Let the trend start.
The University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team’s 90-87 win over St. Joseph’s Saturday did more than give the Rams a chance at their second straight Atlantic 10 Tournament title.
This was opportunity, a chance to resuscitate a season that had been at the highest of highs before crashing perilously close to a death the last two weeks of the season.
Dramatic? Perhaps, but Saturday’s game was as close to a must-win for a team whose NCAA Tournament berth had already been decided.
URI needed to beat St. Joseph’s to prove the last two weeks of the regular season – a tough loss at St. Bonaventure, an ugly win at La Salle and an emotional victory vs. Dayton that clinched the A-10 regular season title before things crashed with a blowout loss to St. Joe’s four days later followed by a road loss to Davidson in the regular-season finale – was just one of those things teams need to overcome. Rhody’s struggles just happen to come at the time of year when the program has traditionally crashed and burned, so it was fair to expect nothing but the worst entering this A-10 tourney.
Winning and getting right meant more than a seed. If URI lost Saturday, it probably ends up as a 10 seed or an 11 against a meddling major conference opponent or playing a high-ranking mid-major. With the win, URI puts itself in a position to be that high-ranking mid-major because a win Sunday should guarantee the Rams are no worse than a seven seed and may sneak into the six line.
Saturday’s semifinal was Russell Fatts berth on the national scene. Everyone in Kingston knows who he is and there’s probably a couple people north of Warwick who is more than aware of the freshman’s abilities, in the last seven minutes he was the best player on the floor, or at worst the one most responsible for bringing some life into his team with a couple big 3-pointers, two key offensive rebounds and a steal that was the type of play you need in March. He finished with 14 points off the bench.
The surprise of the day was Andre Berry, who scored 18 on 7 of 12 shooting and would have had a couple more had the officials not swallowed their whistles on offensive putback attempts under the basket. Berry had nine boards and really picked up the slack with Jared Terrell struggling.
Jeff Dowtin was Jeff Dowtin and while it’s great for URI to have veterans like Terrell and EC Matthews there to carry them, the Rams’ fate is in his hands. Dowtin turns the ball over as often as Tom Brady but he probably gets to eat tomatoes or ice cream whenever he wants. The 18 points on 6 of 8 shooting (3-for-4 from 3) is great, but 10/0 assist-to-turnover is borderline NSFW.
So what’s this mean for Sunday? If you asked anyone with an unbiased brain one week ago if URI would win the A-10 they’d at least hesitate before saying “possibly.” The same question was a hard yes one month earlier and it’s at least a strong nod right now.
The panic for URI fans was the team peaked too early but if you follow the adage of one is an accident, two is a coincidence, three is a trend, so could it be possible they’re just starting to peak?
We’ll find out soon enough.