Sacramento, Calif. — Dan Hurley stole an occasional glance at the raucous Rhode Island section and realized just how much this NCAA Tournament means to a starved program, and to an entire state that loves its basketball even if far more under the radar than so many of the others featuring powerhouse programs.
Who could blame them? Back in the tournament for the first time in 18 years, these Rams are on a roll they hope lasts a little longer.
Jeff Dowtin scored a career-high 23 points with a perfect day at the free-throw line, upstart Rhode Island answered every threat and the Rams ran right into the next round of the NCAA Tournament by stunning cold-shooting No. 6 seed Creighton 84-72 on Friday in an opener of the Midwest Regional.
“The emotion from them, it almost felt like 18 years’ worth of excitement, and they really inspired the guys,” Hurley said.
Kuran Iverson scored 17 and Hassan Martin 12 as 11th-seeded Rhode Island (25-9) earned its ninth straight victory.
The program won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since advancing to the Elite Eight and losing to Stanford in 1998.
Ronnie Harrell Jr. scored a career-high 15 in Creighton’s 40 percent shooting day when little went right — like all the missed layups.
Hurley couldn’t wait to build happier memories in Sacramento, where his older brother Bobby survived a life-threatening car wreck as an NBA rookie with the Kings in December 1993.
His team hit the court for loose balls, crashed the boards with energy and found a way to withstand every spurt by the Bluejays (25-10).
The Rams made a lot of free throws, too.
E.C. Matthews (Romulus) coolly converted two chances from the line with 2:32 left and made all 10 of his free throws on his way to 16 points. Dowtin also hit all 10 from the line as URI went an impressive 28 of 31 on free throws in all.
And what fun for all those blue-clad Rams fans who traveled cross-country from Kingston through a major Northeast snowstorm for California’s capital to witness the program’s milestone moment.
“Across the bench, it was amazing that they were there and we could see ‘em and they were loud,” Dan Hurley said.
Oh yes, and Bobby Hurley was there in the stands at Golden 1 Center — along with the rest of their basketball-crazed support system featuring Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley Sr. Bobby Hurley is the Arizona State head coach, and now will be called upon for his “Pac-12 intel” on URI’s next opponent, Oregon.
“Honestly, it feels like I’m dreaming,” Martin said.
Louisville 78, Jacksonville State 63: Mangok Mathiang scored 18 points and Deng Adel added 16 to help second-seeded Louisville pull away. The Cardinals play Michigan in the second round on Sunday. The Cardinals (25-8) have won five straight opening round games. Louisville was making its first postseason appearance since 2015 after sitting out last year because of a one-year, school-imposed postseason ban for alleged recruiting violations. Norbertas Giga scored 30 points for 15th-seeded Jacksonville State (20-15), which was one of a record five teams making their first tourney appearance.
Kansas 100, UC Davis 62: Frank Mason III scored 22 points and had eight assists for top-seeded Kansas, which moves on to face Michigan State on Sunday. Freshman Josh Jackson, making his return after a one-game suspension for an accumulation of embarrassing incidents, added 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting for the Jayhawks (29-5).
Oregon 93, Iona 77: At Sacramento, Calif., Tyler Dorsey scored 24 to lead four players in double figures for the Ducks (30-5). Jordan Washington finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds in his final college game for the Gaels (22-13).
Baylor 91, New Mexico State 73: At Tulsa, Okla., Al Freeman came off the bench to score 21 for, Baylor. Jo Lual-Acuil scored 16 points and Johnathan Motley had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Bears (26-7), who were upset in the first round by Georgia State and Yale the previous two years. Ian Baker and Braxton Huggins each scored 19 for New Mexico State (28-6).
Duke 87, Troy 65: Grayson Allen had 21 points off five 3-pointers, and Jayson Tatum had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Duke. The Blue Devils (29-7) became the first team to win four games on the way to the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament crown last week. They kept up that pace in blowing past the 15th-seeded Trojans (22-15).
South Carolina 93, Marquette 73: Sindarius Thornwell had 29 points and 11 rebounds to help seventh-seeded South Carolina win its first NCAA Tournament game in 44 years.
Wichita State 64, Dayton 58: Wichita State's high-flying offense didn't get off the ground until the closing minutes, when the Shockers played like the more tournament-experienced team and pulled away. The 10th-seeded Shockers (31-4) won their 16th in a row — the second-longest streak in school history — by clamping down on defense and swatting away shots down the stretch. Wichita State blocked eight shots and held the seventh-seeded Flyers (24-8) to a season-low 31 percent from the field.
Kentucky 79, Northern Kentucky 70: Bam Adebayo had 15 points and 18 rebounds as Kentucky gritted out a victory over stubborn Northern Kentucky. The second-seeded Wildcats (30-5) won their 12th straight and got their first-game jitters out of the way. They also wound up with a surprisingly close finish after pulling ahead by 18 points in the second half.
UCLA 97, Kent State 80: TJ Leaf scored 23 points, Thomas Welsh added 16 and UCLA pulled away late over scrappy Kent State. UCLA (30-4) jumped out to a 14-point lead in the opening minutes, only to have its defensive issues rise up again. The third-seeded Bruins had numerous breakdowns and let Kent State claw back into it by halftime, eventually stretching the lead midway through the second half.
Kansas State 75, Cincinnati 61: Troy Caupain scored 23 points, Kyle Washington added 16 and defensive-minded Cincinnati shot its way past Kansas State. Cincinnati (30-5) was knocked out the first round a year ago and No. 6 seeds were 0-3 before the Bearcats took the floor, with Maryland, Creighton and SMU all losing to No. 11 seeds.
North Carolina 103, Texas Southern 64: At Greenville, S.C., Justin Jackson scored 21 for the Tar Heels (28-7). Kevin Scott scored 19 for Jackson State (23-12).
Arkansas 77, Seton Hall 71: At Greenville, Jaylen Barford, who scored 20, hit the go-ahead layup with 57.8 seconds left for Arkansas (26-9). .