BROOKLYN — The University of Rhode Island’s improbable March run ended Saturday with a loss to St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 semifinals, but the ending could double as a beginning. The six-game winning streak that salvaged URI’s season may also provide a springboard for next season.
All five of URI’s starters are eligible to return, along with most of their key bench pieces. Ryan Preston and former walk-on Will Leviton are the team’s only seniors.
“I think it sets us up pretty well,” coach David Cox said. “It should be a confident group of young men. Now they know what it takes to win and to compete at a very, very high level.”
The tantalizing opportunities of the A-10 tournament notwithstanding, this season always seemed to profile as a setup year for the Rams, a chance for a young team to establish itself ahead of a 2019-20 return to the top.
For much of the season, the Rams struggled to get to that starting line, flirting with an almost lost year. They lost five games in a row and seven of eight, several by significant margins. The six-game winning streak that followed righted the trajectory. It included an upset of top-seeded VCU in the A-10 quarterfinals.
“It made us become even more leaders because we didn’t know what it took to be leaders because obviously we were behind E.C. [Matthews] and Jared [Terrell] and them,” Cyril Langevine said. “It was our turn to step up during that five-game losing streak and that’s what we did.”
URI ended the season with an 18-15 record and did not earn a postseason berth. Cox expressed pride in what the Rams accomplished down the stretch, even as it ended short of the championship goal.
“In over 20 years of coaching, I’ve never been prouder of a group of young men, for all the adversity they fought through, for their resiliency and for staying together,” Cox said. “I thought that they went out this weekend and they represented themselves very well. They represented the University of Rhode Island and they represented the basketball program with great pride.”
Everything that came before the late surge left more to be desired, and the Rams will need to keep it behind them next season. Offense comes and goes, but a number of games were lost by a lack of intensity more than a lack of shooting prowess. With a full roster of returning players who have seen the difference that can make on the scoreboard, URI will be aiming for a smoother ride next year.
Langevine and Dowtin will return as senior leaders, with significant March experience under their belts and big junior years to build on. Christion Thompson is also eligible to return. Fatts Russell ended an up-and-down sophomore season on a high note with his string of high-scoring games and will be aiming for more consistency. Dana Tate and Tyrese Martin had the best seasons among the freshman class and look poised for breakouts, while URI will be looking for more from Jermaine Harris.
Georgetown transfer Antwan Walker and freshman Marial Mading enrolled this semester and have been practicing with the team. They’ll be joined by incoming recruits Gregory Hammond and Mekhi Long. It was announced Tuesday that freshman Omar Silverio will be transferring out, leaving an open spot for another newcomer.
With 95 percent of its scoring due to return, URI figures to contend in the A-10, but won’t be alone in its youth. A number of the top A-10 teams in the league this year will return the bulk of their roster.
“The team we just played, they have some young guys, too,” Cox said. “They will be back. VCU will be back. Dayton will be back. The league will be very, very strong next year. So we’ve got to get to work. We’ve got to get to work right away, and we’ve got to get better.”