Malik Martin and the Rams fell short at home vs. VCU (Photo: URI Athletics)
By KEVIN WEHNER
URI’s hopes bounced off the back rim.
URI freshman Ishmael Leggett drew a smart foul with just 1.9 seconds showing on the clock Wednesday and walked to the charity stripe with a chance to tie or go ahead of the VCU Rams in his hands. When the front end of the one-and-one chance didn’t fall, Rhody’s chances of a season sweep of VCU went out the window.
VCU’s Bones Hyland had just put his team ahead when he corralled a tipped ball for an offensive rebound and drilled the go-ahead three-pointer with 3.4 seconds left. That turned out to be the final blow in 63-62 victory in the battle between Rams. Hyland was the game’s star, netting a game-high 23 points.
VCU (13-4, 6-2 A-10) trailed 62-58 inside the final minute but was able to rally to snap its four-game losing streak to URI and earn its first victory inside the Ryan Center since 2013.
Leggett dropped two free throws just 46 seconds earlier to put URI up four.
“He’s absolutely crushed right now, as if he just lost us the national championship game. But that’s who he is, he’s a winner,.” URI coach David Cox said of his freshman guard, who led the team with 17 points, but just couldn’t get that last free throw to drop. “Without his points and his defense on Bones Hyland, we wouldn’t have been in that place at all.”
URI (9-10, 6-6 A-10) has fallen on the wrong side of close contests all too frequently in this unorthodox 2020-21 season. In games decided by seven points or fewer, Rhody is 1-7.
Fatts Russell watched this one from the sidelines as he continues to nurse an ankle injury. The senior is listed as day-to-day and the Rams certainly missed his ability to facilitate the offense.
In the beginning of the second half URI capitalized on a consistent strength of theirs getting out in transition for easy baskets. A string of pristine ball-movement brought Rhody’s lead to as much as seven. As has been an issue all season, offensive inconsistencies allowed the road team to climb back into it.
“They (VCU) switched it to zone and when they went zone, we didn’t move the ball nearly as well. That hurt us for about five or six possessions,” Cox said
The visitors took advantage and orchestrated a 10-0 run to go ahead 53-50 with 5:18 remaining, capped off by another of Hyland’s five made triples.
“We didn’t make enough plays down the stretch obviously,” Cox said.