointers including a few from NBA-range. He’s the first Rhode Island player to make five triples in a game this season and is now averaging 20.5 PPG over the last two contests.
Rams were on fire from beyond-the-arc in the first half, shooting 6-for-9 from deep and building a 37-31 cushion heading into the locker room. The turnover bug continued to trouble URI (19 on the night, for 30 Explorer points) and helped the home team hang around. The Explorers refused to let the game get out of hand until that final seven minutes. The late scoring drought, however, spoiled any chance of a comeback.
The win gives URI as many conference victories as any Atlantic-10 team. In fairness, the Rams have also played more games than any other team in the league but they’ll look to build even more momentum Saturday at Dayton.