The Three-Pointer: Rams Light Up Eagles

December 13, 2009 - 7:04 pm

CHESTNUT HILL -- It is easy to see why the University of Rhode Island Rams are 8-1 on the year and continue to chug along in non-conference play before the start of the Atlantic 10 season. The Rams have a quick, athletic bunch that was too much for Boston College on Sunday night as they defeated the Eagles 80-69 at Conte Forum. Rhode Island was hot from the field, hitting 50 percent on 31-of-62 shooting. Included in that was a blazing 9-for-15 from the 3-point line that was largely decisive in the contest, particularly given that BC was 3-of-17 from behind the arc. The Rams' athletic guard/forward trio of James Delroy, Lamonte Ulmer and Keith Cothran could not be contained by an Eagles team that is still struggling to find an identity and mesh on the defensive end of the floor. "Our defense is not where it needs to be," BC coach Al Skinner said. "I just told the players that we have to be more coordinated on the defensive end if we are going to get back to winning basketball games. The numbers are pretty simple for us. When a team shoots 50 percent, they win. When we hold them under 40 percent, we win. It has been that way all season long." The game started off with a slow pace, as BC led 16-15 after the first 10 minutes. That would not last, especially against a Rhode Island team that likes to put on pressure and get up and down the floor. It also helps when every shot from downtown finds the bottom of the net. The last 10 minutes of the first half saw the Rams go on a run spurred along by an impressive 6-for-8 shooting streak from the 3-point line, at one point hitting five in a row. That type of torrid pace is hard to sustain, but the damage was done and URI was off to the races. The second half was more of the same except at a quicker pace. Rhode Island ramped up the pressure as Ulmer and company caused fits for the BC backcourt, a game-long trend that led to 14 Eagles turnovers. BC battled back near the midway point of the second, closing the gap to four points at the 10:03 mark after a Joe Trapani layup. But the Rams used their formula -- pressure, hot shooting and athleticism -- to balloon the lead back to 10 points two minutes later. From there, the Rams never let the Eagles back into the contest. The final score was indicative of the how the night played out. "We're fighting ourselves right now, it doesn't matter who we are playing," Skinner said. Here are a few key points from the game  . . . . RAKIM SANDERS IS BACK, BUT  . . . Until tonight, the most athletic player for BC had seen four minutes on the court all season. Eagles partisans no doubt were hoping that the return of junior guard Rakim Sanders would spur the Eagles offense and backcourt play and help the team bounce back from the Harvard loss on Wednesday. Sanders played 34 minutes and led the team with 14 points on 5-for-14 shooting with a turnover, an assist and two rebounds. "It felt good to be out there and playing with the team," Sanders said. "I think it is more of us and what we have to do . . . we are playing not to lose, not to win." With Sanders back in the starting lineup, sophomore guard Reggie Jackson, who has been a spark plug for the Eagles this year, took a seat on the bench as Skinner went with his nominal starting five for one of the first times all year. That consisted of Sanders and Biko Paris at guard, Corey Raji and Trapani at forward and Josh Southern at center. Jackson did come off the bench to play 24 minutes and score 11 points, which created an interesting lineup for Skinner. Which leads us to . . . SANDERS AND JACKSON MAKE THE EAGLES MORE DYNAMIC Late in the second half, as the Eagles were trying to catch up, Skinner went with a lineup of Jackson, Paris, Raji, Trapani and Sanders. It was a small lineup, with Trapani the biggest man on the floor at 6-foot-8, 228 pounds. Yet, it is probably the best scoring mix for Skinner, since those are his top five skill players. The swing factor for the Eagles was two-fold -- the lack of perimeter defense by this group which led to the Rams' 60 percent 3-point shooting combined with that horrendous 3-for-17 performance beyond the arc. Other than that the five player rotation was 25-59 (or 42.3-percent) from the floor, not far off the Rams' pace. The BC rotation became pretty thin after senior captain Tyler Roche re-injured his back in the first half and did not come back into the game. Roche played six minutes and hit his first two shots before heading to the sideline. That, in turn, forced Jackson and Evan Ravenel into more service than they were probably expecting. "[Roche] hurt his back again, which is unfortunate," Skinner said. "We have been fighting this thing and trying to get our full team on the floor so we can go out and perform in a way that we are capable of, but we haven't been able to do that." THE EAGLES NEED TO IMPROVE THEIR GUARD PLAY In the post-game press conference, Skinner chalked up the primary problems with the squad to two deficiencies -- defense and guard play. URI was able to take advantage of both of these aspects of the Eagles game to swing the momentum in its favor. "We are just not seeing the plays, everybody is just locked in. We are just not coordinated on the defensive end," Skinner said. "Our guard play the last couple of games has just not been good. We can't win basketball games if our guard play does not improve and I told the guys that our guard play does not improve . . . It doesn't make a difference if there is pressure or no pressure, our guard play has to improve." "They were struggling with the press, we went out and got some deflections and caused some steals that got us in our offense early in the beginning," Cothran said. "They couldn't guard us off the bounce. We have some quick guards, so we were going to the basket on them." The Eagles defensive problems stem from their backcourt. Paris could not find his rhythm against the quick URI guards, which caused significant problems. He was also having trouble with the Rams' pressure which led to five turnovers (versus seven assists). The Rams scored 15 points off turnovers in the game, including nine fast-break points. As Cothran pointed, the Rams were able to break down the BC backcourt pretty easily. The Eagles did not disagree. "I take full responsibility for the way we have played the last two games," Paris said. BC will have to find a way to improve the team defense and guard play if it does not want to turn this two-game skid into a protracted slump.