By Kevin Sweeney
Rhode Island put together a complete performance Sunday afternoon, pulling away in the closing moments to knock off West Virginia 83-70 as part of the Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. The Rams closed the game on an extended 24-11 run in the final 12:15 of game action, and put fice players in double figures for the first time this season.
“We play physical basketball,” redshirt junior guard Christion Thompson said postgame. “We figured out how the refs were calling the game, we just had to adjust.” Head coach David Cox was careful to credit the referees postgame, despite being issued a technical foul early in the game after arguing a travel call.
In a game marked by its fouls (56 in total, plus four technicals), a URI team that has played just eight players in its regular rotation throughout the season found a way to keep its best players on the floor down the stretch.
That proved to be the difference.
After getting just five minutes out of talented big man Cyril Langevine in the first half, Langevine never left the floor in the second. He finished with 15 points and six rebounds in the contest, and also led the game in +/- with a +20.
“He came out with a tremendous amount of energy (in the second half),” Cox said on Langevine. “He’s tenacious, he’s a great rebounder, and he’s finishing a lot better than he has in the last two years… We value him tremendously, and I think that value was shown today against Big 12 competition.”
The game got off to a frenetic start from the opening tip, with a layup three seconds in for Jeff Dowtin opening the scoring and a total of 24 points scored in the first five minutes of action. Rhode Island led the entire first half with WVU struggling to get into a rhythm offensively, shooting just 35% from the field and 3-14 from downtown. Still, the Mountaineers were able to hang around thanks to the free throw line, where they shot 20-24 in the opening period.
Things didn’t get much better in the second on offense for Bob Huggins’ group, as they had the same number of field goals as turnovers (8). Playing without star big man Sagaba Konate due to an injury, the Mountaineers were sloppy on offense, which led to several run-outs in transition for the Rams.
Despite those struggles, the Mountaineers were able to hang around for much of the second half, even taking the lead at one point. But as the game went into its closing stages, URI put the clamps down on defense and got some easy buckets in transition, using a decisive 12-4 run to push their lead to 10 in the final minutes and come away with consecutive wins for the first time all season.
Fatts Russell led the way for URI with 18 points, six rebounds, and five assists, while Jeff Dowtin had 18, five boards, and seven dishes. In addition to Russell, Dowtin, and Langevine, the Rams also got 12 points from Christion Thompson and 11 from Jermaine Harris. Facing “Press Virginia”, URI took care of the ball well with just 9 turnovers in the game.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” Cox said. “I think you are starting to see some development and some progress, and I’m excited about where this team can go.”
Wesley Harris was a bright spot for West Virginia with a career-high 18 points to go along with nine rebounds. Esa Ahmad added 12 for the Mountaineers. James Bolden was held to just one point in the game and turned it over four times.
The Mountaineers fall to 6-4 on the season, a brutal start for a team expected by most to be a top-20 team preseason. They will be back in action Saturday against Jacksonville State.
Next up for Rhode Island (5-3) is a matchup with Bucknell on Saturday.