Breakout performances in consecutive games by Dana Tate and Tyrese Martin have signaled a new chapter in the University of Rhode Island’s 2018-19 season.
The freshmen have arrived.
Playing big minutes since day one, the newcomers are starting to match opportunity with production. Through 11 games, the freshman class hadn’t accounted for more than 31 percent of URI’s point total in any outing. Over the last two games – a win over Middle Tennessee and a close loss to St. Louis in the Atlantic 10 opener – the Ram freshmen have combined to handle 62 and 43 percent of their team’s scoring.
“We knew it was going to be a process for the freshmen. I think they’re finally starting to click,” junior guard Jeff Dowtin said. “Their confidence is starting to grow and I think it’s at the right time.”
The veteran Rams remember the feeling. Dowtin’s freshman-year contributions were so key to URI’s 2017 NCAA Tournament team that it’s easy to forget he didn’t make his first start until mid-January, at a time when he had scored in double figures just twice. Cyril Langevine went scoreless in five of his first eight games that same year.
“It’s just game experience,” head coach David Cox said. “There’s a difference between high school and AAU and college ball. In high school, when you lose a game, it’s a big deal but it’s not that big a deal. In AAU, you lose a game, unless it’s Sunday and it’s bracket play, it’s not that big a deal because you’re going to play three more games that weekend. Then you’ve got a trip the next weekend. So it’s just not quite the emphasis. Here, when you play and you lose, it means something.”
Jermaine Harris delivered this freshman crop’s first breakout when he tallied 15 points and five rebounds against Brown on Nov. 28. Tate was next, busting out of a quiet trip to Hawaii with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the win over Middle Tennessee State.
“It’s great learning from these older guys, learning the ropes and going to war with them every day,” Tate said. “We’ve built a very strong bond. I trust them and they lead me the right way. They always tell me to be confident and play my game. Just listening to them and taking their advice helped a lot.”
“This is what we expected from Dana when we recruited him,” Cox said. “This is the Dana Tate we knew we would get. He’s a very talented offensive player. He can score from different levels. He’s a really good shooter. I think, playing out there in Hawaii against pretty good competition and seeing the basketball go in a couple of times out there, led to this sort of breakout game. I asked him to give me one corner 3 today and he told me had me. He gave me a couple more. A great effort from him.”
Martin’s big moment came last, but it was preceded by steady contributions. After going scoreless against Brown, he scored eight points in three of the next four games, while also emerging as a consistent rebounder. With Fatts Russell sidelined for the conference opener at St. Louis, Martin earned his first start and turned a career-high 37 minutes into 18 points. He made four 3-pointers and shot 50 percent from the field.
It was the first time all season the Rams were led in scoring by one of their freshmen, and Martin wasn’t alone. Tate chipped in nine points. With Harris and Omar Silverio tallying two each, the freshmen combined for 31 of 72 points.
“They’ve been rotational players for us throughout the year and I think everybody is starting to see their development and their growth,” Cox said. “Obviously, their production is starting to take on a new level of significance.”
The Rams know they’ll need it as they wade into Atlantic 10 play.
“You’ve got to love that pressure. For them, we need them to play well,” Dowtin said. “They’re playing big time minutes at a big-time school. I think they’ve been handling the situation very well. I tell them all the time, it’s a lot of pressure because we’re relying on them a lot. I feel like they’re just going to grow more and more in the future.”