SOUTH KINGSTOWN — For nearly 10 minutes in Wednesday’s game, the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team didn’t make a shot from the field. Things didn’t get much better the rest of the second half.
The Rams wished they didn’t have a half like that, of course, but they could live with it thanks to a defensive unit that is continuing to emerge as a game-defining piece of the team’s identity.
Against its toughest competition yet this season, that defense shined again. URI held Boston College to 25%% shooting, forced 13 turnovers and blocked 13 shots en route to a 57-49 victory at the Ryan Center.
“Obviously, offensively, we were not necessarily ourselves today. But our defense was elite,” coach David Cox said. “Makhel Mitchell anchored it with the eight blocks, but I just thought that our guys paid attention to the game plan and executed it perfectly. You’re going to have offensive games like that. If your defense shows up to that level, you’ll be able to pull out some of these victories. That’s what we were able to do today.”
URI is 3-0 for the first time under Cox and has its first victory over a Power Five conference team since 2019, when it beat Alabama at the Ryan Center.
Defense has been the calling card throughout the fast start, with the Rams keeping each of their opponents to roughly 30%% shooting from the field. In the first season of new coach Earl Grant’s rebuild, Boston College had the toughest time of any URI opponent so far, making just 14 of 56 shots from the field. The Eagles hit on 19% in the second half.
“I know what we’re capable of at the defensive end when we lock in,” Cox said. “We have a very sound defensive team — guys that are committed to it, guys that know the importance of it. And we’ve got an anchor back there. We might have the best anchor in the country.”
That would be Mitchell, who was the star of the lockdown. The 6-foot-10 sophomore's eight blocks were a career high and tied for the second-best single-game total in URI history. He added eight points and seven rebounds.
“We did a lot of preparation for this game. I wasn’t surprised,” Mitchell said. “As a team, we were locked in, and I was able to protect the rim like I was supposed to.”
The first half featured runs from both sides, with URI getting the edge. The Rams started the game with 3-pointers by Ishmael El-Amin and Jeremy Sheppard in an 8-0 start. After the Eagles responded with a 10-0 run, URI scored nine straight, going up 17-10 on Malik Martin’s 3-pointer.
A strong finish to the half turned a 25-24 lead into a 35-26 cushion at the break. The Rams allowed just one field goal in the final 3:25 and got 3-pointers from Sheppard and Makhi Mitchell. URI totaled 13 assists on its 15 first-half baskets.
The second half was more of a struggle for the Rams, who didn’t make their first field goal until the 10:18 mark. Productive trips to the free-throw line helped keep URI afloat, but mostly it was the defense that made the lack of scoring a moot point. When that cold stretch ended, URI’s lead had actually grown.
The scuffles did have an impact late — the Eagles made a move to get within five at the 5:24 mark, when a better offensive showing could have buried them long before. The Rams answered with a jumper by Makhel Mitchell and a corner 3-pointer by El-Amin that restored the lead to double digits and sent them on their way.
El-Amin paced the Rams with 12 points. Makhi Mitchell added 10 points and eight rebounds. Sheppard finished with nine points, while Jalen Carey chipped in eight off the bench.
“I thought our first-half stats were pretty solid offensively,” Cox said. “But we just didn’t have a great flow tonight.”
That will be something to work on as the Rams head to Florida for the Sunshine Slam, where they’ll face Tulsa on Saturday and either Boston College again or Utah on Sunday. The road trip also includes a visit to Florida Gulf Coast next Tuesday.
“I’m happy, obviously. I’m happy that we won and I feel good about this team,” Cox said. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do, because I think our ceiling is pretty high.”
Remembering Ryan Preston
A moment of silence was held in pregame introductions for former Ram Ryan Preston, who died this week from injuries suffered in a car accident in Bahrain, where he was playing professionally. The Rams also wore black patches with his initials and were glad to cap an emotional week with a performance Preston would have been proud of.
“Ryan the last couple of summers has been still coming through to Providence. He spent a lot of time with these guys,” Cox said. “What I did share was his passion. He had an extreme passion for life and this game of basketball. And he was undeterred. He probably heard a thousand times that he wasn’t a basketball player, he was just an athlete, that he would never make it. And it didn’t deter him. He became a Division I basketball player, he graduated with a degree and became a professional basketball player. We wanted to resemble some of that tonight — that passion and grit.”