SOUTH KINGSTOWN — There was a wobble again.
But this time, there was a finish, too.
Three days after blowing a 10-point lead in a loss to Brown, the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team gave away a chunk of another advantage but pushed back and closed out a 77-67 victory over Army on Saturday afternoon at the Ryan Center.
The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the Rams.
“We’ve had a couple of tough ones. And we had to deal with it,” coach Archie Miller said. “I thought we did a better job today of handling a similar situation to what we had the other night. We had a lead. The lead dwindles. But we didn’t fracture in this one. We were able to stay together, get a couple of key baskets, get a couple of key stops — it was good for us.”
The loss to Brown was the most glaring example of URI’s frequent stretch-run struggles. Fans may have been bracing for another fade when Army cut a 10-point lead down to three with 2:35 remaining. Turnovers and bad possessions were mounting.
Then the Rams came through. They weren’t perfect — but they made the gritty plays necessary to win. Sebastian Thomas missed a 3-pointer but Josaphat Bilau drew a foul on the offensive rebound. On the restart, Thomas found a cutting Malik Martin as the shot clock dipped down, and Martin converted inside.
“I think it was more positivity,” Martin said. “Like, ‘We’ve been here before. Let’s push through this one.’ I think the experience we had the other day definitely helped us.”
After a defensive stop, Ishmael Legett missed a 3, but Jalen Carey made a play for the rebound and was fouled. That set up a jumper for Josaphat Bilau that bumped the lead to seven with 51 seconds left.
“We were able to make winning plays,” Miller said.
The Rams also made their free throws, with Carey hitting two and Leggett going 4-for-4 in the final minute.
It all added up to a 10-0 run. Army’s only field goal in the final 2:35 was a late 3-pointer when the Rams had already built the lead back up.
It was a far cry from the late game fades that have been costly in five of URI’s seven losses.
"Learned some hard lessons the other night. You’re up by 10 points and then it dwindles down to two or three. We panicked,” Miller said of the loss to Brown. “The turnovers at the end of the game, the offensive possessions where we didn’t even get a shot up — panic.
"And defensively, we didn’t have the ability to get the key stop, to block out at the free throw line. I think tonight, the awareness of going through a stretch and getting into that last four-minute stretch — you’re saying, 'Let’s get it done tonight. Let’s figure a way out where we can not panic. Do what you’re supposed to do. Do your job and do it well. If it’s not working, do it better.’ We talked a lot about that over the last three days, so it’s kind of ironic we were put up against the same dynamic.”
The ship also needed steadying earlier in the half. The Rams scuffled out of the locker room for the second straight game as their lead dipped to two. A pair of 3-pointers by Thomas and one by Leggett powered an 11-0 run that had the Rams breathing a sigh of relief.
“I thought Sebastian Thomas was probably the key to the game,” Miller said. “The two big 3s that he made — they gave us a little bit of breathing room.”
Leggett led the Rams with a double-double, netting 16 points and 10 rebounds. Brayon Freeman had 13 points and six assists. Carey tallied 12 points and five assists and provided a boost in his return from a groin injury that had kept him out for five games.
“Just sitting on the side, it was killing me,” Carey said. “Watching us be in tough games and seeing us come up short was tough on me, tough on the guys. Being able to get out there and help them was great.”
Bilau added 10 points. Martin had nine points and 12 rebounds.
The Rams finished with a season-high 20 assists and held a sizeable rebounding edge.
“Twenty assists, we clearly shared the ball a little bit today,” Miller said. “We had a number of guys do a lot of good things.”
The result was a much-needed win and confidence boost.
“Definitely needed it,” Martin said. “Been in this position a lot. This time, we were on the right end of the stick. I think we’ve definitely matured. The other day we were in the same situation. I definitely think we grew as a team.”
URI will be at the Ryan Center again on Tuesday for a matchup with a UMass-Lowell team that is off to a 10-1 start this season.