Freshman Ishmael Leggett looks to push the ball up the floor at Dayton (Photo courtesy Dayton Athletics)
By KEVIN WEHNER
When the Rhode Island Rams missed their first 15 field goal attempts in the second half Saturday it was clearly an omen. A very bad one, in fact.
That isn’t a recipe for winning on the road, and URI (9-9, 6-5 A-10) fell to Dayton 67-56. The Flyers trailed, 32-29, at the half but jumped out to a 15-0 run to begin the second 20 minutes.
“I didn’t expect us to fall off a cliff in regards to shot-making,” Ram coach David Cox said of the offensive struggles in the second-half.
That cliff was steep as URI went scoreless for the first 6:27. The Rams went over a nine minute stretch without a made field goal and were never able to recover. Dayton (10-4, 6-3 A-10) moved the ball much better in the second half, as evidenced when a wide-open Jalen Crutcher (15 points, 5 assists) buried a three-pointer to extend his team’s lead to 52-38 with 8:51 to go.
Even with Dayton apparently in total control, the Rams didn’t quit. The visitors continued to battle, cutting the deficit to as few as eight after a Malik Martin three-pointer. The comeback effort was to no avail as Ibi Watson (22 points, 7 boards) responded with a long jumper of his own that pushed the game out of reach. The Rams have now dropped four out of their last five against the Flyers.
Dayton led by as much as 16, in large part due to the play of veterans Watson and Crutcher. Watson nailed two 3-pointers during that decisive 15-0 early second half spurt, while backcourt mate Crutcher netted 13 of his 15 points in the second half.
Fatts Russell continued to battle injuries as he has nearly all season. He came up hobbling with an ankle injury after a made three-pointer early on. He returned seven minutes later but was missing that second gear Rhody fans have become so accustomed to seeing. It’s clear this season has taken quite the physical toll on the senior. He played just 19 minutes, scored just one bucket and spent the final 6:50 on the sideline.
“He tried to give it a go in the second half, he just couldn’t do it,” Cox said.
When asked about giving Russell a couple weeks off to get healthier, he said “It’s something we’ll consider.”
The Rams competed hard in the first half and the offense was smooth even without Russell. Makhel Mitchell had eight of his 12 points in the first twenty minutes. The first-half offensive success didn’t translate and the second half woes ended a short two-game winning streak.
There’s a lot to improve upon and it won’t get any easier as VCU and Massachusetts are scheduled to pay a visit to the Ryan Center next week.
“We gotta get back in the gym, we gotta get a lot of shots up, a lot of game-type shots. We’ll do that in the next couple days.” Cox said.