The Rhode Island Rams became the third No. 11 seed to win in the first round of the 2017 NCAA tournament after they upset the sixth-seeded Creighton Bluejays 84-72 Friday afternoon in Sacramento, California.
In January, the Jays lost starting point guard Maurice Watson Jr. for the remainder of the year after he suffered a torn ACL. Creighton entered the NCAA tournament with a 7-8 record following his injury, compared to an 18-1 mark before he went down.
The absence of their dynamic player was a glaring problem for the Bluejays. Compounding their problems was the fact their top two leading scorers, Marcus Foster and Justin Patton, shot a combined 9-of-29 from the field for 23 points.
Patton also fouled out with 3:50 left in the game.
Sporting News' Sam Vecenie tweeted the 7-footer's future will be a major storyline around Creighton in the offseason:
Rhode Island was in the driver's seat for much of the game. Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis praised how the Rams looked early on:
Rhode Island led by seven points at halftime, 33-26, and the team's advantage grew to 10 points early in the second half when Hassan Martin scored inside despite contact by Patton, courtesy of NCAA March Madness:
A little less than seven minutes later, E.C. Matthews made it a double-digit game again, 51-41, after getting the steal and finishing at the other end:
Matthews was one of five Rams starters to score at least 12 points. Although he only shot 3-of-12 from the field, he was a perfect 10-of-10 from the charity stripe to finish with 16 points.
Jeff Dowtin also sunk all 10 of his free-throw attempts en route to scoring a game-high 23 points.
Rhode Island won't able to celebrate Friday's win for too long. The Rams will play the third-seeded Oregon Ducks on Sunday.
The Ducks are without a key player as well after Chris Boucher suffered a torn ACL. Oregon didn't look much worse without him in a 93-77 victory over the Iona Gaels.
The Jays got to the line 31 times Friday and missed only three free throws, which helped offset their dreadful game from beyond the arc (4-of-21).
In order to beat Oregon, Rhode Island will need more consistent shooting on the perimeter.
Creighton head coach Greg McDermott praised a senior class that helped the Jays return to the NCAA tournament after two years of missing out on the Big Dance, per Josh Planos of KETV in Omaha, Nebraska:
McDermott also had a strong assessment of the Rams' quality.
"That's a team that on the right night, can beat anybody in this tournament," he said, per the Independent's William Geoghegan.
Rhode Island may benefit from head coach Dan Hurley's familial ties. His brother, Bobby, coaches the Arizona State Sun Devils. The elder Hurley has plenty of experience facing off with Oregon, which Dan said he'll use to his advantage.
"It was kind of a vacation trip for Bob," he said of his brother watching the tournament, according to Bill Koch of the Providence Journal. "Now facing Oregon it's kind of a working trip for him."