Rhode Island shoots for conference title against Dayton (Feb 22, 2018)
No. 18 Rhode Island is one win away from clinching its first outright Atlantic 10 regular-season title in program history.
The Rams can accomplish that feat on Friday when they host Dayton with only three regular-season games remaining.
In 1980-81, the Rams finished tied for a share of the Eastern Eight regular-season title.
The Rams (22-4, 14-1 Atlantic 10) are already assured of at least a tie for the conference title. The 14 conference victories match a team record.
"That's an amazing accomplishment," Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley said. "The older players have been here. They put this program in uncharted territory this year with everything they've accomplished. It's a special group. Obviously, we had to do it the hard way, but winning a championship is never easy."
Hurley is thankful sophomore guard Jeff Dowtin atoned for his mistake at the free throw line in a loss to St. Bonaventure last week by converting crucial free throws in a 95-93 overtime win at La Salle on Tuesday night.
Included in his 25 points was an 11-of-12 free-throw-shooting performance. In the 77-74 loss to St. Bonaventure, which snapped Rhode Island's 16-game winning streak, he missed a free throw that would have tied the game in the closing seconds.
Against La Salle, he made two free throws with six seconds left in regulation and four in the last five seconds of overtime.
"I know last game I didn't play to the best of my abilities," Dowtin said. "I'm going to take that to heart. I really thought I let the team down. My teammates really picked me up this game and feeding off them -- that really helped us get the win."
Instead of going to sleep when Rhode Island arrived home close to 1 a.m. on Saturday, Dowtin went to the gym to work on his free-throw shooting.
"He was shooting free throws in the Ryan Center, witnesses said until sometime around 3:30 in the morning and was in there all day Saturday," Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley said. "He's the type of kid that -- he's a winner. He's poised. He's composed."
Dayton (13-14, 7-8) enter Friday's game coming off a three-point win over visiting Saint Louis on Tuesday. The Flyers have won consecutive games over Fordham and Saint Louis after losing six of eight games.
They have only one win in a true road game, at Richmond 87-81 on Jan. 9. They lost at home to Rhode Island 88-74 on Jan. 20.
Junior forward Josh Cunningham had a career-high 32 points with 12 rebounds in the loss to the Rams.
Scoring was at a minimum in the 53-50 win over Saint Louis on Tuesday. First-year Dayton coach Anthony Grant, formerly the coach at Alabama and VCU and a Dayton alum, said the game against the Billikens was an "old-fashioned slugfest and defensive battle, and it was great to see our guys be up for the challenge."
Redshirt freshman forward Kostas Antetokounmpo, younger brother of NBA players Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, had eight points in the second half to go along with a block of a late 3-point attempt. He had three of the Flyers' four blocked shots, and finished with a career-high 12 points.
"Kostas came in a gave us a great lift," Grant said. "Tonight he really stepped up and was huge for us. I thought he impacted the game on both sides. He was a force in there today."