Fatts Russell working in the A-10 Tournament. (Keith Lucas/Sideline Media)
By KEVIN WEHNER
There will be no magical March run for the Rhode Island Rams.
Rhody’s postseason hopes were stopped in their tracks Thursday as seventh-seeded Dayton ran away from No. 10 Rhode Island, 84-72, in the second-half of an Atlantic-10 tournament second round game. The defeat draws the season to a close for a URI team that finishes the season with a 10-15 record, the program’s first losing season since 2013-14.
Ibi Watson shined for Dayton, netting a season-high 25 points including six three-pointers. Dayton as a team shot 12-for-23 from beyond-the-arc as Rhody’s defense failed to adjust to chase the experienced Flyers off the line.
“We didn’t defend at a high enough level to win the game,” said coach David Cox.
URI hung tough through most of the first half before two late threes helped Dayton to a 40-31 halftime lead. The Rams were able to mount a comeback rallied by Allen Betrand’s three-pointer that brought them within one, 56-55. However, URI was unable to keep pace through the rest of the second half after Makhel Mitchell fouled out with 10:48 remaining.
Flyers’ role players Zimi Nwoekji and Koby Brea spearheaded a 8-0 run and their team never looked back. Dayton advances to the quarterfinals to face the No. 2 VCU Rams on their home floor at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
The Flyers were able to handedly pound the ball inside with the absence of Mitchell and never allowed Rhody an opportunity to mount a comeback. With 20 seconds remaining, Ram star Fatts Russell exited the court for the final time as a Rhode Island Ram.
“It just kind of hit me all at once. Everything Coach Cox did for me, everything this program did for me… Rhody is always going to hold a special place in my heart,” Russell said.
Russell’s decorated career drew to a close as he again struggled with his shooting (3-of-9) and was limited to 8 points, but he also added 9 rebounds, and 8 assists. He played the last 10 minutes with an injured wrist, ending a season that he admitted was filled with injuries that began with a problematic heel injury in the year’s first game. He finishes as the all-time
steals leader in program history and is 13th on the all-time scoring list with 1,595 points.
“I can’t even get my head around the fact that I won’t get the opportunity to coach Fatts Russell again,” Cox said, overcome with emotion.
URI will move into the post-Fatts Russell era and a pivotal fourth-year at the helm for Cox. The Rams may return the majority of their players and have plenty to improve upon heading into the off-season. However, Cox’s thoughts were with the seniors, particularly Russell and all he’s given to the program.
“Before I turn that page and begin discussing next year, I just wanted today and a little bit of this press conference to be dedicated to that young man and his legacy,” Cox said.