As we enter the year 2021, the St. Joseph's Hawks were hoping to leave their winless season in the year of doom, or 2020 as we knew it. However, with confidence spewing out of Fatts Russell and the Rhode Island basketball team, they made sure the Hawks' consistent losing streak cascaded into the new year.
The start of the game didn't necessarily play out in favor of a Rhody win, rather the entirety of the first half and going into halftime made this anyone's game. St. Joe's led the first half 37-36 making it their first halftime lead of the season. This testament from a team with no wins thus far left Rams' Head Coach David Cox impressed with their determination.
"I've got to give St. Joe's a lot of credit," Cox said. "I thought they came up here, they played really hard. They had a great game plan."
With Russell only contributing four points in the first half, he managed to find other ways to shine on the court and keep up with the Hawk's offense. He had four defensive rebounds and five assists before the first half buzzer sounded.
When all was said and done Russell finished the game with 20 points, making this his third 20-point game of the season. Half of his point total was a result of perfection at the free-throw line where he shot 10-for-10. Aside from points, the senior had five steals this game totaling for 192 in his career which puts him at third in program history.
With just 20 seconds left on the game clock, the Rams faced a four-point deficit. Syracuse transfer Jalen Carey cut that in half off a fast break jumper. But St. Joe's led 70-67 with eight seconds remaining after Cameron Brown made a trip to the stripe.
Here's where things got close: Myles Douglas drew a personal foul sending Russell to the line with three attempts. If Russell drained all three Rhode Island would see a second opportunity to redeem themselves in overtime. Russell shot perfectly from the free-throw line all game and kept that same confidence with four seconds on the clock, forcing an extra five minutes of play.
Of Russell's 20 points, 13 came from the last seven minutes of the second half and propelled into overtime making this a very resilient comeback for the Philadelphia native himself. It has been known that Russell has been struggling with a bone bruise injury to his lower extremities, but that did not halt his confidence on the court this game.
"I've been struggling all year, it's not a secret," Russell said. "My confidence hasn't gone anywhere, I'm still doing 'Fatts Russel' things. I'm going to keep being a leader for the team and stay confident."
Efforts from Russell, Carey, Antwan Walker and D.J. Johnson in those extra five minutes helped bring in a second conference win for the Rams and left the Hawks without a win yet again.
With a team comprised of multiple transfers after battling an exit of Cyril Langevine and Jeff Dowtin from their program, a new chemistry has to be formed on the court. With this victory, Rhode Island is .500 with two conference wins over the course of ten games.
"We are all starting to figure each other out. We played a monster schedule initially, we didn't play any cupcakes," Cox said. "They're starting to get more comfortable and they're starting to understand what I need from them."
Wednesday evening the team will face the University of Richmond Spiders who sit fifth in the Atlantic 10 currently. The Spiders are 1-1 in terms of conference play, they took a win over Davidson but are coming into Wednesday off a loss as they fell to St. Bonaventure this past Saturday 69-66.
Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. EST and you can watch from home on NBCSN.