Kingston, RI – Rhode Island (17-5, 9-1), making a case for an NCAA Tournament invitation, won their ninth straight game, beating UMass 73-67 on Tuesday night. The Rams were never threatened and led by 10-12 points much of the game. 5-10 guard Fatts Russell led the Rams with 21 points and four steals. Russell currently leads the Atlantic 10 in scoring (20.1 ppg) and is third nationally in steals. Tre Mitchell, a 6-9 freshman, led the Minutemen with a career-high 30 points.
Jeff Dowtin added 16 points, six rebounds and four assists for URI. He was helped by 6-8 Cyril Langevine, who had an efficient game with 15 points on 5-of-6 from the field and 5-of-7 from the free throw line to go along with nine rebounds. The Ram starters played all but 27 minutes and scored 67 of Rhody’s 73 points.
Russell, who is averaging 3.0 steals per game, is small but has extremely quick hands. He uses his quickness on defense to compensate for his lack of height and strength and is extremely fast with the ball. For much of last season he had trouble shooting three-pointers, rushing his shot and shooting when he wasn’t squared up. He seems to have corrected that issue as he’s shooting 35 percent from distance this year on 120 attempts. Russell has also been getting to the foul line with 136 attempts over his 22 games and shoots 86 percent which ranks in the top 100 in the nation. His 4.8 steal percentage ranks tenth nationally. Russell, a junior, is expected back for his senior season in Kingston.
UMass (9-14, 3-7) doesn’t have much support for Mitchell, their freshman star. Mitchell is impressive and can score at all three levels. He does much of his damage near the basket but has shown increased range as the season has progressed. He’s shooting 29 percent from deep on 76 attempts. That figures to improve as he gets more experience. He’s someone to keep an eye on to see how he develops the rest of this season and next. Another freshman with potential is 6-3 point guard Sean West. West is long, a decent defender and just needs more experience to develop into a solid point guard. He’s currently 43rd in the country in assist rate and is shooting 34 percent on 3s.
URI is fighting No. 6-ranked Dayton for the conference regular season title. That likely will be decided with two games against the Flyers, at Dayton on February 11th and at home on March 4th. The Rams next face George Washington on the road on Saturday afternoon. UMass tries to get back to the winning column when they play George Mason at home on Sunday.