Even with two key starters off on the UMass roster Saturday night, Tre Mitchell and Noah Fernandes, the Minutemen set up for a gruesome attack on the Rams in the Ryan Center. This 13-point sweep over the home team will have Rhode Island in a three-game cold spell entering a two-game trip on the road.
It was questionable whether or not Rhody's star guard Fatts Russell would make an appearence in the starting five. He did miss the previous game suffering an injury to the right ankle, but he swapped his street attire for a white jersey with the intent of playing on his home court. While Russell did improve in recovery, he thought it would be beneficial for his freshmen fill-in, Ishmael Leggett, to start in place of him yet again.
"He wanted to give it a try, he said he felt 85 to 90 percent, so he was going to be able to play," Head Coach David Cox said following the game. "Him being the mature person he is, indicated to me that he thought it would be a good idea that Ish (Leggett) stayed in the starting lineup."
Russell saw 27 minutes of playing time and added nine points to the overall total of 63. Even seeing less of the court than normal, he still found a way to climb up the charts in program history records. With three steals he is now tied with Tyson Wheeler for second place in steals with 205. Wheeler, was able to witness this achievement as he is an assistant coach under Matt McCall for the Minutemen.
Seven lead changes in the first half rounded up for a very quick paced game. However, Massachusetts was the team that saw light heading into the locker room, 37-32. Two behind the arc baskets and 10 points on the board, senior Carl Pierre led his teammates to a five point lead.
Antwan Walker of Rhode Island led the Rams into the half with 14, going 7-for-9 from the field. He found himself with a career high and a double-double at the end of the night with 26 points, 14 boards, and two steals in only 24 minutes.
14:25 remaining, Russell 's layup put the Rams at their largest lead of the game by four. Combined efforts from Javohn Garcia and the Providence native, Dyondre Dominguez, solidified a 49-49 tie.
Rhode Island struggled to make anything from the field in the last five minutes of play, and ended with no successes in their last eight attempted. Overall, the team could not find the net from behind the arc making none of their 10 attempted from three-point range. The last time Rhody was unable to hit a three in a single game dates back to November of 2011 when the Rams faced Cleveland State. This lack on the offensive side cost Rhode Island their third straight, falling 75-63.
"We've got to stay positive, we've got to continue to work and we have to get that urgency back," Cox said looking ahead into next weeks games. "Coming off the VCU game I thought we showed tremendous effort, tremendous fight. We just came up short perhaps this was a little bit of a hangover from that. It's something I have to look into and address."
Wednesday night kicks off the two-game road trip, starting off in Saint Louis. The Billiikens are now 8-3 after their game Saturday where they swept the Atlantic-10 leader, St. Bonaventure, 70-59. Tip off is set for 9 p.m. EST.