Photo by Autumn Walter |CIGAR|
WASHINGTON D.C. – The magical 2017-18 moves on for the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team. The Rams took down the St. Joseph’s Hawks in the semifinal round of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, 90-87.
Rhode Island trailed at the half 47-40 and were down by as much as 11 just a minute into the second half thanks to a 4-0 run from the Hawks. Rhode Island trailed the entirety of the first half and for 33:02 throughout the entire game.
With 6:16 left in the second half, Rhode Island finally took their first lead thanks to a Cyril Langevine and-one lay-up to give the Rams a 72-71 advantage. The Rams did not trail the remainder of the game.
“Their style was a little bit of our kryptonite,” Dan Hurley said following the game. “We’ve had a great season. We have a championship culture, championship DNA. We showed it today in a game that we had to fight our tail off to win.”
As the team struggled through the first half and St. Joe’s zone defense, Andre Berry kept the Rams within striking distance. After the first half Berry had 14 points and four rebounds, while shooting 6-8 from the floor. Berry finished the game just one rebound shy of a double double with 18 points and nine rebounds.
“Because of the way that they were playing that zone defense, there were going to be high-low opportunities for him,” Hurley said about Berry’s first half performance.
“I just go into the game just like every game, and find my shots” Berry said. “My guards do a great job of finding me in open places.”
Rhode Island had five Rams in double figures, including four starters. E.C. Matthews added 14 and Jared Terrell had 13 points. However, the story was the play of the underclassmen. Freshman Fatts Russell had 14 points off the bench while shooting four of eight from the field and three of seven from deep. Russell hit two of his three, three-point field goals inside the final five minutes of the game.
Sophomore Jeff Dowtin, coming off of a team-high 18 points in the quarterfinals matchup vs. Virginia Commonwealth University, had 16 points, 10 assists and six rebounds, all while not turning the ball over once. Dowtin is now shooting 15-19 from the field and six of eight from three-point territory during the past two games.
“Since he’s been in the lineup it’s been a game changer for us,” Hurley said about Dowtin’s performance. “He’s a winner, high IQ. Makes big shots. Keeps everyone around him calm. Great leader.”
Russell noted how the team had felt following the 78-48 loss the Rams suffered at the hands of the Hawks on senior night just 11 days ago. “They kind of hurt us, beating us on senior night,” Russell said. “Our seniors mean a lot to us, so we took that kind of personal and we were in the gym heavy ever since.”
With the victory the Rams now advance to their second consecutive A-10 Championship final for the first time in program history.
“It’s been an amazing ride,” Hurley said. “This is who this team’s been this whole year. I don’t see things changing for us with the way these young player show up for us this year, Jeff Dowtin, Fatts Russell, Cyril and the recruits that we have coming in.”
For Hurley, the eye has always been on raising the A-10 Championship trophy on Sunday afternoon and the chance to repeat as conference champs. “We talked about what it felt like on Sunday last year,” Hurley said. “Landing at T.F. Green [Airport] and having hundreds of fans. We want to experience that again, and we want to force Commissioner McGlade to hand us a third straight trophy. That’s an exciting feeling. That’s what we talked about.”
Rhode Island will face Davidson tomorrow at 1 p.m. in the A-10 Final. The game is televised on CBS and can be heard on 90.3 WRIU FM.