WORCESTER, Mass. — Consider this an important step taken by the University of Rhode Island men's basketball team.
The Rams showed some offensive punch, responded when challenged in the second half and closed out a victory over Holy Cross in impressive style.
Jeff Dowtin and Fatts Russell controlled the backcourt while Cyril Langevine was a force in the frontcourt. If there was a preseason blueprint for URI to follow on the way to success, this was it. The Rams walked off the DCU Center floor on Saturday afternoon with a 79-63 victory, one that tested their collective mettle throughout.
Russell finished with 19 points and Dowtin had 18 and together they missed just one of their 11 attempts at the free-throw line. Langevine produced his sixth straight double-double, matching his career-high with 19 points and adding 11 rebounds. URI dominated on the boards by a 41-17 count, showing superior physicality over 40 satisfying minutes.
“I think our defense has been really, really good thus far this year,” URI coach David Cox said. “Our offense obviously has been lacking — we took a step forward in the offensive department today. I hope that trend continues.”
The Rams shot a season-low 29.8 percent in a 59-50 loss to Providence exactly one week ago, but some of those ills appeared somewhat cured against the Crusaders. URI was nearly 20 points better from the field at a season-high 49.1 percent and pitched a 14-0 shutout on second chances. The Rams also were a strong 24-for-27 at the free-throw line, including a perfect 12-for-12 in the first half.
“I really pushed my guys a lot in practice,” Dowtin said. “Coach upped the tempo even more. We really got after it those four or five days in practice, and that translated to the game.”
Caleb Green’s pair of free throws with 6:14 left drew Holy Cross within a pair at 59-57, but the Rams had all the answers down the stretch. Dowtin and Russell’s back-to-back buckets restored the URI lead to eight with 4:35 to play, part of a 20-6 closing run. Dowtin’s steal in the final 10 seconds allowed him to dribble out the clock on the Rams’ first non-conference regular-season victory away from the Ryan Center since last year’s Thanksgiving thriller against Seton Hall.
“I told them at some point they were going to make a run,” Cox said. “They’re a well-coached team. That offense is something else. And we showed some resolve.”
It was an unlikely source who helped fuel the comeback by the Crusaders. Clayton Le Sann had scored one point this season and didn’t play in three of his team’s previous five games. The left-hander netted all of his 13 points in the second half, including consecutive 3-pointers that cut the margin to single digits at 49-42.
URI (4-3) looked to have this one salted away early, building an 18-point lead with 16:38 left. The Rams netted the first nine points of the second half and took a 47-29 advantage when Dowtin dropped in a turnaround in the paint. It was a 17-0 run overall, one that carried URI to its first double-digit lead since a 71-51 victory over Brown on Nov. 28.
“I tried to get to the paint more,” said Dowtin, who was 6-for-8 from the field while playing all 20 second-half minutes. “My mid-range shot was really falling in the second half, so I tried to stay efficient with that.”
The Rams authored a strong finish to the first half, one that sent the visitors into the locker room with a 38-29 lead. Holy Cross (6-4) went scoreless for the final 3:10 and without a field goal over the last 6:21, as the Rams flashed some lock-down defense at the perfect time. Tyrese Martin’s putback in the lane capped a sprint to the break.
“I’m just trying to show the young guys how to do it,” Langevine said of Martin’s glass work. “Just go out there and attack the boards.”
Early energy translated into some instant offense out of the gate for URI, as Jermaine Harris drew a flagrant foul on Jehyve Floyd thanks to a steal and run-out jam. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Dowtin and Russell finished the 11-0 run and the Crusaders called timeout in a 14-5 hole after just 5:10. Floyd sat out the second half due to an undisclosed injury and Green was left to lead four Crusaders in double figures with 16 points.
On Twitter: @BillKoch25