SOUTH KINGSTOWN — The new era of University of Rhode Island basketball has its first signature moment.
Fatts Russell hit a 3-pointer with 3.8 seconds left to send the Rams past Harvard 76-74 in a thriller Friday night at the Ryan Center.
URI had trailed for much of the final 20 minutes as the Ivy League favorite Crimson erased a six-point halftime deficit with 58-percent second-half shooting. Junior Jeff Dowtin led the rally with a career-high 31 points, but it was Russell who played hero. In the midst of a rough shooting night – he was 1-of-8 from 3-point range before the dramatic shot – the sophomore guard pulled up on the left wing and buried what proved to be the game-winner.
Harvard had a look at a 3-pointer from Noah Kirkwood in the final seconds but URI’s Ryan Preston got a piece of the shot, and it fell harmlessly away as URI celebrated.
“I always have confidence, honestly,” Russell said. “I’ve been struggling these last two games with my shot, but I never put my head down. Coach [David Cox] has been great with telling me to keep shooting. He texted me after the Charleston game and told me he believed my next shot was going in. That goes a long way.”
Russell’s shot capped one last comeback push by the Rams, who trailed 72-69 with 2:15 remaining. After the teams traded empty trips, Dowtin hit the first of two free throws to make it 72-70. He missed the second shot but teammate Tyrese Martin grabbed an offensive rebound, and Cyril Langevine snagged another when Martin’s putback fell off. The Rams pulled the ball back out, and Dowtin drilled a 3-pointer with 1:10 left to give URI a 73-72 lead, its first edge since the 5:37 mark.
Harvard’s Justin Bassey was fouled with 11 seconds left and made both free throws for a 74-73 lead. Russell took the inbounds pass under the basket and the ball never left his hands as he dribbled into the pull-up 3-pointer.
“I’ll tell you a little secret here. I did not draw that play up for Fatts, actually,” Cox said as Russell chuckled next to him. “Fatts was supposed to be one of the recipients of the next pass. But as we broke the huddle, Fatts whispered in my ear that he thought I had made the wrong decision with my choice. So he kind of took it upon himself, but that’s who Fatts is. And actually, I felt good when he whispered that in my ear because I knew he was going to step into it if he had a good look.”
Dowtin’s 31 points came on 13-of-19 shooting. His previous career-high was 25 points against La Salle last season.
“I just step into my shots with confidence – trying to finish around the rim and be aggressive,” Dowtin said.
URI improved to 2-1 on the year, and now has a big moment to draw on as it moves forward. Young teams need identity-defining games, and a back-and-forth matchup with a thrilling finish should fit the bill.
“You learn about what you’re made of as an individual player and collectively as a team,” Cox said. “I think they’re starting to figure out what it takes at this level, how hard it is to win any game that you play and how much effort you have to put forth. They’re starting to grow up and show some of those signs.”