SOUTH KINGSTOWN - Cyril Langevine walked into the post-game press conference with a smile on his face, his arms stretched wide.
“I’m back,” he said.
He had been out of the spotlight for a few games, his quiet performances leaving teammates to be the spokesmen. This had been another one, statistically speaking - six points and a season-low three rebounds. He did have five assists, but that wasn’t what earned him a seat at the table.
His presence - highlighted by the absence of it - had completely changed Wednesday’s game against Duquesne. Out with foul trouble for most of the first half, he watched his team fall behind by eight points. On the floor for the entirety of the next 20 minutes, Langevine provided the foundation for the best half of basketball URI has played all year. The Rams outscored the first-place Dukes 47-17 in the second half for an emphatic 77-55 victory.
“Being in foul trouble in the first half, obviously I couldn’t help my team,” Langevine said. “But in the locker room, I spoke to the guys and told them, ‘It’s on me. I’ve got to go out there and play my game and just have each other’s back.’ For me personally, I just want to do every little thing I can do to give my team a win. I want to win first, before anything. I was happy we got the win and I was able to contribute.”
These Rams are at their best when they’re playing with confidence, with an edge, with equal parts toughness and enthusiasm. That combination has been responsible for all their best moments - last year’s late-season surge and wins over Alabama, Providence and VCU this season. Fatts Russell brandishes the confidence in the splashiest of ways. Jeff Dowtin brings the edge with his “Tournament Jeff” identity.
The toughness is rooted with Langevine. He has the frame to be a bully, and he’s not afraid to use it. Wouldn't you want him beside you in a fight? That he often does it with a smile on his face injects energy into the equation.
“We were talking about the offensive rebounding and how they kept getting second-chance points, and I just head Cyril say, ‘I’m coming,’” Russell said. “That made me feel better. I knew our anchor was coming in in the second half and he held it down.”
Before the game, the Rams were worried they might have to do some heavy lifting without Langevine - and not because of foul trouble. Sidelined by an ankle injury suffered in Saturday’s game, Langevine was held out of practice.
“To be honest with you, Cyril didn’t practice the last three days,” Cox said. “He didn’t practice the first day and I said, ‘Ok, he’ll be back tomorrow in practice, I’m sure, and that’ll make me feel better.’ And he couldn’t practice again and I wasn’t feeling too good. The real MVP is our trainer Daniel Anthony. He spent hours and hours and hours with Cyril and got him ready enough to play.”
Langevine picked up his second foul with 17:42 remaining in the first half and sat until the break. Without him, the Rams were out-rebounded by 10, gave up 14 second-chance points and 20 points in the paint. Michael Hughes had success in the post, and the necessity of double-teaming him led to open looks on the perimeter, where Duquesne made four 3-pointers.
Langevine served notice that things would be different early in the second half, bodying up in the post on one trip, then ripping the ball away from Hughes on the wing soon after.
“The second half, his presence out there, particularly defensively - we were struggling to guard those guys in the post in the first half,” Cox said. “We put him out there and we could go one-on-one. We didn’t even have to double anymore. That’s who he is. He’s a warrior, he’s a winner and he showed his toughness today by coming out there and giving his best effort, injured.”
Hughes scored one point in the second half. Duquesne had four points in the paint and two second-chance points.
At the other end, Langevine scored on a putback in the early part of URI’s run and fittingly gave the Rams the lead with a layup at the 15:01 mark. His follow slam with 7:59 left was one of many exclamation points.
URI’s second-half runs were earth shaking. They left a confident Duquesne team looking shell-shocked. The Rams were back, and Langevine kept pushing the buttons to keep them there. He urged on the crowd. He screamed, “Yes!” in Mekhi Long’s face after Long made a big defensive play. Mostly, he was just himself - tough, ready and loving every minute.
It's not the first time Langevine provided a sudden boost. Against Nicholls in November, Langevine was in foul trouble and the Rams were struggling to pull away without him. When he returned, he racked up five points and seven rebounds in a little over eight minutes to push URI over the finish line.
There was less production this time, but the presence was all that mattered.
“Every time in the huddle, I just say, ‘You’ve got to have fun with this. Because you never know what can happen,’” Langevine said. “Like, I twisted my ankle. You’ve just got to have fun, right mindset, and everything will go your way.”