I can tell you two things about my freshman year of college. I wanted to transfer from the University of Rhode Island and Ben Bentil changed the course of my college experience.
My weeks were all the same freshmen year. They started on Sunday nights watching Sunday Night Football in my dressing-room-sized Weldin Hall dorm room.
The weekdays were all the same. A sequence of class, homework, watching “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” reruns, a trip to the CVS in the emporium for snacks, sleep and repeat consumed Monday through Friday.
Friday afternoons I would swing my dirty laundry bag over my right shoulder, put my headphones in and walk from the backdoor of Weldin to the parking lot outside of Mackal Field House. I would then drive home to Warwick.
Friday nights and Saturdays I convinced myself that working at a softball complex back home was what I wanted to do. I was lying to myself. It was a distraction from the fact I had zero interest in being back on campus.
Saturday would end and Sunday would begin. Sunday afternoon I would kiss my mom goodbye, load my clean clothes into the back of my 2007 Mercury Mariner and begin the 25-mile trip back to campus. Then it all would begin again.
I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to be, but I knew it was Rhode Island. Yet I was too scared to leave. I just focused on my grades and decided that when winter break came around I would start to think about what was next.
Weeks came and went and I went through the motions. I tried to get involved as much as I could. I joined WRIU 90.3 FM. I started following URI football and basketball religiously, but still my desire to be on campus was minimal. That is until I broke the weekly routine and waited four hours outside the Ryan Center on a cold, December morning in 2015.
It was Saturday, Dec. 5. URI was set to battle Providence College that evening and I needed my wristband to get into the game so I waited in the line of students along West Alumni Avenue and eventually got my wristband. I went back to my room and crashed until around 4 p.m. when I trucked back to the Ryan Center.
I watched a back and forth affair between the Ed Cooley and his nationally ranked Friars and Danny Hurley and his Rams.
It seemed like the Rams and Friars went shot for shot. After all, this was a rivalry game (no matter what Cooley or Hurley said). I was invested. My heart was beating out of my chest.
The game was knotted at 72 with 6.2 seconds left after Jared Terrell sunk a jump shot from just outside the charity stripe. Kris Dunn then screamed up the right side of the court, took it coast-to-coast and missed a right-handed lay-up.
The ball bounced twice off the rim while just off the left of the lid Ben Bentil stood with what seemed like four Rams in between he and the bucket. With just over a second left, Bentil leaped and tipped the ball in with his right hand. That was the difference maker.
Game over. Friars win. 74-72 the final in Kingston.
As I walked back to my dorm irritated I remember thinking how proud I was of my school. It sucked, don’t get me wrong. Especially having to fight off the trolls on Twitter following the game. But, after that URI loss I felt for the first time that URI was actually mine.
It’s strange and I don’t want to over dramatize this but some things just hit you. That game, the atmosphere, everything about it gave me a sense of community. I couldn’t leave this place. I belonged here.
Here we are. Three and a half years later and I look back at it all. The friends I made, the resume I built, the games I’ve covered, it has all exceeded the expectations and I couldn’t be happier. The University of Rhode Island is not a second home. It is home.
Some will ask, what if you didn’t go to that game? I prefer to look at it like it happened; I did go to the game and I am where I am supposed to be because of it.
I should add… Bentil might have gotten away with a push-off.