SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Fatts Russell and the University of Rhode Island men's basketball team have a little something left in the tank after all.
Careening toward what would have been a fifth straight loss, URI rallied from an 18-point second-half deficit to beat Dayton 91-89 in double overtime Tuesday night at the Ryan Center.
Honored in Senior Night festivities before the game, Russell scored 20 points, dished out seven assists and became the program’s all-time leader in steals while helping the Rams deliver a win it desperately needed.
“It just meant everything,” Russell said. “I knew this was the last time I was ever going to be in a competitive game in the Ryan Center with these guys, with coach [David] Cox coaching me. It just meant a lot. We didn’t want to go out with an L and I really didn’t want to. This program, this school, coach Cox — everybody means so much to me. I felt like I had to leave my heart out there and make sure I didn’t go out with an L.”
Dayton was the team that started URI’s slide, using a big second half for a win Jan. 30. Three more defeats followed. It looked like more of the same Tuesday until the Rams found something. They outscored the Flyers 29-10 over the final 9:44 of the second half.
Back-and-forth overtime periods ended with Russell and Antwan Walker making free throws to keep URI in front. A miscue on a Dayton inbounds pass with three seconds left allowed Malik Martin to scoop up a loose ball and dribble out the final seconds.
“We needed this win, confidence-wise,” Cox said. “We really needed this win. That helps. Just moving forward, we always considered ourselves a tough out. We haven’t been run over in any game. We’re a good team, a quality team. I had to do some figuring out. I’ve had to do a better job of coaching. I think we kind of put it all together today, and hopefully we can bottle this up and move forward with it.”
Russell has grinded through a difficult senior season, banged up with injuries throughout, struggling with his outside shot and surrounded by a new cast. The Rams (1-12, 7-8 Atlantic 10) are fighting to get back to the .500 mark, and with the NCAA offering an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic, Russell could return but has said that this will likely be it for his time with the Rams.
He departs with his name all over the record books, and now with a spot at the top of the steals list. Four steals Tuesday allowed him to pass Keith Cothran for the all-time lead. He is one of two players in school history with at least 1,500 points, 350 assists, 300 rebounds and 200 steals.
“I’m so happy for him, leaving on this kind of high note, becoming the steals leader, Senior Night,” Cox said. “All of those things are what he deserves. I certainly won’t forget him and I don’t imagine that many true Rhode Island basketball fans will ever forget Fatts Russell."
Russell and fellow senior Jeremy Sheppard — who were honored alongside walk-on Umberto Brusadin — had family in the stands, after a season of empty gyms. The Senior Night festivities were at risk of being spoiled. Dayton (11-7, 7-6) tripled its six-point halftime lead, going up 58-40 with 9:44 left.
Two Ishmael Leggett 3-pointers started the comeback. A Makhel Mitchell bucket made it a 10-point game, before an 8-0 run capped by two Russell free throws suddenly got the Rams within four.
Down six soon after, the Rams got four straight points from Russell, including a spinning layup that made it 65-63. A dunk by Mitchell and a layup by Sheppard made it a one-point game. Mitchell gave URI the lead with a putback at 1:33. Jordy Tshimanga tied the game for Dayton with a free throw in the final seconds. Russell missed a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Dayton led by three in the first overtime period before a driving layup by Russell. He then poked away the ball for another steal that set up a Sheppard layup. The Flyers regained a one-point lead on a putback with 19 seconds left, but Martin, subbing in at the line after Mitchell went down, made one of two free throws to force another tie.
Leggett came through again from deep in the second overtime, hitting a pair of 3-pointers for an 85-83 lead. After Dayton went in front, Sheppard hit a fadeway jumper that put the Rams ahead for good. Mitchell hit two free throws, and Russell and Walker each hit one to help secure the victory.
Russell kissed the midcourt logo on his way out.
“It’s like my second home. I found a home here in Kingston, Rhode Island,” Russell said. “I feel the love. Me and coach Cox have been together for four years; he’s been my head coach for three. It just means a lot. I just want to finish this. I just want to give my all, everything I have left, for this program. I’ve been banged up a lot this year. I’m still battling through pain. Just going to go out there for the rest of this year and give it my all. Hopefully that comes with an A-10 championship, worse comes to worst you’re going to see my heart and my everything.”
Leggett hit five 3-pointers en route to 18 points. Sheppard added 17 and Mitchell had a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.