Nov. 7, 2010
By MATT SWISS
GoRhody.com Staff Writer
KINGSTON, R.I. -- When Rhode Island and Pittsburgh kick off the 2010-11 college basketball season on Monday night (7 p.m., ESPNU) as part of the 2K Sports Classic Benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer, it will feature two teams who have enjoyed plenty of non-conference success over the past four years.
The Panthers - ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll and fourth on the coaches poll - have compiled a 75-1 home record against non-conference opponents at the Petersen Events Center.
Dan Szramowski, Rhody's director of basketball operations, spent five years as team manager for the Panthers, and remembers many of those victories - and even the lone loss to Bucknell on Jan. 2, 2005. He knows exactly what the Rhody players can expect to see Monday night.
"The place will be packed," Szramowski said. "It will ll remind the guys who were here last year of when we went down to Virginia Tech for the NIT."
The Runnin' Rams - who have played big games in big venues over the last three seasons - appear just as confident as ever heading into their season-opener.
"Especially for the guys who were here back when we played at Duke," Szramowski added, "they know the atmosphere they are walking into. They know the caliber of the team that we are about to play and they really know what it takes to get it done."
Delroy James has seen this sort of thing before and has shined when the spotlight has been at its brightest, whether it has been at Duke, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, or Madison Square Garden versus North Carolina.
"We are playing another good, solid basketball team and we all know what we have to do," senior co-captain Delroy James said. "You cannot be worried about it - you just have to go out there and play your type of game. Everybody wants to come out and prove that they are better than they were last year, so it is a big basketball game for both of us."
"If we are scared to play, we should not even go down there," senior Will Martell said. "It will be a really tough challenge for us, this first game, but I think we are all up for it."
"It is going to be a good atmosphere to play in," senior forward Ben Eaves said. "People say it is early, well they are early in their season too. Everybody is in the same boat. Every team has new faces, guys who have left and moved on, and guys who are trying to step up to the plate this year. It should be an exciting game."
The Runnin' Rams will also have to rely on some younger, less experienced players. Sophomore Akeem Richmond, who stepped up with 13 points in Rhode Island's dramatic win at Virginia Tech last year, and Nikola Malesevic, who hit the biggest shot of the game against Oklahoma State, will be called upon early and often for sure.
"Well first of all, they're a good team," Malesevic said. "They're pretty good at home. We have got to play good defense, rebound the ball, and be tough. We have to do all the things that the coaches ask of us."
Senior co-captain and starting point guard Marquis Jones is another guy who has had great success when it matters most over the years. It was his game-winning 3-pointer last year that snapped Dayton's 30-game home winning streak.
"We have played in a lot of big games," Jones explained, "so the atmosphere should not be a problem at all. We have four seniors that have been here, that have played minutes, so we know what to expect. We Are looking forward to it. We like challenges and we like being in this position."