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URI 80, BC 69

Eagles can’t keep up

URI’s tempo too much to handle

Eagles guard Biko Paris (10 points) tries to drive past URI guard Marquis Jones in the first half. Eagles guard Biko Paris (10 points) tries to drive past URI guard Marquis Jones in the first half. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 14, 2009

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It wasn’t necessarily pace, which Rhode Island set at about four possessions per minute, or the pressure, which they smothered Boston College with for almost 40 minutes. It was how the Eagles responded.

Rhode Island went to its full-court press six minutes into its 80-69 win over BC last night, and it took the Eagles three possessions to figure out what URI was doing. Joe Trapani tried throwing a pass to Corey Raji to get the ball past halfcourt, but he launched it into the Rams bench. Reggie Jackson tried to get out of a jam in the front court, but URI’s Keith Cothran shook him down for the ball and turned it into an easy layup for Stevie Mejia. Biko Paris tried to make a short pass upcourt, but Lamonte Ulmer hopped in front of it, went hard to the rack, drew a foul, and got to the free throw line.

At that point, the score was only 10-8.

The URI run came later. Akeem Richmond drilled three 3-pointers, one from NBA range. Cothran added a trey and scored an easy layup on a busted play. The Rams went on an 18-4 run in a six-minute stretch, and defensively, it was like the Eagles were running in cinder blocks.

Rhode Island set the level of intensity and dared BC to match it. The Rams broke out a full-court press and dared the Eagles to beat it. They drilled 3-pointer after 3-pointer and dared the Eagles to stop it, but they couldn’t. Knowing the different styles of the teams, the game played out exactly the way Rhode Island wanted.

“They were struggling with the press,’’ said Cothran, who scored a game-high 19 points. “They didn’t want to run. We wanted to get them out in the open court, put some pressure on them, make them run and go up and down with us. They couldn’t guard us off the bounce. They had some bigs that couldn’t hang with our bigs. We were able to just run them guys in the open court and exploit them.’’

The Rams (8-1) shot 50 percent (31 of 62) from the field and won their fourth straight while the Eagles dropped their second straight and fell to 6-4.

“They set the tempo to pick us up full court, not let us get into our offense immediately, and to rush us and not let us get into the flow of the game like we like to do,’’ said Paris, who scored 10 points and had seven assists.

“We had 14 turnovers in this game, we had 14 turnovers last game,’’ BC coach Al Skinner said. “There was no pressure last game. There was pressure this game. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s pressure or no pressure, our guards haven’t played well. When you look at the overall play, we’re not thinking as well as we need to be. It has nothing to do with their pressure. It has more to do with us.’’

Rakim Sanders returned for the Eagles after missing all but four minutes of the season with a sprained right ankle. He played 34 minutes, scoring a team-high 14 points, but said he felt “a little out of game shape.’’

Tyler Roche tweaked his back in the first half and with the shortened rotation, conditioning bit the Eagles at critical points.

The Eagles cut URI’s lead to 4 with 10:03 left in the second half, playing at URI’s pace. As they set up to inbound the ball under their basket, Paris took a couple of extra seconds to tie his shorts, and give Reggie Jackson (24 minutes) and Joe Trapani (34) a chance to catch their breath.

“I told the ref that my string was in a knot,’’ he said. “I was trying to give my guys as much of a break as possible.’’

URI played 10 men. Five scored in double figures. BC didn’t have the ammunition or the wind to keep up.

“We’ve been fighting this injury thing and trying to get our full team on the floor, so we can go out and perform in a way that we’re capable of, but we haven’t been able to do that,’’ Skinner said.

“We’re not handling situations now, we’re not making good decisions. We’re fighting ourselves right now. I don’t care who we’re playing.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.