Young Rams hit­ting the road for De­cem­ber

Pawtucket Times - - SPORTS - By COLBY COT­TER ccot­[email protected]­cen­tral.com

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.

File photo

URI fresh­man Jer­maine Har­ris (0) and the Rams have strug­gled on the road. The Rams travel to Worces­ter to­mor­row to face Holy Cross.

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