COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The University of Rhode Island has started 12-for-25 from the field in two of its last three games.
The second one came Saturday night at the Xfinity Center. The Rams were running No. 7 Maryland off their home floor in the early stages, looking dangerous and capable. URI enjoyed a 12-point lead after just 12 minutes and stirred at least a thought or two of pulling a historic upset.
The first one came last year in the Atlantic 10 tournament semifinals. The Rams ambushed St. Bonaventure in search of a third straight berth in the championship round, and they enjoyed a quick 15-point lead at Barclays Center. The finish line was just 24 minutes away.
URI faded on both occasions, and it’s worth taking a deeper look at exactly why. There are some parallels to the defeats – 73-55 on Saturday, 68-51 eight months ago – worth noting to avoid repeating them again in 2019-20.
— Passive guards
And this isn’t in the assisting sense. Jeff Dowtin and Fatts Russell have to rack up paint touches and put opposing defenders on their heels. Their combined ability to reach the foul line has usually coincided with the Rams coming out on top.
URI is 12-3 in Dowtin’s career when he attempts at least five free throws. Some of those have certainly come down the stretch while icing a victory – such is the life of a point guard. But settling for jumpers won’t allow Dowtin to reach a third career NCAA Tournament.
The Rams are even more successful when Russell reaches five free throws attempts. URI is 15-2 when Russell makes his way to the line early and often. His slashes to the rim and willingness to sacrifice his body generally help Russell avoid cold shooting nights from the field.
— Creating space inside
The Rams were just 13-for-44 from 2-point range against the Terrapins. Maryland’s superior length in the paint had plenty to do with that. Jalen Smith was a nightmare matchup with a game-high 19 points and 11 rebounds, the latest double-double for the future NBA player.
But players like Smith can’t be everywhere at once, and too often Cyril Langevine was left to stand alone and fight over the final 28 minutes. His 17 rebounds – nine offensive – were blunted by 2-for-8 shooting from the field. It’s just not easy to make a basket over taller, quicker players.
How did URI manage to do so early? The Rams ran crisper offense. The ball moved side-to-side with more urgency. Frequent Maryland turnovers were converted into some transition baskets. URI was just 14-for-35 from 2-point range in the loss to the Bonnies, with Osun Osunniyi playing the same rim-protecting role.
— Tyrese Martin
Simply put, Martin is the most skilled offensive player on the roster. He has the size to take advantage of smaller defenders and the quickness to avoid larger ones. Martin was battling a left knee injury when the Rams fell to St. Bonaventure, managing just eight points.
Foul trouble was the culprit on Saturday, as Martin picked up a technical and a personal inside the first seven minutes. He sat the remainder of the first half and watched the game effectively slip away for URI. The Rams suffered through a 15-point swing over the final 8:17, heading into the locker room facing a 35-32 deficit.
Martin closed with just nine points and connected on three of URI’s seven 3-pointers. His ability could have been put to good use when the Terrapins switched to their game-changing 1-3-1 defense late in the first half. URI missed its final six 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes and nine of 10 attempts from deep while slipping from a 28-20 lead to a 48-39 deficit.
On Twitter: @BillKoch25