If you’re a Rhode Island fan, you have undoubtedly had many better nights than Friday night. Like this season, the night began with a lot of hope, and while the season is far from over, the night certainly ended with the hopes dashed.
Dayton came to town and dealt the Rams a severe blow as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned. And they did it in heartbreaking fashion with a 75-74 decision.
Rhode Island led by as many as 11 in a first half where they clearly out-played Dayton, and they went into the locker room up 36-30. Dayton seemed to be on the verge as the half closed, however, and sure enough, the Flyers scored the first seven points of the second half to take the lead. From there, it was a close one all the way.
It gets interesting when we get inside of three minutes to play. After Dayton regained the lead by one, E.C. Matthews put up a three-pointer that bounced around the rim a couple of times before dropping, and at that point, you might have felt a little more hopeful if you’re a Rams fan. Uneasiness followed, however, as Dayton tied it, then Matthews missed two of three free throws before Dayton would tie it again.
With just over a minute to go, Jared Terrell made a nice drive and put one up high off the glass that dropped, and the Rams suddenly led by two with 61 seconds left. When the Rams got a stop after allowing an offensive rebound, then Kuran Iverson hit two free throws with 24 seconds left, the Rams looked like they had a real chance to pull this one out.
But Dayton came to town last year and handed the Rams a tough loss, though the stakes weren’t quite as high. Last year’s Rhode Island team was riddled with injuries all along, and all the hope of the season went away quickly and then often. Rhode Island fought valiantly all season long, but fell well short of expectations.
It’s against that backdrop that we look at what happened next. Dayton got the ball up the floor quickly, and Scoochie Smith drove toward the paint from the right wing and found an open Xeyrius Williams, whose three-pointer brought the Flyers within one. That meant they would have a chance to tie if they fouled a Rams player for two free throws. Williams fouled Matthews quickly, and Matthews made it even easier as he missed the first free throw, meaning the Flyers wouldn’t need a three-pointer to tie.
But Dayton wouldn’t be content with a tie. On a mirror image of what happened seconds earlier, Smith drove left from the right wing, found Williams on the left side for a three-pointer that went down with under ten seconds left.
You could hear the hearts drop many miles away.
Terrell drove into some tight defense, with a bit of contact that did not get a call (in a game where 51 fouls were called), and the ball went out of bounds with 1.4 seconds left. The inbounds pass was errant and off the finger of a Rhode Island player, and the remaining time ticked away.
And along with it went a lot of Rhode Island’s NCAA Tournament at-large hopes. The Rams have very good computer numbers – chief among them a top 40 RPI and a top 20 non-conference strength of schedule – and no really bad losses. Their worst loss is at surging Richmond, though a home loss to La Salle may hurt more by the time March rolls around. They have one win that remains the gift that keeps on giving, over Cincinnati in Connecticut back in November. The Bearcats are the only lock NCAA tournament team they have knocked off, and they could use another top 50 win.
Rhode Island can still beat VCU for a quality win, but until the Atlantic 10 Tournament, that’s it. They will need to work harder at avoiding a bad loss than getting a quality win, as four of their remaining six opponents have three-digit RPIs and La Salle is in the 80s. All of those games are land mines. Even a win over VCU may not be enough if the Rams bow out too quickly in the conference tournament.
Friday night didn’t officially end Rhode Island’s hopes of finally reaching the NCAA Tournament once again. It did, however, deal a big blow to them, one that might leave them needing a conference tournament title to go dancing in March.
Friday night was actually a rare night where road teams dominated. Home teams won just three of the ten Division I games that were on tap, with Penn (70-62 over Columbia), Princeton (69-60 over Cornell) and Yale (73-64) all taking home victories. Of note among the others, Monmouth beat Manhattan 62-58 to get their first-ever win in Draddy Gymnasium.
Washington suspended big man Malik Dime indefinitely on Friday after an incident the night before in Colorado. The senior, who has missed the last nine games with a broken right pinkie, slapped a student heckler during halftime of the Huskies’ 81-66 loss on Thursday. The Pac-12 said it is still reviewing the incident, while the student told the Tacoma News that “everything’s been made right.”
Louisville will get a boost on Saturday as Quentin Snider will return to action when the Cardinals host Miami. The junior guard, who leads the team in assists and is second in scoring, has missed the past six games due to a hip injury suffered on Jan. 14 against Duke, and he will join Mangok Mathiang and Deng Adel in returning to the lineup as the latter two were suspended for a game each after missing curfew.
- In the ACC, Wake Forest hosts NC State to get things going (noon), then an old Big East battle is on tap with Pittsburgh hosting surging Syracuse and Duke hosts Clemson at 1 p.m. Louisville hosts Miami (2 p.m.) and Notre Dame hosts Florida State (6 p.m.) in other games of note.
- Atlantic Sun leader Florida Gulf Coast hosts surging Kennesaw State (7 p.m.)
- Big 12 play starts with West Virginia hosting Kansas State (noon), then Baylor hosts TCU and Texas Tech hosts Kansas (2 p.m.)
- A Big East showdown is on tap in the afternoon as Villanova visits Xavier (2:30 p.m.), then Butler visits Providence (4 p.m.) in a tougher road game than the Friars’ 4-8 Big East mark suggests.
- There’s a big early game in the Ivy League once again, this time Yale hosting Harvard (7 p.m.)
- In the Northeast Conference, Fairleigh Dickinson heads across the Hudson to take on LIU in a key game (4:30 p.m.)
- In the Pac-12, we have a couple of underrated matchups as Arizona hosts Cal (10 p.m.) and USC hosts Oregon (10:30 p.m.)
- SEC play starts with Florida hosting a Texas A&M team trying to get to .500 in conference play (noon), then an underrated matchup as Kentucky travels to Alabama (1 p.m.)
- In the Southern Conference, Wofford hosts Chattanooga (7 p.m.) in a battle of teams a half game apart in the standings.
- The Sun Belt has an important game on tap with Arkansas State visiting UT Arlington (5:30 p.m.)
- The game of the day is in the West Coast Conference as Saint Mary’s hosts Gonzaga (8:15 p.m.)