ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The Rhode Island Rams, behind a 29-point effort from point guard Fatts Russell, defeated the St. Bonaventure Bonnies 81-75 in front of a sold-out Reilly Center crowd.
In a slow-paced first half, the Bonnies led by as many as nine and took 40-35 lead into halftime.
But in the second half, Rhode Island made adjustments. While Russell only scored nine points through the first 20 minutes of play, he dominated the second half, scoring 20 of his 29 to help the Rams stifle the Bonnies and their faithful.
“In the first 15 minutes of the game, we really struggled to score the basketball,” Rhode Island head coach David Cox said. “We continued to believe in each other and shot the ball with confidence.”
And that’s what Russell did. Not only were his 29 points crucial, but they were timely, according to Cox.
“His performance speaks for himself,” Cox said. “Of his 29 points, I thought 20 of them were vital. Very, very important shots.”
Russell, who got into foul trouble early, said he and his teammates found a way to break the Bona defense.
“In the first half, they did a nice job with ball screen coverage and throwing different things at me,” Russell said. “He [Cox] helped everybody finds different ways to attack them and we went out in the second half and did that.”
Despite Russell’s performance, the Bonnies did enough to give themselves a chance. After erasing a seven-point Rhode Island lead, the Bonnies got within three points with just over two minutes to go.
Justin Winston hit a big 3-point shot; Jaren English took a charge. Down 69-66, Rhode Island took charge of their own. From there, the Rams were able to finish the Bonnies off.
Bonnies head coach Mark Schmidt called it an inspired effort, but not enough to win. To Schmidt, the game came down to the first four minutes of the second half. In those four minutes, Rhode Island outscored the Bonnies 10-4.
“It was a good college basketball game,” Schmidt said. “We played hard, but not all of the time. That’s what we got to get to. We made some inexperienced plays. The game was decided in the first four minutes of the second half. We came out a little bit lethargic. They came after us. We knew they were going to come at us, and we didn’t do a good job in those first four minutes.”
For the third consecutive game, the Bonnies played without star center Osun Osunniyi. In those three games, the Bonnies have been outscored by 120 (258-138) and out rebounded by 15 (112-97). Dayton, Virginia Commonwealth and Rhode Island also took the ball inside. Over the last three games, the Bonnies have been out scored 126-102 in the paint.
“Out effort was decent throughout the game,” Schmidt said. “Against Rhode Island, every possession is critical. You have to make them earn their points, and sometimes we broke down.”
In the midst of a three-game losing skid, the Bonnies will have a chance to get back on track on the road against Fordham on Jan. 29.
“The more this young team can be put in these situations, the more we can grow and learn from them,” Schmidt said.