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URI 94, Georgia State 59: Much to cheer in the Rams' rout of Georgia State

Providence Journal logo Providence Journal 11/28/2021 Bill Koch, The Providence Journal

SOUTH KINGSTOWN — What better way to move on from a disappointing road trip than with a home blowout. 

This was just what the University of Rhode Island needed. Georgia State was undermanned and overmatched on Saturday at the Ryan Center. It took until the second half, but the Rams handed the Panthers what was a widely expected pounding. 

URI opened the floodgates from 3-point range to race away from the visitors, 94-59. The Rams also locked up on defense, holding Georgia State to just 3-for-22 from the field over the final 20 minutes. 

“Good win for the Rams today coming off that road trip having lost two out of three,” URI coach David Cox said. “We needed that for our general team confidence to be honest with you.” 

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Falling to Tulsa and having to face Boston College for a second time at the Sunshine Slam was one thing. Squandering a 14-point lead and fading at Florida Gulf Coast — a predicted middler in the Atlantic Sun Conference — was another. URI used this occasion to put that result in the rearview mirror and prepare for a challenging week. 

Ram guard Ishmael Leggett gets off a shot against Dayton last February. On Saturday, he had a career-high 20 points against Georgia State. © Kris Craig/The Providence Journal, file Ram guard Ishmael Leggett gets off a shot against Dayton last February. On Saturday, he had a career-high 20 points against Georgia State.

Road games at Harvard and at Providence both promise to provide a stiff test. The Rams have plenty to lean on coming out of this afternoon's display. Let’s take a look at a few highlights. 

Rams were hot from long-range

URI was sizzling from 3-point range. 

The Rams went 15-for-28 overall, a scorching 10-for-15 in the second half. That’s the most makes from deep for URI in 95 games under Cox and the first time the program has reached that number since midway through the 2016-17 season. 

“The last couple of days we spent a lot of time with our zone offense,” Cox said. “I feel a lot of confidence just in this group because their mindset on the offensive end has been throughout the year for the most part, ‘Let’s see if we can get the best shot.’ ” 

The Rams connected 16 times from deep in an 88-58 thrashing of Saint Joseph’s, improving to 10-4 overall. URI was a mediocre 6-5 through its next 11 before going on a nine-game winning streak, one that carried the Rams to a second Atlantic 10 tournament title and the second round of 2017 NCAA Tournament. A similar streak this time would see URI brush aside the Crimson and Friars. 

“Two good road tests,” Cox said. “We’re excited for the challenge. We talked about this throughout the summer leading up to this point.” 

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A career day for Leggett

Ishmael Leggett found his scoring touch. 

The sophomore guard was shut out in 26 minutes against the Eagles, a brutal 67-66 loss to finish a home-and-home series. Leggett followed with a career-high 20 points, going 7-for-10 overall and 5-for-7 from deep. 

“Sometimes things don’t go your way,” Leggett said. “You’ve got to trust your work and trust yourself. My teammates did a great job of instilling me with confidence, and the confidence I have in myself showed tonight.” 

Leggett netted a combined 10 points in his previous four games, a surprise considering his emergence late in 2020-21. He reached double figures in five of his final 10 games and would have hoped to be among the conference’s breakout players in his second year. Leggett nailed each of his four 3-point attempts in the second half of this one. 

“I just hold myself to such a high standard,” Leggett said. “I always try to meet it.” 

Sheppard leads the way

URI guard Jeremy Sheppard, in action against Virginia Commonwealth last season, scored 13 of his game-high 21 points in the first half against Georgia State on Saturday at the Ryan Center. © The Providence Journal, file URI guard Jeremy Sheppard, in action against Virginia Commonwealth last season, scored 13 of his game-high 21 points in the first half against Georgia State on Saturday at the Ryan Center.

Jeremy Sheppard set the tone for a big offensive night with an early drive to the rim. 

A floater in the lane was among the first contributions made by the sixth-year senior guard. Sheppard went on to net 13 of his game-high 21 points in the first half, connecting on his first five shots. 

“When I’m continuously getting in there, it helps open things up for my teammates,” Sheppard said. “Bigs and guards as well — I think that creates a lot.” 

Sheppard reached double figures in four of his first five games before staggering in Fort Myers. He managed seven points on 3-for-10 shooting against Florida Gulf Coast and committed a late foul that helped set up the deciding free throws from Tavian Dunn-Martin. Sheppard starred for the winners this time, going 7-for-11 from the floor. 

“I think I felt pretty in rhythm after that first floater,” Sheppard said. “Having that soft touch, I know I’m pretty good to go.” 

Sheppard and Leggett became the first URI teammates to each finish with 20 or more points in a game since a January win at VCU. Fatts Russell’s 23 points combined with Sheppard’s 20 on that occasion to produce an 83-68 triumph at Siegel Center. 

Bench players get a chance

Tres Berry made his Rams debut with 5:01 left. 

The second-year guard totaled five points in as many minutes and grabbed two rebounds. Berry didn’t play in any of URI’s 25 games last season and battled a left ankle injury throughout the buildup to this 2021-22 campaign. He was still wearing a brace above the sneaker on his left foot. 

“He’s put in a lot of work,” Sheppard said. “He’s been wanting to get back out here. We want him to get back out here.” 

Sebastian Thomas and Malik Martin played a combined 39 minutes off the bench with Jalen Carey remaining in the concussion protocol. Cox said Carey hit his chin on the floor during the Sunday victory over the Eagles and has been held out as a result. The Rams hope he can return for Wednesday’s short trip to face Harvard. 

“We thought he might have a chance today, but he just hadn’t cleared protocol yet,” Cox said. “Once he does he’ll get back in the mix.” 

Undermanned Panthers

COVID-19 concerns cost Georgia State the bulk of its rotation in this one. 

Justin Roberts and Corey Allen — the club’s top two scorers — didn't travel. Neither did fellow starter Ja’Heim Hudson or leading reserve Nelson Phillips. Jalen Thomas (right knee) was in street clothes on the bench. 

Stadium reported the Panthers had at least one positive test result for the virus and as many as five players unvaccinated. Georgia State was a shell of the potential top-100 opponent it has a chance to be and suffered accordingly.  

bkoch@providencejournal.com  

On Twitter: @BillKoch25 

      A — 4,132 (7,657).

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: URI 94, Georgia State 59: Much to cheer in the Rams' rout of Georgia State

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