URI, PC punch tickets to NCAA Tournament

(WPRI) – For the first time since 1997, both the University of Rhode Island and Providence College will play in the NCAA Tournament in the same year.

The Rams earned an 11 seed and will take on Creighton in the first round Friday in Sacramento, California. The Friars earned an 11 seed and will face USC in a play-in game in Dayton, Ohio. The Friars beat USC in their regular season after a last-minute buzzer beater. If they win the play-in game Wednesday, they’ll play 6 seed SMU in the first round.

Rhode Island was considered to be on the NCAA Tournament bubble prior to Sunday but their first Atlantic 10 conference championship since 1999 sealed the deal. The Rams beat Virginia Commonwealth Sunday afternoon, 70-63, to punch their ticket to the big dance for the first time in 18 years.

“We came into the tournament feeling like this would be our story,” URI Head Coach Dan Hurley said after his team’s A-10 win Sunday. “You know, we felt like we were the best team in the conference the last several games, and we were coming in with a lot of momentum and we felt that we were gonna win here this weekend. We felt like our team was primed to do it, hungry to do it, and we had the resiliency to do it.”

Hurley added, “I think about two things, you know. I think about my players, you know, and my love for them. How desperately I wanted my seniors to have this moment, and we want it for our fans. Eighteen years of suffering, difficult late season collapses, buzzer beaters, everything just kind of falling apart. It’s just a wonderful state. It’s a small state with a huge heart and they deserve this type of shine today.”

E.C. Matthews was named the A-10 “Most Outstanding Player” after the Rams win Sunday.

“It doesn’t feel like reality; It doesn’t feel true,” said Matthews after the game. “I’m speechless and I’m just happy. I’m trying to be a part of something that’s real big.”

Providence will be going to the tournament for a program record fourth consecutive year. The Friars won six games in a row prior to losing to Creighton in the Big East quarterfinals.

“Coming off a loss, gotta pick ourselves up and bounce back really well,” said PC Guard Kyron Cartwright of the team’s recent loss.

“It’s never bittersweet anytime you have the opportunity to go to the tournament,” said Coach Cooley moments after the Friars were called in Selection Sunday. “You know, we had to sneak in there through some hard work. Everybody can be upset but us cause we’re the ones that play the game. We’re excited to play USC […] and hopefully advance.”