SOUTH KINGSTOWN — VCU left happy from the Ryan Center for the first time since 2013 and left the home team lamenting one that got away.
Bones Hyland capped a comeback with the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final seconds and the University of Rhode Island men's basketball team missed a chance to tie or win at the free-throw line as VCU prevailed 63-62 on Wednesday night. The visiting Rams hadn’t won in Kingston in eight years.
“Extremely tough loss,” URI coach David Cox said. “I thought our guys fought extremely hard. Just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch, and the offensive rebound they got when Bones came free for the 3 was a huge play. I thought we showed a lot of fight, a lot of resiliency, a lot of togetherness tonight, but we came up short.”
Hyland’s game-winner came with 3.9 seconds left and URI leading by two. Teammate Jamir Watkins missed a 3 with 10 seconds left, but Hyland chased down the long rebound, pumpfaked a defender and stepped into a 3-pointer from the right wing that swished through the net.
In the midst of a career game, Ishmael Leggett took the inbounds pass and was bumped short of half-court, drawing a whistle. Shooting the 1-and-1 with 1.9 seconds remaining, the freshman missed the front end and VCU grabbed the rebound to secure the victory.
“He’s a soldier,” Cox said of Leggett. “Without his points today and his defense on Bones, we wouldn’t have been in that place at all. He’s crushed right now, too. It just shows you the character and the heart of that guy. He’s absolutely crushed right now, as if he lost us the national championship game. But that’s who he is — he’s a winner.”
Rhody (9-10, 6-6 Atlantic 10) came in having won nine of its last 10 matchups against its Ram counterparts, and for much of the second half, it looked like the recent dominance would continue, even without Fatts Russell. The senior guard suffered an ankle injury Saturday against Dayton and remained out of action Wednesday.
The Rams had struggled mightily without him a few weeks ago against Fordham but were much smoother offensively this time around, shaking off a slow start to build a 10-point second-half lead.
URI trailed by seven with six minutes to go in the first half, mired in 30% shooting with eight turnovers. The Rams proceeded to make seven consecutive field goal attempts, most of them in the paint, with five assists. They turned the ball over just twice in the final 7:57 of the half.
Leggett drew the start in Russell’s place and scored a career-high 17 points. URI executed for consistent open looks inside, scoring 40 of its 62 points in the paint, while continuing to limit the turnovers that stung in the first half. They opened the second half on a 10-2 run, scoring on five of their first seven possessions.
VCU’s switch to a zone defense slowed down URI, which went 5:55 without a field goal from the 10-minute mark on. Meanwhile, Hyland — VCU’s sophomore star — got going. He had 12 points over a six-minute stretch as VCU (13-4, 6-2) worked back to a 58-58 tie.
“I thought our defense was playing at a high level throughout the game. We shared the ball pretty well and we got some good open looks,” Cox said. “They switched to zone and we didn’t move the ball as well, which hurt us for about five or six possessions.”
URI had ended its drought on 3-pointers by Leggett and D.J. Johnson. Jeremy Sheppard delivered another big bucket with a steal and layup at 2:36 that put URI ahead 60-58. Neither team scored again until the final minute, when Leggett converted a pair of free throws with 46 seconds left to make it 62-58.
An offensive rebound led to two VCU free throws by Hason Ward with 32 seconds remaining. Johnson was fouled with 26 seconds left and missed the first shot of a 1-and-1, leaving the door open for VCU. The winning bucket gave Hyland a game-high 23 points.
“They put the ball in his hands early in the half,” Cox said. “To get those couple of 3s, they had him off the ball and they ran some wide pins for him. And those guys were setting some really, really good screens.”
The ensuing missed opportunity at the line was crushing for the Rams and for Leggett, who was 2 for 2 on the night and entered at 75% on the season. It was a tough ending to a standout game for the freshman.
“There’s not enough I can say about him,” Cox said. “I want to see him again after this, check in on him and make sure he’s OK. He left it all out there on the floor today, but he does that every day.”
Three other Rams also hit double figures, with Sheppard scoring 13 points, Antwan Walker tallying 11 and Makhel Mitchell scoring 10. Levi Stockard had 15 points for VCU.