The Atlantic 10 is as strong as its been in years—and that means a tough road ahead for Rhode Island.
The 22nd-ranked Rams look to bounce back from a loss in their conference opener when they host Duquesne on Sunday.
Rhode Island (14-2, 0-1) fell 92-83 on Wednesday to No. 17 Dayton in a matchup between two of the three Atlantic 10 teams, along with No. 24 Xavier, ranked in the top 25. The Atlantic 10 had not had three ranked teams since 2003.
The Rams, who had won nine straight, had been off to their best start since the 1946-47 team began 15-1.
“This is our league, and these are the types of games you face night in and night out,” coach Jim Baron told Rhode Island’s official team Web site.
While Duquesne (11-3, 1-0) isn’t ranked, it doesn’t figure to be a pushover for the Rams. The Dukes’ 74-62 win over Fordham in their conference opener on Wednesday gave them 11 wins—one more than they had a season ago.
Duquesne went 10-19 last season, overcoming the preseason shootings of five players, including Shawn James, Kojo Mensah and Reggie Jackson. The Dukes, whose only two winning seasons over the last 27 years came in 1985-86 and 1993-94, were just 3-24 in 2005-06 but are currently off to their best start since the 1979-80 team was 12-3.
“It might mean more in some other years, but the conference has three teams in the Top 25, so that doesn’t mean a whole lot,” coach Ron Everhart said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Rams will be hoping for a stronger defensive effort against the Dukes after allowing Dayton to score more points and shoot a higher percentage (62.0) than any other opponent this season. Duquesne leads the Atlantic 10 with 87.2 points per game.
“We’re a resilient team, we don’t back down or give up,” said guard Jimmy Baron, the son of coach Jim Baron. “We have a lot of offense on this team. We just have to bring the same effort defensively.”
Baron had 26 points and Will Daniels added 25 on Wednesday for the Rams, who are averaging 88.8 points over their last six games—more than five over their season average. Their only other defeat came on Nov. 21, a 76-72 loss at Boston College.
“We didn’t do a good job on the defensive end tonight. We need to watch the film, see what we need to do better, and improve,” Daniels said. “It all starts with our ‘D.’”
Rhode Island is 7-0 at home, where it is averaging 87.3 points and outscoring opponents by nearly 22 points per game.
In order to stay undefeated on their own floor, however, the Rams will likely have to figure out James, who is just eight blocked shots shy of becoming the 18th Division I player with 400 in his career. He had three blocks, along with 14 points and seven rebounds, against Fordham and already has 60 blocks this season, tying Derrick Alston’s school record set in 1991-92 and again in 1992-93.
Jackson chipped in 15 points against Fordham while Mensah, who leads the team with 14.4 points per game, had nine.
“We have a lot to prove,” James said. “We’re trying to become an Atlantic 10 championship team here.”
James may play against his younger brother Delroy, who has played in just five games this season for Rhode Island, for the first time. Delroy James missed last season because of eligibility issues.