After losing a late six-point lead to Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals on Friday, any chances of the University of Rhode Island Rams making March Madness were no longer attainable.
All hope is not lost though for the Rams. On Sunday night Rhode Island was presented with a No. 3 seed in the National Invitation Tournament, which awards teams on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament to play postseason basketball. For a Rams team that was projected by many to finish in the middle of the fast-improving A-10 Conference, a spot in the NIT is a very good marker for such a young team.
In the semifinal, the Rams were aided by the clutch shooting of sophomore E.C. Matthews and freshman Jarvis Garrett who combined for 6-of-12 on 3-pointers against the Flyers. Senior Gilvydas Biruta also made a strong impact on 8-for-8 shooting from the free throw line. The three had 16, 8 and 14 points respectively.
“I think all of those things, the crowd, the atmosphere, the semifinals, I think it all just got a little big for us,” head coach Dan Hurley said.
On a night where the Rams shot 50 percent from 3-point range and perfect from the foul line, it was the turnovers that ended up hurting the team the most. URI lost possession 21 times, 16 of which came from guards. The Dayton defense also did its job in shutting down sophomore Hassan Martin. He finished with just four points and missed five of his seven takes.
The Rams did not have to wait long after falling to Dayton to find out that their season would not be ending. Just a day later, URI was included in the Selection Sunday fun and earned its first spot in the NIT since 2010. Rhode Island will be hosting Iona College tonight at the Thomas M. Ryan Center.
Though his team did not quite make it to March Madness this year, Coach Hurley said that he did not expect the team to be as successful as it has been this year. In Hurley’s first two years with the program, the team was in full rebuild mode and won just 22 games combined. The Rams are 22-9 this year and can play up to four games in the NIT if they win it all.
“We’ve been discredited for not having a top-50 win even though we’ve consistently had a great year,” Hurley said. “[We were] top 10 in the country in defensive efficiency, our longest losing streak of the year was two games and that happened once, and we went 13-5 in a great basketball conference, one of the top six or seven in the country.”
After beating Rhode Island, the Flyers faced Virginia Commonwealth University in the championship game where they lost 71-65. Three teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference made it to NCAAs this year: VCU, Dayton and Davidson College. Two other A-10 teams also made it to the NIT in addition to the Rams: Richmond University and George Washington University, whom the Rams beat before falling to Dayton.
The Rams’ matchup against Iona will be televised on ESPNU. Iona finished its season with a record of 26-5 with the best record in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, but fell in the conference championship game to Manhattan.
This will be the first matchup between the Rams and the Gaels since Nov. 28, 2006 where the Rams won 85-60 at home. URI is 8-3 all-time against Iona.