Young Rams hitting the road for December
KINGSTON — There’s nothing more difficult for inexperienced teams than to take their act on the road. Things that work inside the comfortable confines of a home gym suddenly abandon young players playing in front of unfriendly fans.
The Rams have already taken their share of lumps away from the Ryan Center so far this year, losing both their road contests and failing to reach the 60-point plateau in either game. Two losses don’t determine a season, but for a team about to spend nearly the entire month of December away from home, it’s critical to be able to travel well.
“We’ve talked about it a lot, but it’s something you just have to experience,” coach David Cox said of playing in front of a hostile crowd. “We talked about it prior to the Charleston game. We went down there and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. That had a lot to do with the atmosphere.
“We have to get over the hump. I’m hoping with a few more days of preparation, we’ll be ready for Holy Cross.”
“A lot of people get those nervous jitters,” guard Jeff Dowtin said. “Butterflies on the road, you’re not playing in front of the home crowd. We’ve been telling the guys to focus and lock in. Don’t get involved with the crowd, just play your game.”
URI will play five road or neutral-site games before returning to the Ryan Center on December 30 for a game against Middle Tennessee. The Crusaders are first up on the long winter trip. Bill Carmody’s team is 6-3, sporting wins over Stony Brook and UMass. This will be the fourth straight year the two teams have played.
The familiarity with the Crusaders goes beyond the court. With Carmody running the Princeton offense, Cox feels he has an advantage preparing for his team’s next opponent.
“You have to change up a lot of what you do,” he said. “I’ve coached in the Princeton system and I’ve had every Princeton scout since I’ve been here and probably prior to that. I’m very, very familiar with that offense.
“It’s a read-and-react system. People think about Princeton, you initially think about back-door cuts. It’s a lot more than that.”
Cox spoke of how the Crusaders – and others running the Princeton system – typically use their center to put the opposing defense on their heels. Bringing their big man out to the free throw or 3-point line forces players into uncomfortable spots that they’re not used to playing defense at.
“Their center is a very good passer and ball-handler,” Cox said. “They put you in positions where you’re not normally used to guarding.”
“They play a matchup, 2-3 zone,” Dowtin said, looking at the defensive end. “We’re going to have to be able to make open shots.”
That’s been an issue. The Rams are still second-to-last nationally in 3-point shooting percentage. During a practice session on Tuesday, the team participated in a drill originally instituted by former head coach Dan Hurley. In a non-stop, five-minute session, five players have to collectively hit 100 jump shots. On Tuesday, they hit 91.
“One thing we don’t do is lose confidence,” Dowtin said. “I have confidence in my teammates, and myself as well. We’ve been working on our shots, a lot of the mechanics.
“It’s hard to play tough defense for 40 minutes, then not make shots on offense. Not finishing. That hurts us a lot.”
Some of the poor offensive performances have led to criticisms of Ram players and coaches. Dowtin has stepped up and taken the blame for his teammates struggles, all while appreciating Coach Cox’s attempts to shield his players.
“I’ve been stepping up as a leader,” Dowtin said. “When my guys aren’t doing what they should be doing, I take full responsibility for that. We have to find different ways to get them going early.
“Coach Cox will take all the bullets for us. But at the end of the day, the players are on the court. We gotta put our shoes on and play the game of basketball.”
When they lace up against the Crusaders, they will face a team that is ranked 115th in both 3-point shooting and 3-point defense. Holy Cross has been a very poor rebounding team – bottom third nationally on both offense and defense – which could lead to yet another double-double for Cyril Langevine.
Today’s game against the Crusaders starts at 1:05 at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass. Live coverage can be accessed at watchstadium.com.
URI freshman Jermaine Harris (0) and the Rams have struggled on the road. The Rams travel to Worcester tomorrow to face Holy Cross.