They can do it. They can win. The University of Rhode Island can beat Oregon Sunday night at Sacramento.
Sure, Oregon (30-5) is seeded No. 3 in the Midwest Regional and URI No. 11. Sure, the Ducks have Dillon Brooks, the Pac-12 player of the year, and Jordan Bell, the Pac-12 defensive player of the year. And they have a former blue chip recruit in sophomore shooting guard Tyler Dorsey, who scored 24 points in Oregon’s 93-77 rout of Iona in the first round Friday.
But they don’t have forward Chris Boucher, who tore the ACL in his left knee in Oregon’s Pac-12 semifinal victory over California.
URI (25-9) should not be intimidated. The Rams are one of the hottest teams in the nation, having won nine games in a row, their longest winning streak in nine years, and 13 of their last 15. They have won nine consecutive games away from the Ryan Center and are playing with more confidence than they had at the beginning of the season, when they were nationally ranked.
After the Rams dismantled his team, 84-72, in the first round Friday, Creighton coach Greg McDermott complimented URI as a Top 25 team that on the right night can beat anybody in the NCAA Tournament.
Here’s why. Guard E.C. Matthews has started every game, is averaging 14.9 points and is one of the best all-around players in the Atlantic-10 Conference. Forward Hassan Martin, a shot-blocking machine with 72 in his 28 starts, is the best defensive player in the conference. He is averaging 7 rebounds. He can score as well, as his 14.1 average attests. They were named to the U.S. Basketball Writers Association All-District I (New England) team. Junior guard Jared Terrell and senior forward Kuran Iverson have started every game. Terrell is averaging 12.5 points, Iverson 9.4. Iverson is URI’s top rebounder with a 7.4 average.
They are the likely leaders when URI wins.
But talent on this team runs deep. Freshman point guard Jeff Dowtin scored 23 points, his career high, in the Creighton victory. He made the A-10 All-Rookie team. Freshman forward Cyril Langevine is playing only 13.1 minutes but averaging 4.3 rebounds. Stanford Robinson, a junior guard, has played in every game and is averaging 6.1 points and 2.6 rebounds.
To beat Oregon, URI will have to come up with another superb defensive effort and avoid long scoring droughts. The Rams have played ahead most of this post-season. They will have to remain poised if they fall behind the talented, athletic Ducks.
URI can win this game and advance to the Sweet 16. Now the Rams just have to do it.