For one Friday night, the biggest college basketball game in the country resided in Kingston.
Stationed in the primetime slot on ESPN2, Rhode Island basketball showed their brand of basketball, using tough defense and maturity to take down Virginia Commonwealth on their home floor.
“Great win. Great win tonight,” said Head Coach David Cox. “I’m really excited right now just thinking about the potential of this group. Obviously we’re on a pretty good roll but our daily focus has been tremendous.”
Fatts Russell put up what was a monster performance. The junior from Philly led all scorers with 30 points, adding five assists and four boards as well. Fatts also added 16 of his points from the charity stripe, shooting 16-18 from the line.
“That’s a big part of my game,” said Russell. “Getting in the lane and finding my teammates, but if they’re not open then attacking the rim. That’s just kind of what I do.”
Russell was one of four Rams in double figures, with Jeff Dowtin, Tyrese Martin, and Cyril Langevine finishing with 17, 18, and 11 respectively.
Langevine also came one shy of a double-double with nine boards, and added three assists. URI now moves to 6-0 on the season when the big man gets at least three assists in a game.
“I just wanna share the wealth,” said Langevine. “Sharing the wealth is good. When I see my teammates happy and scoring, I’m happy too. I’m just a team player.”
URI did not make it easy on themselves, giving up a 20-3 run to allow VCU to creep back into the game, who at one point cut what was a 27 point lead to just nine. After a first half where they scored 27 points, VCU erupted for 48 in the second half, while shooting a scorching hot 69 percent from the field in the second twenty minutes. It was freshman Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland who paced VCU, scoring 16 points and shooting fifty percent from the field. Isaac Vann joined his teammate as the only other VCU player to get into double figures, scoring 13 points on 6-9 shooting from the field.
“We figured that they would throw a couple of major punches in the second half,” said Cox. “We withstood a couple of runs and obviously came out of here with the victory.”
This can’t be overstated, but games like the one that just occurred help to significantly raise the floor of a mid major program. Mature leadership from upperclassmen such as Russell, Jeff Dowtin, and Cyril Langevine, coupled with contributions from the rest of the Rams role players brings out the best in URI basketball. With a winning streak now at eight, and a season sweep of the *other* Rams, Rhody has catapulted itself into NCAA Tournament consideration. With winning now comes a newfound sense of expectation. For the 16-5 Rams, it’s March Madness or bust.