The 11th-seeded Rhode Island Rams (25-9) led wire-to-wire in completing a no-doubt, 84-72, win over the Creighton Blue Jays (25-10) in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Greg McDermott’s Blue Jays finished tied for third place in the Big East this season, but were no match for the locked-in Rams, now winners of nine straight games.
After jumping out to an early 6-1 lead, Dan Hurley’s team rode tremendous defense and nearly flawless shooting from the charity stripe to a 12-point victory and second round date with No. 3 seed Oregon, which took care of Iona 93-77 earlier in the day. Here are some key takeaways from today’s win and a look ahead to Sunday’s match-up with the Ducks:
The URI Rams led the Atlantic 10 in Scoring Defense, Field Goal Percentage Defense, and 3-Point Field Goal Percentage Defense during the regular season. For as amped-up as teams often are in the opening moments (and perhaps more) of NCAA Tourney games, defensive intensity will always travel. From the opening tip, Rhode Island made life miserable for the traditionally efficient Blue Jays, either chasing shooters off the line or closing out responsibly on the perimeter. On the inside, Hassan Martin & Co. played talented, young, and hyped Creighton center Justin Patton (lanky but more finesse than brawn) honest and physical. The combined result: a 6-19 volume forcing performance – including one of seven from deep – out of guard Marcus Foster and a 3-12 shooting performance and foul-out from Patton. Overall, the Rams held the Blue Jays to 40 percent shooting and just 7-23 from three-point range, right around the 29 percent mark they permitted throughout the year, which ranked third in the nation.
Rhode Island will carry the flag for the A-10 in this year’s NCAA Tournament moving forward.
Jeff Dowtin went 6-8 from the field, 10-10 from the stripe and finished with game high – and career-high – 23 points. That’s what you’ll read about in the papers and game stories for the most part. But the stat that stood out to me was this one:
That’s the number of turnovers Dowtin committed in 29 minutes of play. In his last 124 minutes of game action (more than three full games worth of play) Dowtin has committed just one turnover. It’s a remarkable feat for anyone, much less a freshman playing high-leverage minutes in a conference tournament and NCAA Tournament situation. The ability of Dowtin to wisely pick and choose his spots at such an early stage in his career, balancing contributing with not forcing, is rare. The manner in which he assumed ownership of the offense when Jarvis Garrett went down and brought poise and production is a major reason why Rhode Island is playing outstanding basketball — when it matters.
Carry the Flag.
I’ve written this previously and will write it again. VCU and Dayton both pulled tough draws, facing St. Mary’s and Wichita State, respectively. This resulted in arguably – outside of Gonzaga – the four premier non Power 5 schools in the nation facing each other in round one, necessitating that two go home immediately. South Carolina and Oklahoma State easily could have been swapped for SMC and VCU, eliminating these tilts… but they weren’t. Unfortunately, the result is Dayton and VCU bowing out early, meaning that Rhode Island will carry the flag for the A-10 in this year’s NCAA Tournament moving forward.
Ring a bell? That’s Rhode Island’s percentage from the free-throw line this season, good enough for just 13th out of 14 squads in the Atlantic 10. But the postseason is a new season folks. Against the ‘Jays… 90.3 percent, 28-31 from the line, including perfect efforts from Dowtin (10-10 as mentioned above), Matthews (10-10), Terrell (6-6), and Iverson (2-2). In order to quash rallies, stifle momentum, and survive and advance in tournament play, buttoning up the so-called “little things” is critical. And Rhode Island greatly aided its cause against Creighton by taking care of business from the stripe.
Up Next, the Ducks.
Third-seeded Oregon dismissed Iona in a business-like manner, 93-77, and readies to face Rhode Island on Sunday. The Quack Attack finished the regular season 30-5 overall and 16-2 in the Pac 12, and enter this one nearly as hot as the Rams… having won nine of 10 save only for a loss to Arizona in the Pac 12 Championship. Oregon features a seasoned offensive attack led by forward Dillon Brooks (16.3ppg) but with capable flankers Tyler Dorsey, Dylan Ennis, Payton Pritchard and Jordan Bell.
Notably, 6-10 senior Chris Boucher was lost to the year with a torn ACL last week… and his absence affects the Ducks on the glass and interior. Boucher led the Pac12 with 79 blocks during the regular season (2.5 per game) and offered rim protection now conspicously absent. Expect Hassan Martin, Kuran Iverson and the Rams to operate from the inside-out in trying to set the tone for a balance approach on the offensive side. This Oregon team is as stern a test as any 3-seed – but there’s a significant difference between the Ducks and the teams on the two-seed line: Duke, Arizona, Kentucky and Louisville. Rhode Island will take its chances.
Want to volley your thoughts about this one and the tourney in general? Connect with me any time on Twitter at @CDiSano44.