Russell Reigns in as Steal King in Double Overtime Win
Picture this: Last home game as a senior, family in the stands, only two more steals between Fatts Russell and him ringing in as the program leader for career steals.
Emotion flooded the court pre-game in the Ryan Center before the Rams took on the Dayton Flyers. Three seniors would play their final game on their home court in their college career: Umberto Brusadin, Jeremy Sheppard and the legendary man himself, Fatts Russell.
Head Coach David Cox and his team were walking into senior night on a four-game cold spell, which started when the team played at Dayton and fell 67-56. A lot of resiliency and grit embodied the team, allowing them to come back from an 18-point deficit to force two overtimes and walk out with a really meaningful and historical win, an aftermath of the longest game in program history.
Cox adjusted his lineup and made room for freshman Ishmael Leggett and Russell, Leggett has typically been Cox's player-of-choice when Russell couldn't start due to injury. But as much as a fighter Fatts is, he came onto the court banged up and bruised to play a game he will never forget: 20 points, five boards, seven assists, and four steals.
All of Rhode Island's starting five finished with double digit points. Antwan Walker and Makhel Mitchell each obtained a double-double to add to their resume. Leggett finished with a career-high of 18 points, topping his previous by one point, and had five made swishes from outside the perimeter all after halftime.
With 7:52 remaining in the second half, Russell took the ball away from Dayton's Zimi Nwokeji and this made history. Keith Cothran held the record for career steals with 207 from 2006-10. After this steal, and additional two more coming afterwards, Russell was crowned the "king of steals" finishing with 209.
Russell has been coached by Cox all four years at the University of Rhode Island, his freshman year as assistant and the following three years as head coach. In Russell's collegiate career he has climbed charts, played in NCAA tournaments, earned first team all A-10, and much more. But this game will be one to remember in program history and in the hearts of Kingston.
"Not only did he play really well, he grew up as a young man. He matured, he took the next step," Cox said in response to seeing Russell from start to end. "His growth and his maturity, which is ultimately what you want to see as a parent or as a coach under your watch. It's been very rewarding to see that type of growth from him."
After being down 18 with just under ten minutes in regulation, the Rams attacked on a 29-11 run. With under two minutes to go, Martin took a deep shot from the outside that hit the rim and was grabbed by Mitchell who put the ball back in the net to give Rhode Island their first lead of the second half 69-68. Martin forced Jordy Tshimanga to the stripe and a successive shot tied the knot 69-69 pushing an extra five minutes of play.
"When we were down 18, I looked up at my family and said I'm not going out like this," Russell said. "To look up there and just see love and feel love, it meant a lot. Our families didn't get to see us play at all this year. To finally play in front of them for the first time this year it just meant a lot."
The dynamic duo of Russell and Sheppard hit back-to-back layups tying things yet again. After the Flyers earned back a one-point lead, Martin approached the free-throw line stepping in for Mitchell, making one of his two attempts to force a second overtime.
The Rams were not going down without a fight. In the final five minutes of play alone were two ties and six lead changes. But the final lead change was in favor of Rhody with 1:27 to go, Sheppard hit a jumper to shift the lead from Dayton to the home team 87-86. From then on, they held the lead and a free-throw from Antwan Walker locked in their well-deserved win 91-89.
Following a court celebration, Russell kissed the floor of his castle goodbye and left crowned a king. He will go down as one of the most prime players in history for this program.
"I've seen people in my past do it. All the seniors my freshman year, Jeff and Cyril last year. I just felt like it was tradition to do. I kissed the floor goodbye, it was the last time."
Initially Rhode Island opened their season on a high pedestal, but turnovers got the best of them which is one of the bigger detriments in their losses. However, in a 50 minute game the team clocked out at nine turnovers. Back track a few games, that number was at one point nineteen.
"I think we've shown people what we're capable of. The fact that we were down and came back, we've been down and we've come back before," Cox said. " I believe in those guys, and they believed more importantly in one another."
George Washington has rescheduled their game that was postponed with the Rams. The team will head to the stomping grounds of Walker on Feb. 21, with tipoff scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on NBCSN.