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Young Rhode Island may be starting to grow up

January 3, 2012 Columns No Comments

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Rhode Island’s young players have no choice but to grow up. That was already true given that this team is dominated by youth. But with conference play in front of them, the young Rams look like they may be starting to do that, the latest evidence being their 78-72 victory at Boston College in double overtime on Monday.


It would have been easy to have inflated expectations for transfers Billy Baron and Andre Malone, with the idea that they would make an instant impact on this team’s fortunes as they became eligible. While that has happened with Baron, who had a big game on Monday, it’s not in his stats that it can be found. That’s not to say he hasn’t played well after having to shake some rust off early. But his value has come in what he does for the lineup and two other guards.


The Rams started the season with two freshmen point guards, and that’s not a position a team wants to have inexperience at. While Baron isn’t exactly a seasoned veteran, compared to Mike Powell and T.J. Buchanan, he is, and together the three of them are significantly better. Baron can play either guard spot, so at times they have multiple ball handlers on the floor, and that has taken pressure off Powell as the starting point guard. The end result has been nothing but positive.


“When we’re out there, we can handle the ball and take pressure off each and every one of us,” said Baron, who scored a game-high 25 points. “Mike doesn’t have to bring the ball up every time.”


Now the Rams have a triumvirate of point guards that is getting better, with Powell showing a lot of growth lately. The freshman matched his career high with 21 points, which he scored in the prior game as well, and it’s his fourth straight double-digit scoring game. In those four games, he’s 10-18 from long range and has also handed out at least three assists in each.


“He’s learning how to really use his body. He’s 5’9″, but he’s got a huge heart,” said Baron. “I love playing with him out there, because he takes pressure off me and I take pressure off him.”


For a while in the second half on Monday, it looked like overtime wouldn’t be needed. The Rams kept the Eagles at arm’s length, leading by as many as nine about nine minutes into the half. Boston College eventually grabbed the lead several minutes after that, but then neither team did much offensively as only six points were scored in the final 6:54 of regulation. When the Rams couldn’t hang on to that lead, then saw Boston College send it to a second overtime with a buzzer-beater by Patrick Heckmann, they could have been sunk psychologically. But they took control in the second overtime to take home the win.


The Rams still have a lot of room for improvement. Finally getting a couple of wins lately, including one on the road, will help the team’s confidence and overall psyche. They’re still trying to fully integrate Baron and Malone, with Baron saying he feels good about how he meshes with the team although there’s still some rust to shake off. That’s a plus since it helps the backcourt, but it’s just one part of the team trying to put it all together.


“We’re still trying to put our chemistry together working in the transfers,” said head coach Jim Baron.


Jim Baron said the Rams are still trying to work other players into the mix. The Rams haven’t looked like the “Runnin’ Rams” much this season, as they haven’t been able to control the pace much although they did that for a fair amount of Monday’s game. Even if they did control the pace often, they might have been exposed from a depth standpoint until now. With a full roster available save for the departed Jamal Wilson, the potential to do that is there, and he wants to go nine or ten deep.


Powell said the chemistry is better of late and the practices have been more competitive. The team moved on from Wilson’s dismissal and appears to be gaining confidence. Jim Baron said his team might have played a non-conference schedule that was a bit much for this young team, as it was far from a cake walk, and with little to show for their efforts on the bottom line the team’s confidence can be flagging. But Monday’s game may be a sign that they are handling adversity better, as they had their share of it but won the game. Atlantic 10 play is around the corner, and the feeling is that the team is getting better at a good time.


“Things are definitely getting better,” said Powell. “We’ll be feeling good once league play gets going.”

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