Marching into the Ryan Center Wednesday night, VCU had back-to-back victories locked in: Dayton and La Salle. Rhode Island suffered a loss at Dayton Saturday evening after coming back from being down at the half. Although Rhody showed resiliency in the second half of both games, both resulted in a negative detriment to their record.
A three-point swish late in the second half filled VCU's bench with hope that they can pull off a win in the Ryan Center, a venue in which they haven't won a game in over five years. Rhode Island stole nine wins away from VCU in their last 10 matchups, including their game earlier this season when they snapped VCU's seven-game winning streak, 83-68.
Riding the bench Wednesday night was senior guard Fatts Russell. Dressed in "street clothes" Russell watched his team warm up prior to the start of the game as he suffered an "ankle injury" per URI source. Filling in for him was freshmen Ishmael Leggett, who had previously stepped up in place of Russell when he was out of the starting five for the Fordham matchup.
Jeremy Sheppard and Leggett combined for a total of 16 in the first half, and as a team shot 46.4 percent from the field. 20 of their 28 came from in the paint. However, VCU held one point over Rhody's head when they took things into the locker room at the half, 29-28.
Coming back onto the court in the second half down one, Rhody initiated an 11-3 run that flooded their mindset with confidence. Getting that momentum going was Makhel Mitchell's dunk assisted by Sheppard. With the ball back in the hands of the opponent, Mitchell stole that opportunity away passing to Sheppard who took it to the rim.
Both teams are known to be very turnover prone, limiting the amount of points off of turnovers would have helped Rhode Island but on the defensive end they allowed their conference rival to put up 17 off these mishaps.
Things took a turn when Levi Stockard of VCU locked in a tie 55-55 with just under four minutes to go. Leggett responded with a shot behind the arc. Nah'Shon "Bones" Hyland shut that down with a three for himself leveling the score once again at 58.
With five seconds on the game clock, hope shook the arena this time in favor of the away team. A second-chance three from Hyland put VCU up by one. Leggett drew a foul with only one second to spare, Rhode Island was in the bonus and the freshmen was on the stripe with one and one. The ball flew off his fingertips, struck the rim and deflected back onto the wooden floor, locking in a one point victory, 63-62, for a team who hasn't won a game in the Ryan Center since January of 2016.
"Without his (Leggett) 17 points today and his defense on Bones we wouldn't have been in that place at all," Head Coach David Cox said. "He is absolutely crushed right now as if he just lost us a national championship. But that's who he is, he's a winner."
The 17 points for Rhode Island on behalf of Leggett sets a career high.
Up next the Rhode Island Rams host the UMass Minutemen at 8 p.m. EST Saturday Feb. 6.