Rhode Island senior, Fatts Russell, embraced his coach one last time as the final seconds of his last college appearance came to a close - the scoreboard reading 84-72 in favor of the Dayton Flyers. David Cox, who seemed to be fighting back tears in the post-game press conference, has seen Russell evolve over the course of his four years in Kingston.
"It's really hard to even think about the fact that I will not have the opportunity to coach Fatts Russell again," Cox said. "His legacy at the University of Rhode Island with this program is unmistakable, he was a legend."
It has been a tough year for coach Cox: unable to make it past their first game in the A-10 conference tournament, finished 7-10 in conference play and 10-15 overall. But just to put the icing on the cake, his star player will not be on his roster next year.
Even though this season had its gruesome moments, like Thursday afternoon, there have been times where watching Fatts Russell made you forget about the horrible record - think back to the last time Rhode Island played Dayton in the Ryan Center, Russell topped program charts for all-time career steals. Russell has been playing all season not up to par in terms of health. He has played the entire duration, since the season opener against Arizona State, with injuries such as a sports hernia and even an ankle sprain. The determination to play with these residing effects just shows how "limitless" he is.
"Walking off the court I just knew it was my last time in a Rhode Island uniform. It kind of just hit me all at once, everything coach Cox did for me, everything this program did for me," Russell said following the game. "Rhody is always going to be a part of me and it's always going to hold a special place in my heart."
The senior has left big shoes to fill for upcoming seniors. With Jeremy Sheppard out of the starting five due to an injury sustained in the Duquesne game, Malik Martin stepped in as his replacement. Martin will be a senior next year, he finished the game with 17 points, shot 11-for-17 from the field and had three from behind the arc.
Also, Allen Betrand had a heavy fourteen minutes of play, contributing ten points - six of which came from three point shots.
"I was proud of the way the guys fought tonight, the way they were connected. Dayton was the better team tonight," Cox said. "Anthony [Grant] coached better."
Prior to the game, Cox knew Jalen Crutcher was going to have to be the top priority on the defensive end. Crutcher ranks third in the conference in scoring, averaging 18.2 points per game. The Rams were able to hold him to 14, however, Ibi Watson stole the show with 25 points, six three-point baskets, and three assists.
In a lot of back-and-forth action in the first half, Rhode Island tied three times and took the lead twice. Although, in just twenty minutes Watson and Crutcher combined for a total of 26 points, allowing Dayton to head into the locker room at halftime leading by nine.
The Rams cut their nine-point deficit to only one, following one of Betrand's two three-point crimes. Immediately after Dayton committed a 10-1 run, and that seemed to empty the tank for the Rams who walked off in defeat, unable to catch up to the Flyers.
"It's been a long, tough year for the Rhode Island Rams," Cox stated. "I want to make sure one thing is known: Our players, I think, deserve a lot of credit - a tremendous amount of credit. Not just today, but throughout the year."
Cox was unable to claim his 50th win as head coach for the Rams, leaving that to be answered next season. Only this time, without his shining star.