URI fights off La Salle for share of A-10 title
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jeff Dowtin atoned for his miscue.
He scored 25 points, including making 11 of 12 free throws, to help Rhode Island clinch a share of the Atlantic 10 regular season title with a 95-93 overtime victory over La Salle on Tuesday night.
In last Friday’s loss to St. Bonaventure, which snapped the Rams’ 16-game win streak, Dowtin missed a free throw that would have tied the game in the final seconds. This time, Dowtin was perfect in the clutch, hitting two with six seconds left in regulation and four in the final 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.”
After the loss to the Bonnies, the Rams got home around 1 a.m. Saturday. Dowtin didn’t go right to sleep. Instead, he worked on his free throws.
“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. He showed everything he was about with the game he played both defensively on (Pookie) Powell and then how he delivered clutch free throw after clutch free throw after missing a big one the other night.”
Dowtin, who also had seven assists, five rebounds and three steals, led five Rams in double figures. Stanford Robinson had 20 points, Jared Terrell had 14, E.C. Matthews had 13 and Fatts Russell had 10 off the bench.
La Salle was led by B.J. Johnson, who posted a career-high 23 rebounds to go with 29 points. Johnson had a double-double in the first half with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Rams (22-4, 14-1 Atlantic 10) trailed 30-18 midway through the first half before going on a 14-0 run and taking a 39-37 halftime lead.
“We just had to fight,” Dowtin said. “We came out real sluggish. Everybody didn’t come ready to play.”
Rhode Island never trailed in the second half and led 81-78 with three seconds left. The Rams purposely fouled Powell, who made the first and intentionally missed the second. Tony Washington snared the long rebound and made the putback to tie the game at 81 at the end of regulation.
“That was a crazy play they had. That rarely happens, but it happened,” Matthews said.
Cyril Langevine scored four straight to give the Rams a 91-87 lead with 2:20 left in OT. Trailing 91-90, La Salle had two chances to take its first lead since the first half but couldn’t convert, as Johnson missed a jumper and committed a turnover.
“As a coach, I feel terrible about (it),” La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini said. “We didn’t get anything out of those two possessions where we had a chance to win the game, and that’s on me.”
Dowtin hit two free throws to give Rhode Island a 3-point lead, and the Rams again intentionally fouled Powell, this time with 3.2 seconds left. Powell again made the first -- and accidentally made the second. After Dowtin made two more, the Explorers tried the same tactic yet again but were called for a lane violation, and the Rams claimed at least a tie for the conference title.
“That’s an amazing accomplishment,” 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.”
Saul Phiri added 16 points, and Miles Brookins scored 13 for La Salle (11-17, 5-10).
“I thought it was a great college basketball game,” Giannini said. “The kids played their hearts out on both teams. Tremendous drama. They were one play better than us.”
Rhode Island: With one more win or losses by both Davidson and St. Bonaventure, the Rams will clinch the first outright A-10 title in team history. In 1980-81, the Rams finished tied for a share of the Eastern Eight regular season title. The 14 conference victories match a team record.
La Salle: The Explorers are now 9-4 at home this season and have lost five straight to Rhode Island at Tom Gola Arena. Johnson’s previous career-high in rebounds was 16 against Miami in November of last year.
Rhode Island: Hosts Dayton on Friday.
La Salle: Saturday at Fordham.