SOUTH KINGSTOWN — There wasn’t much bounce in the bounce back for the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team Tuesday night, until a solid second-half effort eventually did the trick.

The intense atmosphere of Saturday’s loss to Providence couldn’t be matched in a weeknight game against Sacred Heart, and the Rams went missing without it, sleepwalking their way through the first half. With better energy, defense and offensive execution in the final 20 minutes, Rhody eventually pulled away for a 72-62 victory at the Ryan Center.

“We felt it from the jump. You’re going to have games like that. But if we want to be a championship-level team, we can’t do that,” URI guard Malik Martin said. “Obviously, offense comes and goes. You can’t really control that. But we’ve got to control what we can control, and that’s defense and energy. You can control that, 100 percent.”

Checking the win-column box against the Pioneers was a must as the Rams quickly near the end of nonconference play. Just three games remain, with only one of them at home.

Sacred Heart did not cooperate with those plans — and the Rams didn’t provide a lot of resistance in the early going. Leading scorer Tyler Thomas was red-hot early and would finish with 30 points for the Pioneers. Sacred Heart started the game with six straight points and led for all but 35 seconds of the opening half.

At the first media timeout, URI subbed in an entirely different lineup, a sign of what coach David Cox thought of the opening segment.

“Lack of energy and lack of effort,” Cox said. “Not like we needed it to be and not like I wanted it to be.”

Rhode Island worked back to a lead late in the first half before going to the break in a two-point hole. Thomas hit two more 3-pointers early in the second half before the Rams took control. From a 37-34 deficit, URI outscored Sacred Heart 13-4 over the next three-plus minutes and led the rest of the way.

A 3-pointer by Ishmael Leggett and a steal by Ishmael El-Amin that set up an alley-oop to Makhi Mitchell gave URI the 39-37 lead. El-Amin added a 3-pointer, Makhel Mitchell scored in the lane and Leggett hit a leaner to make it 47-41.

“Just trying to provide energy,” Leggett said. “That was my whole focus in the second half, just trying to bring that extra oomph that we needed. We came out a little flat. Energy is contagious. Positive energy is always a plus in my eyes.”

Two 3-pointers by Joey Reilly let Sacred Heart hang around a bit longer before URI pulled away for good with a 10-2 burst. The run was highlighted by a Makhi Mitchell's steal and dunk, and a Malik Martin swipe and layup.

Makhel Mitchell scored six straight points for the finishing touch, with a powerful dunk by El-Amin in the final minute providing the exclamation point.

“It was a lackluster first half, to say the least, particularly on the defensive end. We’ve got to fix that. We’ve got to address things,” Cox said. “I was pleased with the way we came out in the second half, particularly on the defensive end.”

While Thomas was the game’s top scorer, he was held without a point during the stretch in which URI gained control in the second half. Martin drew the assignment.

“I saw he was hot, so I couldn’t really leave him,” Martin said. “Just coming off the bench, I was able to observe early. I thought I did a good job on him, but we’ve all got to be much better as a collective group.”

While its energy was lacking, URI actually showed some improvement in areas of emphasis after the Providence game. Killed on the glass by the Friars, the Rams snagged 13 offensive rebounds en route to 13 second-chance points, and turned the ball over just nine times while handing out 15 assists.

“Rebounding and turnovers were a major point of emphasis the last few days,” Cox said. “We spent a lot of time talking about it. We spent a lot of time watching film. We spent a lot of time working on creating passing angles and meeting passes. Rebounding, we worked a lot on blocking out and crashing. Those two were major points of emphasis and I was glad to see them come through with that today.”

Makhel Mitchell topped five Rams in double figures with 14 points. Leggett added 12, El-Amin and Makhi Mitchell scored 11 each, and Antwan Walker had 10. Sebastian Thomas had five assists off the bench.

The Rams will take a 7-3 record into a road trip to Milwaukee next Monday. They’ll face College of Charleston in a neutral-site game in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 19 before closing out nonconference play Dec. 22 against Brown.

“We think we have a good team,” Cox said. “We think we have a high ceiling. I like this group; I think this group likes each other. We took a little bit of a step back today, particularly with regards to our energy and our effort and our focus defensively, but we’ll get that fixed.”

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.