Nine days after its first bad loss of the season, the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team earned its first marquee win with a 65-56 triumph at VCU on Saturday.
The next-game mentality that the Rams embrace made such a swing possible.
“Such is life, right? Sports is a microcosm of life and that’s what it is,” head coach David Cox said. “You’ve got to keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’ve got to keep level headed, you’ve got to keep things in perspective and look forward to the next challenge.”
In meeting this one, the Rams quickly revived their hopes for contention in the Atlantic 10 and for NCAA Tournament possibilities. The former had taken a hit with a loss in the conference opener to Richmond; the latter was hampered by the loss to Brown in URI’s non-conference finale. With a road win over VCU, the league’s preseason favorite and an NCAA Tournament hopeful, the Rams are back where they wanted to be.
“I would like to remind just basketball fans in general, if you look throughout college basketball, I don’t know that there’s a team in college basketball this year except for maybe one or two undefeated teams, that hasn’t had a tough loss,” Cox said. “Most teams have more than one. We’re right where we need to be and right where we want to be in terms of this conference championship chase.”
Having stopped its two-game slide with a win over Davidson, URI headed to VCU feeling better about itself and especially about its defense, which had struggled against Brown and Richmond. That unit shined against VCU, limiting the Rams of Richmond to 31 percent shooting and forcing 14 turnovers.
“We played really good defense,” Cox said. “We stuck to the game plan, we were physical, I thought our rotations were pretty good, our hedging by our big men was outstanding. We have to tighten up our defensive rebounding. But I was really pleased with the defensive effort – their focus and concentration.”
URI has matched up well with VCU in recent years, with physical play and defense hallmarks for both programs. Rhody has won seven of its last eight, including an upset win in the A-10 tournament last year. The one loss was a rough one, as VCU won 76-42 at the Siegel Center last year. In the return trip, URI left that defeat firmly in the past.
“They embarrassed us last year at VCU,” said junior guard Fatts Russell. “That was a focal point – they embarrassed us last year and we can’t let that happen again. We came out with our intensity high and our focus high.”
URI built a seven-point halftime lead, bumped it to 14 early in the second half and nursed it from there.
Jeff Dowtin led the Rams with 21 points. Russell added 16 and Tyrese Martin scored 13.
The Rams were set to visit St. Joseph’s on Wednesday before a two-game home swing. La Salle visits the Ryan Center on Saturday and Duquesne comes to Kingston next Wednesday.