Turnovers defined Saint Louis University’s first Atlantic 10 game of the season against the Rhode Island Rams. The Billikens had 21 turnovers during this game, the most turnovers the Bills have had in two seasons. The Rams scored 30 points off the Billiken turnovers in their 65-53 victory against the Billikens as the Rams won their first conference game of the season and first conference road game.
The Billikens struggled with the Rhode Island defensive pressure and were not ball strong during the game. They made some poor decisions against the experienced Rams team who showed they could be a sleeper pick for the A-10 conference title. The Rams had a strong second half against the Billikens forcing turnovers and strongly driving to the basket all game long.
Saint Louis got off to an early 6-0 lead. The Bills were able to break the Rhode Island pressure defense getting buckets from three different players early in the game, but the Rams pressure began to get to the Billikens.
URI guards E.C. Matthews and Biggie Minnis were able to force the Billikens to turn the ball over. Matthews and Minnis forced many of SLU's 12 first half turnovers for the Rams as they slowly chipped away at the early SLU advantage. However, URI was outrebounded 18-13 in the first half and struggled to make shots until a huge dunk by URI’s Hassan Martin.
After missed layup by SLU forward Milik Yarbrough, Minnis found Martin for a monstrous dunk to give the Rams some energy and momentum for the final 6:31 of the first half. SLU had a tip-in by Yarbrough to increase their lead to 8 points, but URI went on an 11-1 run as finally had shots fall to claim a 26-24 lead with 2:32 left in the first half.
The Bills responded with a 3-pointer by guard Achraf Yacoubou to get the lead back for Saint Louis, but URI tie the game a free throw. The game was tied at 27 going into halftime. Rhode Island’s pressure got to the Bills in the final 6 minutes of the first half and that is how they got back into the game.
The second half was went back and forth for the opening few minutes. SLU had a brief 5-0 run to claim a 37-32 lead, but URI increased their pressure on defense and that was the beginning of the end for Saint Louis.
A 13-0 run by the Rams sparked by their pressure defense and strong interior play by Hassan Martin allowed URI to claim a 45-37 lead with 10:51 left in the second half. Martin’s first half dunk had sparked him and his teammates to play with a renewed energy after the brief second half run by SLU. After that dunk, the momentum slowly shifted to URI and the Rams are traditionally a stronger second half team.
However, SLU’s Milik Yarbrough did not allowed the Bills to go down without a fight. The freshman responded with a huge 3-point play and another bucket to cut the lead down to three points with 7:51 left in second half. Yarbrough, after picking up his fourth foul, made two more buckets to cut the URI lead to two points, 48-46, with 5:52 left in the second half. However, he was pulled from the game, due to his foul trouble, and that allowed URI to seal the game.
URI went on a 7-0 run that was capped off by a Biggie Minnis 3-point to increase the Rams lead to 9 points. SLU's Yarbrough returned into the game, but there was not much he could do late. The Rams extended their lead into double-digits late in the second half to claim their first victory of the conference season.
Saint Louis’ first taste of conference play was tough for the freshmen. They played an experienced Rhode Island team who could be a sleeper pick for the conference title this season. They will tested this conference season and likely will get frustrated due to the experienced teams in the league. This is a rebuilding year for SLU and these conference games only allow them to grow and become better in the following years.
Saint Louis will travel on the road to take on the George Washington Colonials on Tuesday, Jan. 6th at 7 p.m. eastern time. Rhode Island will return home to play their first conference home game against the Fordham Rams on Wednesday, Jan. 7th.