It was a successful night in Kingston, as the Rhody Rams started their season 1-0 after their season opener 76-65 over LIU Brooklyn. LIU is entering its first season since LIU Brooklyn and LIU Post merged into one team, and are predicted to win the Northeast Conference according to the preseason poll. However, the Sharks struggled to get anything going last night as Raiquan Clark was forced to watch from the sidelines due to a one-game suspension. Clark was a unanimous pick for the league’s preseason all-conference team, averaging 19.4 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game.
For many, this game served as an opportunity to evaluate what to expect from this year’s URI team. There is certainly plenty to be optimistic about, as the Rams had five players in double digits for scoring and limited LIU to just 32.4% shooting. Let’s take a dive into some specific takeaways from last night.
One thing that the 2018-19 Rhode Island lacked was experience, there was not a single senior who contributed significant minutes. That is most definitely not the case for this year’s team as seniors Jeff Dowtin and Cyril Langevine return, as well as junior Fatts Russell. All three of these players were named to preseason A10 teams, and if URI is going anywhere this year it is going to be behind the leadership of these three.
Rhody fans should be happy with what they saw from the trio last night. Cyril Langevine lived up to his reputation as a glass cleaner, gobbling 15 rebounds. Eight of those boards came on the offensive end, contributing to his 16 points. Perhaps the biggest positive from URI veterans was Fatts Russell’s distribution of the ball. Not only did Fatts score 18 points, but he also had a career-high seven assists.
Coach Cox is not surprised, “hopefully you have seen the evolution of this guy as a point guard.”
Jeff Dowtin also impressed, with 13 points/6 rebounds/3 assists. His 5-14 shooting left something to be desired, but he impressed with 3-7 shooting from 3. If Dowtin can emerge as a reliable 40%+ shooter from 3, he adds a deadly element to this offense.
Taking the Next Step
The sophomore trio of Jermaine Harris, Dana Tate, and Tyrese Martin are all looking to take the next step this year. With a year of experience now under their belts, these three all of the tools to become solid contributors for the Rams.
Harris and Tate both struggled last night, Harris in particular. An issue he had last year was foul trouble, and he certainly didn’t help to dispell that reputation last night. Jermaine had 0 points and 4 fouls, one of which was a Flagrant 1. Harris was a prized recruit, but he is obviously not going to be able to contribute if he is only on the floor for 14:40 because of foul trouble.
Dana Tate is a player with tons of potential and the opportunity is there for him to become an offensive weapon off the bench. Although he averaged only 4.0 points per game, he had 15 vs. Middle Tennessee and 12 vs. VCU in the A10 Tournament. Dana has added muscle and will serve as the 6th man for this team. Fans shouldn’t undervalue Tate after his five-point performance, but rather be patient with the sophomore.
Tyrese Martin was anticipated to make the biggest leap this year, and he looked great in last night’s win. Martin contributed 13 points with 8 rebounds, and undoubtedly will be a major scorer for the Rams this year. He shot 3-6 from beyond the arc, an area where the team notoriously struggled last year. If he can stretch the floor with consistent shooting, it will make things easier for Cyril inside, and patch up the team’s biggest weakness from last year.
This offseason, many fans awaited the addition of Antwan Walker from Georgetown, and rightfully so. However, when the NCAA denied his waiver, along with JuCo transfer Jeremy Sheppard, Coach Cox knew his young players would have to step up.
He said there was a series of, “closed-door meetings,” after the waivers fell through. Freshmen Mekhi Long, Gregory Hammond, and Jacob Toppin were all going to have to be thrown into the fire. Cox put, “an emphasis on creating a role and preparing in such a manner for the young guys.”
Long and Hammond both added solid minutes, but Jacob Toppin stole the show. If there is one headline from last night – it is the emergence of Toppin. The 6’8″, 190-pound freshmen from Brooklyn was known to many as the brother of Obi Toppin from Dayton. However, Jacob is going to make his own mark on the A10. Ram fans knew about his athleticism after his 360 dunk vs. RIC, but he exceeded expectations last night. He added 11 points on 3-6, 7 rebounds, a putback dunk and chase down block in just 16 minutes.
Pleasant surprise for @RhodyMBB tonight. True freshman Jacob Toppin chipped in 11p/7r(4o)/1b in 16 minutes. Raw athleticism evident including a sweet putback jam. ⬇️
— Morey Hershgordon (@MHershgordon) November 6, 2019
Coach Cox gave props to Jacob and said he knew he would have increased minutes with Walker out. “He’s confident, long, athletic, I thought his defensive effort was really good.”
What’s Up Next?
Next up, the Rams will take on #7 Maryland this Saturday at 9:00 PM. The Terrapins will host this matchup in College Park as URI takes on their first marquee opponent in their difficult non-conference schedule. Maryland is led by Anthony Cowan Jr., a senior guard who paced the team in scoring in 2018 with 15.6 points per game on 39.3%/ 33.7%/ 80.6%. They also added 7’2″ Chol Marial, a five-star recruit from Compass Prep. The Rams will not be favored, but this will great a test for a team looking to rise to the top of the A10. If URI can pull off this victory it will not only give them a team a massive morale boost, but also an incredible resume builder in March.
To quote Cyril Langevine, “put us up against anyone and we’re ready for the competition.”