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Rams Face Litmus Test Against Red Hot UMass-Lowell

But it’s a winnable game for Archie Miller’s squad.

Josaphat Bilau
Josaphat Bilau – Photo: Alan Hubbard




Rhode Island (3-7) welcomes searing hot UMass-Lowell (11-1) to the Ryan Center for a Tuesday night tilt. The Riverhawks are winners of nine straight. Included within this string of victories are an 11-point win over Brown and five-point win against Atlantic 10 rival UMass, now a Frank Martin led squad.

The Rams finally secured a win after three straight losses upon returning stateside from the Cayman Islands Classic. This contest offers a litmus test as Lowell is both deep and experienced… but it’s a winnable game for Archie Miller’s squad. The reputable statistical site KenPom.com has Lowell predicted to win by an eyelash, 69-68.

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Here’s a three pack of thoughts: first, a welcome back to a sorely needed Ram; next, a pat on the back to Pat Duquette and the UM-L administration, and finally, a back to the basket matchup to watch. Let’s go.

Jalen Carey
Jalen Carey – Photo: Alan Hubbard

WELCOME BACK JALEN: Playing in his first game since November 21st and just his fourth game this season, Rhode Island guard Jalen Carey made it count in the Rams Saturday win over Army. Carey tallied 12 points on efficient 4-6 shooting from the field and 4-4 from the foul line, while chipping in six rebounds, five assists, a block and just one turnover in 26 minutes. That’s cross-category impact and a nice line.

Sebastian Thomas
Sebastian Thomas – Photo: Alan Hubbard

Beyond the line, however, two aspects stood out about Carey in his first action back on the floor. His poise and his patience. Archie Miller has been rolling a ball-handling trio of Ishmael Leggett (playing at an all-conference level), Brayon Freeman (gaining comfort) and Sebastian Thomas (searching for consistency) by necessity. Carey’s introduction into the fold provides Miller a complementary player who’s different than all three. He’s a long, seasoned defender who can offer a steady hand and pop for production on certain nights where someone else may not be clicking. He’ll make his teammates better, particularly Freeman who must continue to channel his talent for team gain. Carey’s availability and presence will catalyze Freeman’s development as a decision-maker.

Brayon Freeman
Brayon Freeman – Photo: Alan Hubbard

WELL DONE: Pat Duquette, in his 10th season at the helm of the Riverhawks, was hired when Lowell made the transition to Division 1 in 2013-14. In speaking with Duquette, he’s grateful for an administration which appreciated the gravity of the transition and has stuck by him through the build. Now with his program out of the gates at 11-1 and replete with experience and depth, he hopes to reward the administration’s faith in his work with a conference championship in 2022-23.

Ishmael Leggett
Ishmael Leggett – Photo: Alan Hubbard

MATCHUP TO WATCH: It’s 6-9, 235-pound Abdoul Karim Coulibaly versus 6-10, 235-pound Josaphat Bilau.

Coulibaly, by way of Pitt and then a year at St. Bonaventure, has been a beast in the pivot for UML, helping to diversify their attack and change the way they can play when he’s on the floor. Averaging 12.5ppg, and 8.6rpg, he’s a load in the paint. He ranks as one of the top offensive rebounders in the nation and protects the defensive glass nearly as well. He’s also scored it uber-efficiently on the interior, shooting nearly 69% on 2-point attempts. He can be foul prone… and the Rams would love to get him on skates in ball screen actions or attack and force rotations putting him in harm’s way foul-trouble-wise.

Bilau continues to acclimate and round into game form, now having appeared in seven games for Miller and company. Over his past three he’s averaged 10 points, six boards, and two blocks per contest. Though just a redshirt sophomore and not as seasoned as Coulibaly who’s in his fourth season of college ball, Bilau looks the part. He’s pairing an impressive shooting touch with high activity on both ends and, if he can limit his turnovers as he progresses, can develop into a steady force on the interior for Rhode Island. Coulibaly offers Rhode Island a stern test – but unlike the Quinnipiac game where the Rams had no answer for a similar physical presence in Ike Nweke, now they have Bilau. Get ready.

Chris DiSano is Rhode Island’s color commentator for Learfield, an Atlantic 10 analyst, and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44