BROOKLYN — The University of Rhode Island freshman class has been called upon in big spots all season. Friday’s quarterfinal win over VCU in the Atlantic 10 Tournament was the biggest stage in the young careers of the four underclassmen, and all they did was help knock off the No. 1 seed.
The freshmen provided scoring — with Tyrese Martin and Dana Tate both scoring in the double figures — energy, defense and ball-handling skills. Tate’s 12 points was the most he’s scored in a game since he put up 15 on Middle Tennessee in December.
“It took them longer than I expected to come into the culture, but this is the right time for them to finally understand what we're trying to do and what we're trying to accomplish,” junior Jeff Dowtin said. “They fit right into our system. I'm glad for that.”
Tate said he relies on support from his teammates.
“Coach and the guys giving us confidence,” is why the freshmen succeeded, Tate said. “Letting us go out there and play our game, just telling us the right things to do on the court, don't do too much, stay within yourself, just play confidently. You know, [my older teammates] are my big brothers, they are with me through practice and through the games every day. They believe in me and that makes me believe in myself even more and makes me go out there and give it my all for this team.”
Tate scored on a putback to give the Rams the lead late in the second half. He only missed one shot from the floor, and connected on both of his 3-point attempts.
Omar Silverio had a less-showy stat line, but played a critical eight minutes in the second half. With Fatts Russell saddled with four fouls, Silverio was plucked off the bench to bring the ball up for Rhody. He committed zero turnovers in his brief spin as the team’s point guard, and scored two points.
“My first game in the A-10 tournament, butterflies, jitters, nervousness,” Dowtin said. “But now for my freshmen, they've got two games under their belt. Now it's just nothing but confidence. They've been ready for this moment their whole lives and they've been here two games now. Now they're just ready to play.”
NCAA lock VCU suffers crucial injury
VCU were dealt a big blow in the first half when Marcus Evans was injured on a lay-in attempt.
The guard began writhing around in pain and holding his knee the second he hit the court. He did not return to the game, but the postgame prognosis sounds optimistic.
“Doctor told me it was a bone bruise,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said. “Felt the knee was stable. Thought it was a pretty deep bone bruise, and when we get him back in the hotel, we'll reevaluate it and go from there."
VCU tried to rally around Evans.
“We just talked to each other and told everyone, let's pick it up, let's do it for him, keep on going,” Marcus Santos-Silva said of VCU’s response to the injury. “Stuff like that does affect and hurt the team because he's one of the leaders and our guy, but we kept telling our guys, let's go, let's go, let's pick it up.”
URI coach David Cox said he expected VCU to maintain its composure.
“I've experienced it before,” Cox said, of watching a star player go down. “It's part of the game. I mean, when it happens, you've got to — it's next man up. They are a very talented and a very deep team, so they have to respond. I guess we responded. We lost [Russell] with four fouls early the second half, and other guys had to step up and that's what we did.”
Fans stuck with the Rams
Coach Cox has never been one to hide his emotions during games. He turned around to face the URI cheering section multiple times on Friday, imploring them to power his team forward.
“I've said this throughout the year, and I want to give a lot of credit to all the fans, all those Rhody fans who made the trip down here,” Cox said. “They have been tremendous for us the entire year.
“You know, we laid some eggs in that Ryan Center, and those people have continued to come back and continued to support and now they make a two-and-a-half, three-hour trek down here.
"So I wanted them to know that I appreciated them, and obviously I probably got a little caught up in the emotion of the game, but you know, that's what it is. It's a big game. It's March, and you know, again, thank you to all the Rhody fans. Hope to see you guys tomorrow.”
With VCU and its large contingent of fans headed home to Virginia, URI nows has one of the larger fan sections remaining.