BROOKLYN — No. 8 Rhode Island got reacquainted with the innate cruelty of March basketball on Saturday. Twenty-four hours after upsetting No. 1 VCU, the Rams lost in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, 68-51 to St. Bonaventure.
Rhody had been up by as many as 15 points in the first half. The Bonnies rallied back within two points on a half-ending 13-0 run. They bested that effort later in the game, using a 14-0 run to turn a two-possession game into a blowout.
The Rams looked exhausted as the second half wore on. Offensively, they shot 28 percent from the floor in the second half.
Playing their third high-stakes game in three days, the Rams hit a wall on Saturday.
“I don’t want to make excuses,” Jeff Dowtin said. “I guess you can say I was mentally exhausted here and there but every time I step on the court I have to give it my all and everything I’ve got. I’ve got to lead the team.
“I’m not going to say I was exhausted. I’ve just got to push through and find different ways to help my team win.”
“Yeah, not to make any excuses as Jeff mentioned, but yeah, they were tired today,” URI coach David Cox said. “To be honest with you, so was I. I was fatigued today. It finally hit me. I don’t think I had the juice. I obviously didn’t have the juice that I had yesterday and I think those guys needed it, so there’s a part of me that is, again, very proud of these guys and their run, but there’s another part of me that says, man, if I had a little bit more left in the tank myself, maybe I could have got these guys over the hump.”
The fatigue seemed to hit the freshmen the hardest. Tyrese Martin had eight points in the loss, but his only offensive contribution in the second half was a 3-pointer. Dana Tate was less effective off the bench than he was the day prior, only scoring two points in 14 minutes.
Instead, it was the three starting freshmen of St. Bonaventure who had the biggest impact on the outcome. Kyle Lofton, Osun Osunniyi and Dominick Welch combined to score 46 points and collect 21 rebounds.
Cyril Langevine had an off-night against VCU, but was the Rams’ leading scorer in the semifinals. He had 15 points, nine rebounds and was 5-of-6 from the line. His four turnovers were a team-high.
Leading 29-14, the Rams were off to a dream start. Three of their five made 3-pointers came during the game-opening run.
“We were, you know, a little bit nervous,” Bonnies head coach Mark Schmidt said. “You know, down, I think 22-12, maybe 22-10, but give our guys credit. They persevered. They fought through it, just like it’s a microcosm of our year, as I said yesterday. We started 4-10, 0-1 in the league and things weren’t going well and we had a lot of adversity with injuries and so forth.”
The big lead looked ready to balloon out even further. Off a Bonnies turnover, Fatts Russell raced down the court and attempted to throw an alley-oop to Ryan Preston. The ball sailed well out of bounds, and the Bonnies took off on their first big run of the day.
The defensive clamps were fully on Courtney Stockard (1-of-11 from the field, seven of his nine points from the line), but that seemed to open the door for Lofton to make a difference. The Bonnies point guard had a game-high 23 points and five assists.
“The freshmen don’t play like freshmen,” Schmidt said. “Kyle in my opinion was the best guy on the court. You know, the veteran guys, we win, we beat Rhode Island, a heck of a team by 17 and our best player goes 1-for-11. It says a lot about the other guys on our team.”
Cox referred to the loss as “the end” in his opening statement to the media. Later, when pressed on if his team would accept a postseason invitation, he clarified his thoughts.
“We would more than likely – we would definitely accept an NIT bid. As far as the others, that would be a conversations that I’d probably have with my athletic department.”
The NIT bracket will be released Sunday night, directly following the NCAA Selection Show. A longshot at a bid, the Rams will likely just head into the offseason looking to regroup for next year.
“They all just need rest,” Cox said. “I’ve played those guys so many minutes. Think about Cyril, Fatts and Jeff, in particular, the minutes that they logged for this season, the beating that they took, and then, you know, some of the freshmen, even Tyrese, I think they just need rest and they will be reevaluated.
“But as far as anything, you know, as far as surgery or anything really serious, no, I don’t anticipate any of that at this point.”