WORCESTER, Mass. --- With just one senior in the rotation and none averaging more than 11 minutes per game, Jeff Dowtin has taken up the leadership mantle for the University of Rhode Island.

The junior point guard is the most experienced returning hand for the current version of the Rams. He was on the floor for most of the crunch time minutes in each of the last two seasons, helping those two teams cement their places in program history. Dowtin’s surrounding cast was filled with all-time URI greats like Hassan Martin, Jared Terrell and E.C Matthews.

Newcomers and past bench pieces account for the majority of Dowtin’s running mates in 2018-19. The growing pains have been obvious during a 3-3 start, one that carries into Saturday’s meeting with Holy Cross at the DCU Center. The Rams have endured another week-long layoff since a defeat to in-state rival Providence and are itching for a return against the Crusaders.

“Being a captain of this team, when my guys aren’t doing what they need to do, I take full responsibility for that,” Dowtin said. “I’ve got to find different ways to get them going early and find ways to get my teammates involved.”

Those remarks after Tuesday’s practice mirrored a pair of postgame appearances by Dowtin after losses against the Friars and Stony Brook. The preseason all-Atlantic 10 selection is willing to shoulder any criticism concerning URI’s stagnant offense and poor 3-point shooting. Reaching back-to-back NCAA Tournaments certainly has raised the standard for what Dowtin considers acceptable.

Count coach David Cox among the group Dowtin is hoping to protect. Replacing Dan Hurley with a reshuffled deck was always going to be a challenge, and Cox’s connection with Dowtin dates back to St. John’s College High in the Maryland suburbs. Cox recruited Dowtin from the place where he once served as a vice principal, and their shared fortunes now include attempting to write the next successful chapter in Kingston.

“Coach Cox, he’s the one who’s going to take all the bullets for us,” Dowtin said. “But at the end of the day, it’s the players who step onto the court. We’ve got to put our shoes on and play the game of basketball.

“At the end of the day, if my teammates aren’t doing what they need to do or if I’m not doing what I need to do, I’m going to take those bullets for the team and make sure everybody is back on the same page.”

URI’s defense has been good enough to win every game on its schedule to date, ranking inside the national top 50 in points allowed per 100 possessions. Opponents shoot just 23.0 percent from 3-point range against the Rams, which is good for second in the country. Four of the six teams on the schedule have failed to crack 60 points.

The struggles at the other end have blurred what has been mostly a continuation of URI’s gritty, tough identity. The Rams would have totaled a projected 72.7 points in 100 possessions during the 59-50 setback against Providence. Per kenpom.com, URI has suffered through just nine worse games in the 551 it has played since the website began tracking data for the 2001-02 season.

“You shoot the ball a number of times and you don’t see it go in, it affects you,” Cox said. “It affects you mentally. The only thing you can do to battle that is to get in the gym and to get work in.”

Holy Cross (6-3) has captured five of its last six and suffered all three of its losses against top-100 foes. The Crusaders enjoyed a nine-point lead in the second half before falling to Providence on Nov. 13 and held off Massachusetts, 82-78, for a nice road win on Wednesday night. Holy Cross will be at home for each of its next three games while the Rams will play at the Ryan Center just once before Jan. 13.

“They have to experience it,” Cox said. “We have to get over the hump at some point. I’m hoping with a few more days of preparation we’ll be ready for Holy Cross and ready to get a win on the road.”


On Twitter: @BillKoch25