Watson’s scoring, team’s physicality leads to 67-56 Flyers win over Rhode Island

Ibi Watson’s shots were consistently around the basket, whether from threes (4/8) or this dunk (pictured), and led the Flyers to a solid 67-56 win over Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of Griffin Quinn, Flyer News.

Peter Burtnett
Sports Editor

A healthy dose of scoring from senior guard Ibi Watson and physicality against the A10’s top rebounding team led the Flyers to a 67-51 win over Rhode Island at UD Arena Saturday evening.

Going into the game, the Rams led the A10 in total rebounds, and addressing their physicality was a key part of the Flyers’ game plan going into the game. 

“Rebounding is a mentality,” redshirt senior center Jordy Tshimanga said. “You just got to go out there and get the ball, be physical, that was in the game plan, we knew that coming in… We just had to go out and fight, which we did.”

Head coach Anthony Grant echoed the importance of rebounding, crediting Rhode Island for how they come against teams with a “lot of different guys.”

“They’re really able to attack the glass, and they play with a great pace,” Grant said. “So we knew that those things would be important, to be able to try to keep them in front… out of the lane… off the glass.”

Grant said during the first 10 minutes, the Rams had success doing “those things,” but said the Flyers made the adjustments needed to understand the urgency they had to play with.

“(Rebounding) was certainly a key for us, we understood that that was going to be a big part of the game was our ability to rebound and be effective.”

The game started with a frequent exchange of the lead, but the Flyers, with four players on the scoresheet, held an 8-7 advantage with 15:30 remaining in the first half.

A cold stretch for the Flyers (1-4 on field goals in the last four minutes) allowed the Rams to take advantage, grabbing the lead and extending it to 16-11 with 11:31 left in the half. 

The Rams continued to stretch their lead, and after a jumper pushed it to nine, head coach Anthony Grant was forced to call timeout down 25-16 with 7:33 left in the half. Redshirt senior guard Ibi Watson led the Flyers with 8 points, but a 6-0 Rams run after a Watson three helped stretch their lead. 

However, the Flyers answered with a hot stretch of their own, making 4 of 5 field goals to cut the deficit to 29-27 with 2:59 remaining in the half. 

Both teams finished the first half ice cold (no made field goals over the last 2:14 for either team), but the Rams took a 32-29 lead into halftime. A lay-up made by senior guard Jalen Crutcher as the buzzer sounded was originally called good on the floor, but was called off after a review.

Freshman forward Mustapha Amzil had 9 points at the break, and Tshimanga had 7. 

The Rams were out-rebounded 20-16 in the first half by the Flyers. However, turnovers (6 for the Flyers, 3 for the Rams) and points off turnovers (Rams: 7, Flyers: 2) were key factors in the Flyers’ halftime deficit.

To start the second half, the Flyers came out on fire from the field, making 4 of their first 5 field goals to go on a 11-0 run, taking the lead and extending it to 40-32 after a pair of Watson threes in quick succession. The Rams were forced to call timeout, down by eight with 16:27 remaining in the second half.

“It was great (to see how Watson played),” Grant said. “In the first half, we couldn’t find a flow, we couldn’t find any continuity. And so to come out in the second half – Ibi hit some big ones for us – I thought the ball movement tonight, making the extra pass, and guys understanding how to help each other have success, I thought that was great tonight and it was good to see.”

The Flyers stretched their lead to as much as 44-32, before going on a cold stretch (1/7 from the field) to allow the Rams to cut their deficit to 44-36 with 11:44 remaining in the game.

To answer the cold stretch, the Flyers then made four straight field goals, including a three from Crutcher after excellent ball movement on the possession, taking a 54-38 with 7:56 remaining.

Down the final stretch of the game, the Rams were able to get as close as within eight points, but were unable to get the final run needed to erase the lead, so the Flyers earned a hard-fought 67-56 win to improve to 10-4 overall, and 6-3 in A10 play. 

For most of the early season, games consistently came down to the final shot, and Watson credited the recent change to the grit and attention to detail of the Flyers.

“It’s definitely nice to not have to worry about the last shot every single game right now,” Watson said. “So we’re going to keep trying to apply pressure, keep being real detailed about it. But I think it comes down to our focus and our consistency throughout the 40 minutes.”

Speaking of 40 minutes, Watson said he felt like he could play another game, even after playing the full 40 minutes in tonight’s game.

Watson led the way with 22 points and 7 rebounds, while Crutcher added 15 points and 5 assists. Amzil and Tshimanga also added 11 points each, and combined for 15 rebounds (though they also combined for 8 fouls, Tshimanga fouling out with 2:25 to go). 

The Flyers will face Duquesne on the road Tuesday at 9 p.m.

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