Not everyone is lucky enough to get a second chance to prove themselves. Or a third, fourth or fifth chances for that matter. Yet the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team, after suffering one of the worst losses in their program’s history last Wednesday night will once again have an opportunity to seize the moment, with the team’s NCAA Tournament hopes hanging in the balance.
Most teams would falter following a devastating loss on their home court against a subpar foe like Fordham University, but the Rams are not like everyone else. They always seem to wake up from their coma when the doctor just when the doctor is ready to call it. They come back from the dead and stick around long enough to gain some momentum, only to ultimately regress back into a coma, where there is always the optimism that things will get better in the future. The grim reaper has been coming for a while now, but they always seem to stave it off, buying as much time as they can until they are able to escape their death sentence. URI dodged a nearly sealed fate of mortality with on-the-road wins over George Mason and La Salle this past week. Now they return home, where the reaper can attempt to stifle the dreams of head coach Dan Hurley, along with his resilient team and the unfailingly devoted, yet sometimes dismayed fan base.
Saturday night the reaper VCU, with scythe in hand, will attempt to all but close the casket on the Rams postseason life in the hostile confines of the Ryan Center. Another marquee loss could be the end of sanity for some members of the ever patient, but increasingly fragile Rhody Ruckus. Just surviving like Rhode Island has been doing gets teams a roundtrip to the NIT Tournament, but beating a top 50 team with the pressure reaching its boiling point, would indicate both growth and perhaps earn the Rams a certificate of approval from the NCAA Tournament selection committee down the road.
Sure, URI would still be in a precarious position with a victory this weekend, but their entry into March Madness always seemed destined to induce excess stress and hyperventilation. They don’t do things the easy way, but none of that will matter if their name is called. Winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament will obviously be a path to the “promised land” regardless of the game’s outcome, but a VCU victory almost seems like a rite of passage, a precursor to any potential success earned in Pittsburgh next month.
The visual of E.C. Matthews draining a 3-pointer to take the lead late or a Hassan Martin three-point play to seal the deal would be the proverbial climb over the wall (or a very long hike at this point). Wins against Cincinnati in November do a lot to maintain an air of credibility, but the crunch time do-or-die games are what molds prosperity. Will a win rectify the Fordham loss or the Dayton one before it? Maybe not, but until the Rams triumph in one of these drama-filled epic clashes, then all we could do is break out the party line, ”wait till next year.”
The Rams are more than capable of securing the “W” as has been the case in almost every high-profile game they played, but Saturday needs to be the day they get the job done. It is about more than staying alive. The victory could give Hurley some piece of mind and be a euphoric release for Matthews and Martin, who have been there through all of the “oh, so close” moments. This group does not have much time left together, so VCU maybe their last chance to stare death in the eye and come out on the other side.