Makhel Mitchell shoots over Michael Hughes in loss at Duquesne. (Photo: Dave DeNoma)
By KEVIN WEHNER
The second half collapse in Pittsburgh on this January night felt all too familiar to URI coach David Cox.
Rhode Island (7-8, 4-4 A10) led by as much as 17 points late in the first-half but surrendered the lead and lost, 71-69, to Duquesne (4-5, 3-4 A10). It was awfully reminiscent of Rhody’s last visit to Duquesne back in 2019 when the Rams blew a 41-22 halftime lead and ultimately lost, 72-70.
“The only thing I could think about at the half,” Cox said as he reminded his team of what happened two years ago. “It was the elephant in the room.”
Duquesne made 10-of-12 field goals down the stretch including the go-ahead jumper from Ryan Murphy (his only points of the evening) to retake the lead 70-69 with 1:02 to go.
After a made free-throw from the Dukes’ Tavian Dunn-Martin, the Rams trailed by two with 17.2 seconds left. Fatts Russell drove to the basket in search of game-tying lay-up that didn’t find its way. The rebound was corralled by Jeremy Sheppard who found D.J. Johnson outside but his 3-pointer missed as time expired.
“We took a very immature approach, it was almost like our guys thought (Duquesne) were going to roll over,” Cox said. “We deserved to lose today.”
Rhode Island failed to make a single field goal in the final 5:05 of regulation, scoring just three points via the charity strip during that stretch, none in the final 2:02.
Makhel Mitchell led the Rams with 16 points and 11 rebounds but other help was missing. Russell continued to struggle, making just 3-of-14 shots and finishing with 13 points.
The Rams looked strong in the first half, as a 15-1 run pushed the lead up to 44-27. It was the highest point total in a first-half the Rams have had all season. Yet at the end of the half the tides started to turn. URI forward Antwan Walker received a flagrant foul with 0:32 left in the first that allowed the Dukes to quickly cut the deficit from 17 to 13. The four-point swing sent both sides to the locker room with the Rams up 44-31.
Cox said he still felt uneasy, mainly because of the result from a few years before.
“Tough road loss,” Cox said. “We talked about our mentality coming out in the first four minutes of the second half, particularly on the defensive end. We literally did just the opposite. We came out with no urgency and just traded buckets with them. There was a momentum switch.”
The Dukes clawed back with eight consecutive makes midway through the second half. Duquesne retook the lead 62-61 with 7:44 to go on a drilled three-pointer from Chad Baker. The freshman shined, leading all scorers with a career-high 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting (5-5 3-pt).
Despite the troubling loss, the season will go forward. The Rams were slated to return home to face George Washington on Sunday, however due to a positive COVID-19 test in the Colonials program, that contest has been postponed but a new opponent may be on the docket.. Coach Cox mentioned the possibility of playing Fordham on Sunday in lieu of the postponement but no final scheduling decisions have been made official.