It was a game they were supposed to win.
Just not like this.
For the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team, Saturday’s 61-58 win over Duquesne wasn’t about how it happened. It was about how it’s going to help the Rams do something the program has never done – win NCAA Tournament games in back-to-back seasons.
The Danny Hurley era started with the promise the battered and beaten Rhody faithful wanted to believe–even though they’d repeatedly had their souls ripped from their chests ever since Jim Harrick walked out the door for greener pastures in 1999.
Hurley met and fulfilled those promises. Saturday was just another difference of the Hurley Era vs. the doom and gloom of the Jim Baron years–where an appearance in the Top 25 followed by a 15-point second-half deficit at home was almost expected. It was part of the annual “Let’s Miss the Tourney in the Most Painful Way Possible Tour.”
Hurley isn’t letting that happen. His players don’t believe they’re ever out of a game. And despite the moans and groans most of the afternoon, the fanbase understands winning is the norm, not the exception. With 28 seconds left in a tied game Saturday, there was a calm in the air at the Ryan Center. That’s what happens when you believe.
Stanford Robinson hit the game-winner.
But it was Jeff Dowtin who did the work. Dowtin, a sophomore who plays with a presence like one of those seniors who you could have sworn you saw play in six or seven years ago, crossed midcourt and let the clock tick. With 12 seconds left he went to his right and let the play develop.
He cut back to his left and waited on a screen from Jared Terrell, which slowed down Duquesne guard Rene Castro-Caneddy. Duquesne’s Chas Brown hopped around, trying to slow Dowtin. But the sophomore evaded Brown, while staying a step ahead of Castro-Caneddy. He cut hard down the lane and forced Duquesne freshman Eric Williams to decide–allow a wide open layup or wide open 3 from the corner. Williams stepped out on Dowtin who put the pass right to Robinson’s chest.
There was an eerie silence when he caught the ball as every soul in the Ryan Center caught their breath. The way the second half went–with URI mercilessly pressuring the Dukes’ guards, forcing turnovers and rushed shots as they chewed a 15-point deficit to single digits in two minutes and tying it 7:11 later–there was no doubt where the shot was going.
Robinson had missed one 3-pointer earlier in the game, but even with Williams racing in his direction, this shot was good before it left his hand.
The Ryan Center exploded.
The bench went crazy, tackling Robinson before forming a pig pile on the floor. It was the first time the Rams looked out of control since trailing 38-23 with 16:14 left in the game.
Duquesne didn’t want to believe what happened. The Dukes–a sneaky good story in the A-10 as a team that’s turned from conference walkover to dark horse contender come the conference tourney in March–had a chance to go to the big dog’s yard and take him out. Instead, they were left whimpering off the court wondering what happened.
What happened was Danny Hurley.
Duquesne controlled the first half, slowing the game to a pace it wanted. The Dukes didn’t want to get in a run-and-gun game or get stuck against the Rams’ intense defense. Duquesne played smart on both sides of the court while the Rams took bad shots and had trouble playing defense for the full shot clock.
They attacked in the second half. It was like watching a starving carnivore attack a piece of meat. Whoever had the ball for Duquesne had to work to bring it up the court, work to start an offense and work to get something that resembled a shot as the clock went down.
URI guards Jarvis Garrett, EC Matthews, Dowtin and Robinson weren’t defenders as much as they were attackers, coming out in shifts to brutalize the Dukes for what they had the audacity to do in the first half. They played with the same type of ferocity Hurley had on the sidelines.
Hurley gets angry, at least visibly. It’s hard to imagine looking the way he does on the bench being peaceful or happy. He slides right up to the line of out of control and has stepped on and over it on more than one occasion. But he’s never swayed from that style. He’s not putting on a show. He stays intense. His team stays intense. That’s what worked Saturday.
In the past, this would have been the loss every URI fan would have expected. Here’s a Top 25 appearance so let’s lose to a 17-point underdog at home.
Hurley won’t let that happen.
Things Are Different Now
Things have changed at URI and for the better. The twelve wins in a row aren’t by accident and neither are the 17-straight Atlantic 10 victories.
Saturday’s game wasn’t easy, even though on paper it should have been. Games aren’t played on paper. Not every win, regardless of URI’s rank or quality of opponent, is going to be easy.
They’re going to be fights from here until the season ends.
And for the first time in Kingston, the Rams are ready for that fight.