It’s not a surprise that Rhode Island is playing Boston College in the consolation game of the 2K Empire Sports Classic in Uncasville, Conn.
However, both teams have reasons to be optimistic heading into Thursday’s matchup after opening with losses to ranked opponents.
Rhode Island (0-1) rallied Wednesday from a 16-point, first-half deficit and ended up battling 18th-ranked Arizona State in what was a one-possession game for almost all of the final 15 minutes. The Sun Devils scored the final five points to win 94-88.
It might have been a different outcome if the Rams had been able to defend without fouling. Rhode Island committed 29 fouls and had two players foul out, including its best player — speedy point guard Fatts Russell.
Russell, who started the second half with four fouls, managed 12 points and six assists in 25 minutes committing his fifth foul with 5:52 left.
“We had four guys with three or more fouls in the first half. I’ve never coached in a game like that,” URI coach David Cox said.
Boston College (0-1) was in position for an even bigger stunner Wednesday night, leading No. 3 Villanova by nine points with 13 minutes left before fading. The Eagles were still within 67-66 after the final media timeout but missed a layup before Villanova pulled away for a 76-67 win.
Boston College missed its last six shots and scored only 10 points after grabbing a 57-48 lead.
“We have some guys who can make some plays, but as the season goes on, we’ll get better,” Eagles coach Jim Christian said. “Offensively, we just have to grow.”
Rhode Island had players grow quickly with Russell silenced for stretches of the opener. Junior forward Antwan Walker scored a career-high 19 points and pulled down a team-high eight rebounds.
Guard Jeremy Sheppard, making his URI debut after stops at UCF and junior college, also scored 19 points. He made all four of his 3-point attempts, and Cox praised his ability to stretch the floor for a team that sank just 31.5 percent from behind the arc last season.
Another transfer, forward D.J. Johnson, had 12 points and seven boards in his first game for the Rams.
“In a close game, it’s hard to play without your best player and your senior leader,” Cox said of Russell. “But without him on the floor, I thought our guys continued to fight. … We certainly don’t believe in moral victories here, but I’m proud of the bunch.”
Boston College’s three starting guards posted double-figure points against Villanova. Jay Heath put in 16 points while Makai Ashton-Langford added 15 and Wynston Tabbs had 11.
Tabbs was making his return to the court after missing last season with a knee injury. He averaged 13.9 points in the 2018-19 season.
“They all know what he’s gone through,” Christian said, referring to Tabbs’ teammates. “They all know that he stayed here and rehabilitated through a pandemic to be two months ahead of schedule. If you’re not inspired by that, you can’t get inspired.”
–Field Level Media