Fans around the Atlantic 10 Conference grew tired of hearing the names Scoochie Smith, Kendall Pollard and Kyle Davis over the past four seasons. Their large roles with the Dayton Flyers, especially in the last three seasons, made them household names. It seemed as if they had been around forever by the time last March arrived.
Rhode Island finds itself in the same position this season. The Rams have four senior guards who have combined to make 451 appearances in college basketball games.
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The most familiar names in that group are E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett. In 2016 at UD Arena, Garrett and Terrell combined to score 29 points against Dayton in a 75-66 victory, a game Matthews missed with a knee injury. The other player in the group, Stanford Robinson, a fifth-year senior like Matthews, played his first two seasons at Indiana.
Rhode Island ranks 35th in the country in experience. That’s one reason it will be favored to beat Dayton, which ranks 300th, at 1 p.m. Saturday at UD Arena.
“Rhode Island is a good team,” Dayton senior guard Darrell Davis said Thursday. “Great backcourt. We’ve got to come out and play hard. We know it’s going to be a hard-fought game. We just have to come out with a will to win.”
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No Atlantic 10 team has finished the conference schedule with a perfect record since George Washington (16-0) in 2006. It’s unlikely Rhode Island (14-3, 6-0) will do so with the 18-game A-10 schedule. However, considering the state of the rest of the league, it has as good a chance as any team in recent memory.
The Rams have produced their best start in conference play through six games and have won 14 straight A-10 games dating back to last season when they won the conference tournament in Pittsburgh.
While Dayton (9-9, 3-3) saw its first two-game winning streak snapped Wednesday with an 81-65 loss at St. Joseph’s, Rhode Island has won nine in a row, beating five of its six A-10 opponents by double digits. Matthews missed the first five games with a broken wrist. The Rams haven’t lost since he returned.
“I think it’s just a good start for us — it’s just a starting point, though,” Terrell told the Providence Journal on Wednesday after a 73-51 victory against Massachusetts. “We can do a lot more with this team. I think we can be very special.”
Rhode Island is the only A-10 team with a chance to earn an at-large selection in the NCAA Tournament. It beat two RPI top-50 teams, No. 13 Seton Hall and No. 43 Providence in non-conference play, and it has lost only to teams ranked in the top 30 of the RPI: No. 4 Virginia, No. 17 Nevada and No. 28 Alabama.
Rhode Island stood alone in first place entering the weekend ahead of Davidson (9-6, 4-1) and Duquesne (13-6, 4-2). Five teams at 3-3, including Dayton, trailed Rhode Island by three games.
The Flyers have beaten two of the teams expected to contend in the A-10, St. Bonaventure and Virginia Commonwealth, raising the hopes they can record an upset Saturday. It would continue a theme that has seen the Flyers alternate wins and losses, with two exceptions, all season.
To beat the Rams, Dayton will have to forget its performance Wednesday in Philadelphia.
“We have to have the focus, the effort, a level of consistency, and the will and desire to compete every time we take the floor,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “We just don’t have the talent, the margin for error that when we don’t bring those things to the court that we’re good enough to be able to go on the road against any opponent in our league and have success.”
Rhode Island at Dayton, 1 p.m., CBS Sports Network, FM 95.7, AM 1290 WHIO