The college basketball season finally tipped off “this weekend” with a very different look to it.
While the days of packed arenas, booming pep bands, loud cheerleading squads and court-rushes after buzzer beating wins are on hold, the game on the hardwood was still being played at a frenzied pace.
The men’s team started the season off on Wednesday in the 2K Empire Classic at Mohegan Sun Arena against No. 18 Arizona State and while the Rams put up a valiant effort, the Sun Devils, who may be one of the better teams in the PAC-12 this season.
The Rams, who were down 16 at one point in the first-half rallied to in fact take a brief lead but fell 94-88 by the final buzzer. Jeremy Sheppard and Antwan Walker led the Rams scoring with 19 points each and D.J. Johnson came off the bench for 12 points and 7 rebounds in the effort.
The loss sent them to the consolation round on Thursday against Boston College, where they seemed to duplicate the storyline once again as they jumped out to a late second half lead before faltering to close the deal and fell to the Eagles 69-64. Fatts Russell notched 23 points for his 26th career 20-point game and 60th double figures game. Freshman Ishmael Leggett saw his first action off the bench with 7 points in 15 minutes of time.
As sports are in a pandemic bubble format, the Rams stayed at Mohegan Sun to play another 2 round tourney the Air Force Reserve Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off to play South Florida and San Francisco on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
There were no issues against the Bulls as a high-press defense led by four blocked shots from Makhel Mitchell held USF to just 1-of-14 from the floor in the opening moments while the Rams rattled off a 10-2 run, however the total of 35 points from the bench committee of Jalen Carey, Johnson and Mitchell were too much for the Bulls to overcome. The Rams added to that standout performances again from Sheppard and Russel to notch their first victory of the season with an 84-68 final score.
The fourth game of the Mohegan proceedings came against another USF in that of the University of San Francisco Dons. Rhode Island controlled this game the same way as they rolled out a 9-2 run and cultivated smothering defense for a 3-of-19 opening from San Fran. While the 2nd half, this time around was trickier for the Rams, they were driven by strong performances from Russel with 21 points, Walker with 14, Carey with 11 and Leggett with 11 as well. The Rams again showed prowess at the line going 34-40 for a total of 64-75 over the last two games. This proceeded a 84-71 final score giving their 2nd victory of the season and ushering a split on the four games. They now head into their only “non-conference” game of the season vs. Seton Hall at the Ryan Center on Wednesday.
The women opened their season with the rivalry game against the Providence Friars and could not get going from the opening tip. The Friars ran off to an 11-0 run and while hitting 5-of-7 at the end of the first quarter and a 7-0 run to start the 2nd a 9-2 run by Providence in the final moments left the Rams in a 9 point hole at the halftime break. They continued that into the 2nd half as a whole by posting a 16-2 run and preventing the Rams from a single field goal basket in the final 5:30 of the 3rd, making a 21 point lead and cementing their victory in the Ocean State Battle.
Rhode Island suited up four players all wearing the URI jersey for the first time as Lya Farcy, Johanna Muzet, Marie-Paule Foppossi and Emmanuelle Tahane, who each transferred from other schools made their debuts. Marta Vargas, who was also in the starting lineup, is from Portugal who paired with the four transfers made the first time in history that a Rhode Island lineup featured players all from outside the United States.
The lone American to make an impact in the game was Saratoga Springs, NY freshman Catherine Cairns who had five points in her NCAA debut.