URI Vs. Fordham Showed Rams Issues And Answers

Ishmael Leggett
Ishmael Leggett – Photo: Alan Hubbard

After a sluggish 35 minutes Rhode Island turned on the jets late to defeat Fordham yesterday at the Ryan Center. I was able to see this one from inside the building as opposed to my family room television. Physically being within 150 feet of the action carries learnings that do not translate through the box. Here are five quick takes:

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RYAN CENTER VIBE: Bill Koch wrote a fantastic longer-form perspective of the arena environment in last week’s Providence Journal, but I finally sat down inside the RC yesterday after missing the George Mason contest.

Great to see the usual suspects in Bill, Will Geoghegan of The Independent, plus young guns like Stone Freeman, Nick Simeone of student-run Anchor Sports, and others up in Section 201.

Hardly breaking news, but it is odd. Particularly during timeouts as Stone and I chatted about. Cheerleaders in big screen video boxes, the looping white-noise crowd track, and periods of intermittent silence that reminded me more of sitting at the Peach Jam in North Augusta.

It is a slog for the coaches and players to create their own liveliness game-in and game-out. Credit them. I’ll call out two specifically in this column below.

Malik Martin
Malik Martin – Photo: Alan Hubbard

GET THE EDGERhode Island redshirt sophomore Jalen Carey continues to find his way.

He’s struggled with turnovers (9 assists; 35 turnovers in 20-21) all season. But he has terrific agility and a productive burst when he gets the edge and commits to the drive.

If Carey is on the floor with Sheppard and DJ Johnson – two floor spacers because of their shooting ability – more of these edges are present. He scored via an and-1 on a piercing downhill, right alley drive. His body control is elite, so he’s not quite the charge candidate that others on the team might be.

As he identifies the right instances to be the aggressor versus those that require swiftly making the fundamental “nothing-to-see-here-move-it-along” pass to a teammate, the turnovers will decrease while the productivity and confidence will increase.

26.2: Not a nod to a marathon, but Rhode Island’s turnover percentage yesterday, even with Jeremy Sheppard turning it over just two times in 35 minutes of play — and Fordham sitting back in a zone. On more than one out of every four possessions the Rams giftwrapped it back to their opponent. They are last in the league in turnover margin and last in the league in assist to turnover ratio.

Certain types of turnovers are opponent-driven and an expected part of every game. Unforced ones are not – and Rhode Island continues to be plagued by too many of this variety.

Unlike two years ago, the Rams have the accountability a deep bench offers to emphasize that there is no place for unforced, lack of awareness turnovers. Using it to shape better decision-making is a must for the Rams to break through this uneven play.

Makhel Mitchell – Photo: Alan Hubbard

CONTINUED GROWTH: Makhel Mitchell improves every game in incremental ways. Against two big boys in Joel Soriano (6-11, 250) and Onyi Eyisi (6-9, and an underlisted 225) yesterday, he grabbed nine boards.

Much more impressively he held his ground defensively through post-initiated body contact without fouling, committing just one foul in 28 minutes of action – and recording four blocks. “Holding your ground without fouling” is not found anywhere in the box score last time I checked, but it was critical to Rhode Island outlasting Fordham.

ENERGY GUYS: Malik Martin and Ishmael Leggett always bring it. Even when they struggle in other facets (as Martin did yesterday), energy is a given. It is magnified in a year like this one and ought to be more deeply appreciated.

Midway through the second half Leggett dove through the Builders Surplus sign tracking a ball. The effort jumpstarted  Rhode Island’s collective defensive intensity.

Leggett also led the Rams in offensive boards. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard collected three of his seven total rebounds on the offensive glass in his first collegiate start (of many coming the next three years).

That tells us all we need to know about his heart.

Chris DiSano, is 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, who was named an NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44