How fortunate are we Rhode Islanders to have had two teams in the NCAA men's basketball tournament?
Most fortunate, I’d say, considering the other five New England states have a grand total of zero teams in the tournament.
That’s right. Zero. Maine, New Hampshire, Dartmouth and Vermont didn’t make it. UMass, Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern, Harvard, Holy Cross? Sorry. UConn, Yale, Fairfield, Sacred Heart? Not this year.
But we had two, thanks to the University of Rhode Island and Providence College. URI (26-7), the Atlantic-10 regular-season champion and runner-up in the A-10 tournament, advanced to the second round with its 83-78 overtime victory over Oklahoma on Thursday at Pittsburgh. The Rams will face a huge challenge on Saturday when they play Duke (27-7), an 89-67 winner over Iona (20-14) on Thursday. The Blue Devils are the top-ranked team in the Midwest Regional, the Rams No. 7.
Providence (21-14) lost to Texas A&M (21-12) , 73-69, in a first-round game Friday at Charlotte. This was the fifth consecutive NCAA appearance for the Friars, a school record, and proof of excellent recruiting and coaching by Ed Cooley and his staff and execution by their players. But it was PC's fourth loss in those five tournament appearances.
Providence could have won this game with better shooting. The Aggies missed their first 10 shots and turned the ball over four times in the early going, but the Friars sank only four of their first 13 attempts and shot 33 percent in the first half. Texas A&M got it going and led 28-27 at the break.
Texas A&M went on a 10-0 run in the second half, but Providence rallied and tied the score, 50-50. The Aggies responded with a 12-2 surge from which the Friars never recovered.
Rhody won a thriller on Thursday. Tied 69-69 after 40 minutes, the Rams trailed the Sooners, 72-69, with 3:24 to play in OT. Then Cyril Langevine made a layup, E.C. Matthews buried a three-pointer, Langevine, who had missed his two free throws in the first half, sank a pair with 1:03 to play, Matthews threw in another three-pointer, and Langevine made two free throws with 18 seconds left for an 81-74 URI lead. Fatts Russell added two free throws with 11 ticks on the clock.
A pair of three-pointers from Rhody’s senior leader, four consecutive free throws from a unlikely free-throw artist, and a pair of free throws from a freshman, Russell, who had given the Rams a lift in the second half. It doesn’t get more balanced than that.
So the beat goes on for at least one more game. The only URI team to win 27 games in a season was the 1988 Sweet 16 crew that finished 28-7. Perhaps we will be fortunate enough to see this team match that record.