The University of Rhode Island men's basketball program packed their bags Tuesday and headed for Richmond, Virginia in the peak of conference play.
This city is where senior guard Jeremy Sheppard calls home. After bouncing around from Eastern Carolina University to the College of Central Florida, his toes hit the court in Kingston where he would finally see an opportunity to take on two teams back in his hometown.
Over the span of four days, Rhody took on two Atlantic 10 rivals: the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University. In this road series, they split with a fall to the Spiders and a victory over VCU.
Rams Tangled in the Spider's Web
Stepping into the Robins Center, the Rams have built a two-game winning streak with victories over St. Bonaventure and Saint Joseph's. That crumbled down when the Spiders executed top-notch defense, making turnovers the main reason Rhode Island couldn't grasp this win.
In total, the Rams drew 19 turnovers resulting in 22 points that could have been avoided. That negative statistic overshone the positive, being their 52.7 percent of shots made from the field. Points made their way on the scoreboard, especially from Fatts Russell who led the team with 18 and a master performance from the bench with 21, but in the end the bad outweighed the good.
"You turn the ball over 19 times on the road against a good team you deserve to lose," Head Coach David Cox said in a press conference following Wednesday's game. "We had a great offensive game plan, I thought we executed it pretty well... We just didn't do a good job disrupting their rhythm."
Two Richmond guards carried a lot of the weight for the Spiders. Starting off in the first half Blake Francis did a lot of damage with 10 points and two assists in the first twenty minutes of play. Jacob Gilyard finished the job down the stretch with 14 points in the second half alone and took the game-high of 22 points.
Going into the half Rhode Island was only down one. Coming out of the locker room Jeremy Sheppard swished a deep three-pointer to give the Rams their first leg up in the game. Within the first five minutes of the second half, the score was tied four times.
As Cox said, once this team gets into a rhythm they're hard to stop. Those words were put into reality as the Spiders paved the way to victory in the last fifteen with a 10-2 run and a set of made free throws from Gilyard to seal the deal 80-73.
Battle of the Rams
Rhode Island has some sort of winning intimacy when it comes to taking on VCU. Rhody leads the series between the two 11-7 enhancing their record to 5-1 under Cox. The last time Rhode Island visited the Siegel Center they took a 65-56 win, breaking VCU's 21-game winning streak.
Saturday was no different. Rhode Island broke VCU's seven-game winning streak that dates back to the start of December when they fell to Penn State.
The first half resulted in a tie sitting at 40 from each side. But to Rhody gained momentum at the start of the second when they come out initiating an 8-2 run in just under three minutes. Efforts from Allen Betrand, Sheppard and Russell contributed to this breakthrough in the second.
VCU quickly chased after their six-point drag with back-to-back three-pointers from Nah'shon Hyland, which tied things up again 48-48. After that, the scoreboard read the same number two more times but Rhody made sure their opponent didn't see a lead over them the remaining thirteen minutes, finishing up 83-68.
"I thought we played a more physical brand of defense, which is more our style," Cox said. "We haven't seen that in a while."
In total Rhody stole the ball away eight times and acquired 30 defensive rebounds.
Sheppard made his mark in his home city achieving a career-high of 20 points, accompanied by seven boards and two assists.
Russell flirted with a double-double as he had 23 points and nine rebounds. He also went 13-of-14 from the free-throw line.
Betrand made his debut in the starting five and lit a match on the floor. In his 30 minutes on the court he tallied up 13 points going 5-of-8 from the field along with 2 baskets from outside the perimeter in crucial moments of the game.
Hungry for more, the Rams will face the University of Massachusetts Minutemen in the Mullins Center Wednesday, Jan. 13. This push for an earlier date provides more flexibility later on in terms of scheduling. Rhody saw the Minutemen on the floor twice last season, winning both times. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. EST.