CATCH THE RAMS VS. DUQUESNE WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 22 AT 7:00PM ET. ON YURVIEW, COX CHANNEL 4 IN RHODE ISLAND.
Rhode Island guard Jeff Dowtin has been so steady over his three-plus seasons in the Atlantic 10 that it becomes easy to take him for granted.
The senior guard is averaging 13.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.1 steals per game through 17 contests. Of course, Dowtin’s contributions have always transcended the numbers, from his elite care-taking of the ball to his staunch defense, smart decisions, and clutch shot-making.
The highest compliment Dowtin can be paid is that, when you speak with him, it’s clear and obvious why he became a point guard… and why the position of point guard found him. It’s natural.
Chris DiSano: In the last victory over La Salle, what did you like that you saw in terms of execution and team play?
Jeff Dowtin: In the first half we played with a lot of pace. Our defense was rolling… and we started off on that 7-0 run with everything clicking. We were finding each other and moving the ball well. Towards the end, the ball kept sticking and we weren’t getting as many stops and had to lock-in and focus. The main thing for us is communication and picking your brother up. If one player doesn’t have anything going, it’s important to always be encouraging. We were able to stay together even when we were going through some bad times… and that helped us.
CD: La Salle plays pretty tough-minded ball and Ashley Howard is a good, young coach in only his second season. It seemed like in the first half you guys jumped out, but then they did a decent job of taking advantage of you overplaying a little bit and started to see some drive and kick opportunities. Then you re-adjusted and, defensively, were more stout positionally. Is that a fair assessment?
JD: Yes, definitely. We pride ourselves on playing aggressive defense, pressuring the ball, scraping those passing lanes, and trying to get deflections. We had a lot of run outs, steals and fast breaks. But towards the middle of the game they figured us out a little bit and, like you said, had a lot of drive and kick opportunities and even a few back door cuts. So we had to change our scheme up a bit and maybe not scrape the ball reversals as much, but play the back door passes and play the drive and kicks. Once we figured that out everything was good defensively.
CD: Let’s touch upon Antwan Walker’s contributions. He’s solid in and around the foul-line/elbow area as a facilitator and brings energy on the defensive end. Now that he’s been back for a handful of games, what are you seeing out of him and how’s he feeling in terms of comfort?
JD: Just his confidence has grown tremendously throughout these past few games. And like you mentioned him being in that paint area, being able to make decisions… he’s a great passer out of the elbow/high post spot. He’s going to keep growing and getting more and more comfortable. As long as his confidence stays where it’s at he’s going to be tremendously helpful for us.
CD: You factored critically down the stretch in the La Salle game, as you have in so many games over your career. Let’s dissect this some. First, with respect to taking care of the ball… You’ve been in all types of environments and high leverage situations. How are you able to maintain your focus?
JD: That’s just me being poised, figuring out the flow of the game and trying to dissect it… determine where I can get to my spots and find my teammates in theirs. Down the stretch and being the point guard and leader of the team, you just want to take care of the basketball and limit turnovers. I believe coach has that trust in me where I can make plays for myself and others and help to close out the game.
CD: You’re a high IQ basketball player. Part of being impactful on the defensive end is your innate ability. But you’re also marrying those abilities to the scouting report. Can you take people through your approach?
JD: Our coaching staff gives us a great scouting plan, we’re watching a lot of film and breaking down tendencies of opponents… and one of the main things for me is that in college basketball a lot of teams play ball screen basketball. Guards come off ball screens and they make decisions or create opportunities for their teammates. So for me I try to read their eyes and determine their tendencies to be one step ahead ahead of the offense. That just goes to show that I watch a ton of film to break down and spot those tendencies.
CD: This is great. Let’s steer clear of current opponents… So who was the toughest former opponent, Atlantic 10 or otherwise, for you to scout and read? Anybody come to mind?
JD: You remember Jack Gibbs [Davidson]… he was probably one of the toughest guards to play against because he could shoot the ball from so deep and then he was able to get into the paint and shoot a nice little floater. It was hard to read him. I had to break his film down a lot to try to figure out his tendencies in terms of going right or left… He had a nice little half spin that he liked to do. I was able to figure that out a little bit, that when he goes to the left he likes the half spin… so don’t try to catch the move, you know he’s going to bring that ball right back to his left hand. He was tough; so just little things like that.
CD: La Salle comes all the way back to take the lead last game. You immediately get something going downhill, pierce the lane, pull up and hit a jumper. What did you see on the play and your thoughts as it developed?
JD: They were playing that match-up 2-3/1-2-1-1 kind of zone and we wanted to get their defense moving. A screen came and they iced it. [opponent aggressively forces action so guard cannot use screen as intended], so once I figured out that he flipped his hips I attacked the middle with a two-dribble jump stop to get into the paint. Coach always tells me “When you get into the paint, always land on two feet because you can make stronger decisions and have a wider base.” Landed on two, got to my spot, pulled up and made the shot.
CD: Can you take us through the critical steal you made with about 1:13 left?
JD: Yeah, I believe they ran the iso [lation] play for Isiah Deas, catching it on the wing. We’ve watched their film and one thing they like to is rip quick baseline and take advantage of that open side. So I had feeling and I caught that first move. Then he spun and tried to post up. I’m not going to say I’m a big dude but I feel like I’m strong for my size. I was able to body him up a little bit, I caught that second move and he tried to spin and turn and I got the steal.
CD: Okay, let’s hit a few more… What are your thoughts on the team’s play to date as you sit at 12-5, 4-1. You’ve won three straight including a big one at the Siegel Center [VCU] where very few teams win. How do you feel?
JD: I’m feeling confident. Confidence is a big thing. I’m confident in myself, confident in my teammates, confident in the coaching staff. I’m really happy with where we are right now. We gotta keep pushing and can’t be complacent. We have a lot more work to do. We’re chasing after a regular season Atlantic 10 crown, A-10 Tournament Championship, and trying to get another bid to the NCAA Tournament. We set a lot of goals for ourselves and still have a long way to go.
CD: Duquesne is next. 15-2, 5-0 in the A-10. Keith Dambrot has his team playing good ball and they have a working mix of vets and young kids. What are your thoughts about the Dukes coming in here to the Ryan Center?
JD: It’s a nice opportunity for us. Nice opportunity. They’re playing at a high level right now and they’re not going to lay down for anybody. That’s a hard, tough team. For us, it’s a good opportunity and we’ll be up for this game. We lost to them last year so that chip is still on our shoulder like we’ve got one to give back. I think we’re gonna be ready.
Chris DiSano, is an Atlantic 10 analyst and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano, who was named an NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44