THIS WAS a basketball game Drexel will agonize over for not winning.

The Dragons led Rhode Island by five with 38 seconds to play last night, then several times had problems inbounding the ball and lost, 80-79, on a buzzer-beater at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.

Still clinging to a one-point lead after Rhode Island's Keith Coth-ran (game-high 28 points) hit a jumper with 17 seconds remaining, the Dragons lost the ball out of bounds.

Cothran missed a shot from the lane with 4 seconds left. One tap-in by the Rams bounced off the rim, then Lamonte Ulmer tapped in the winning basket with 1 second to go.

The joyous Rhode Island players piled on Ulmer in the middle of the Sam Cozen Court as if he were delivering free pizzas.

"Cothran had a good look at it," Rhode Island coach Jim Baron said. "I've always told the guys 'Don't worry about the [first] shot, worry about the rebound.' I thought our guys were very aggressive going to the basket."

Drexel coach Bruiser Flint was annoyed that his team (6-7) didn't control the rebounds off Rhode Island's missed shots.

"The shot [Cothran] took wasn't the problem," Flint said. "We contested that one. It was a runner [in the lane] almost from behind his head. We've got to come up with the rebound."

Referring to the Dragons' difficulties inbounding the ball, Flint said: "We panicked a little. We've got to come and catch it. We had a timeout left and didn't call it."

Knowing that Drexel's 6-5 Samme Givens couldn't move as he attempted to inbound the ball, Rhode Island assigned 7-foot junior Will Martell to guard Givens.

The good news for Drexel was redshirt freshman Chris Fouch scored a career-high 23 points. Fouch shot 8-for-13 from the field, 4-for-7 on three-pointers.

With Drexel down by four midway in the second half, Fouch hit consecutive threes. On the second trey, he was fouled and converted the free throw, putting Drexel up by one. Three baskets in a row by Jamie Harris (17 points) built the Dragons' lead to six.

Following a high-scoring first half after which Rhode Island led, 48-44, the game settled into a pace Drexel was more comfortable with.

"We got the game to where we wanted to in the second half," Flint said. "We just didn't finish the game off. They beat us to every loose ball and rebound in the first half."

Rhode Island (10-1), picked eighth in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, missed only one free throw (15-for-16) in the second half. The Rams made 87.5 percent of their free throws for the game, compared with 53.8 by Drexel.

Both teams shot well from the field: Rhode Island 50 percent, Drexel 51.6.

"We knew it was going to be a dogfight," Baron said. "It's a tough place to play. When's the last time an Atlantic 10 team played here?"

Told it was 1992, Baron smiled and said: "I wonder why. They were really hurting us with their guard play. Our point guard [Marquis Jones] got in foul trouble. That's never happened to us."

Rhode Island's only loss was by two points at Virginia Commonwealth.

While the setback disappointed Drexel, the game was solid preparation for four Colonial Athletic Association tests in 8 days, starting at Delaware Saturday afternoon. The Dragons carry a 1-0 CAA record into these four games.

"Every one of our losses, except for Villanova [19 points] and Kentucky [44], have been games like this one. We've got to finish," Flint said. "We've been playing good teams. From an outsider's point of view, [they say] if they can do some things at the end of the game, those guys will be a pretty decent team come conference time.

"Will we be better? I think so, but we've got to do some things differently. I told the guys I thought we sort of played not to lose in the last few seconds. You've got to play to win."

Next season, Drexel will play at Rhode Island, the site of their only previous meeting: a 48-26 Rams victory in 1928.

Rhode Island's Jamal Wilson, a 6-5 sophomore from Ss. Neumann-Goretti High, contributed four points in 9 minutes off the bench. Shannon Givens, a freshman guard and Samme's brother, had eight points (3-for-3 shooting) in only 4 first-half minutes for the Dragons. *

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