Rhode Island Outgrowing Underdog Role

Rhode Island was up five points as the fourth quarter of its Wednesday night Atlantic 10 road contest at Duquesne began to reach a conclusion and sensing an edge, fed Dez Elmore.

Elmore is a transfer from Seton Hall who would score a game high 19 points on the evening and on this play with two Dukes converging, calmly sank a jump shot, while she was fouled.

As Elmore hit the floor, her coach, Tammi Reiss, who was cool as a cucumber all game long, cheered in approval, while also offering an emphatic fist pump. The momentum play would be what allowed Rhody to start pulling away.

“You know why I love this woman,” Reiss said of her graduate student guard. “When she was at Seton Hall, she was the go-to. She took every shot and now she’s part of a team. We’re tied for first place in the Atlantic 10, and we’ve never had a player of the week because of our versatility. They’re very unselfish and it’s why I love her. She wants to win. That’s what we’re trying to build here. It’s a team.”

Rhode Island would defeat Duquesne Wednesday night, snapping a six-game losing streak against the Dukes, a skid which has lasted longer than Reiss’s time in Kingston.

Heading into the season, Reiss was very clear that it was her team’s goal to win an Atlantic 10 Championship and already within 48 hours, Rhode Island defeated a Massachusetts team which has garnered national respect and then shook off a slow start on the road to get the better of Duquesne.

Given the lack of time between the game and Rhody’s starters logging high-minute counts against UMass, Reiss’s prep consisted of a walkthrough, but the limited time came with a focused message.

“It’s getting them to think like champions,” said Reiss. “Every day you can get beat in the Atlantic 10 and this isn’t me talking BS to you. It’s the truth. I was a little worried that we might have an emotional letdown coming into this (Duquesne) game.”

Just how different is this Rams squad?

For starters, Rhode Island is the deepest it has been since the 1995-96 season with seven-to-eight consistent options available.

A-10 fans are well aware of Emmanuelle Tahane and Marie-Paule Foppossi, and for good reason, but when things were heading in the wrong direction, it was Anna Dreimane and Emmi Rinat who stepped up.

Dreimane had critical rebounds, blocks and two timely assists that allowed Rhody to begin to play more at its pace. Meanwhile Rinat, found space for a three-point basket which began the third quarter, and then created space for a routine layup.

Another newcomer in Chanell Williams, a Providence graduate transfer, played steady at guard making timely three-point shots and did not commit any turnovers in 33 minutes of work.

Elmore rounded out the quartet of new Rams when she scored 15 of her 19 points in the second half as she was placed inside the post and flipped positions with Tahane, using versatility to exploit a mismatch that allowed Rhody’s offense to find a flow.

It is clear with these newcomers, that Reiss did not intend on them sitting on the bench and that they not only are contributing but are growing on the court with support from coaching staff and teammates alike.

“You need depth, you need versatility to win championships,” said Reiss. “It’s hard to play five or six kids the whole season. Eventually your legs are going to hit you and teams that have more depth and experience, I truly believe those are the teams that are going to win the championship at the end because there are a lot of teams right now that I think can win an Atlantic 10 Championship, there’s five or six of them I think can vie. For us it’s any given night it can be someone different.”

Reiss of course understands her remarks given her team’s historic success last season, only to fall short in overtime of the Atlantic 10 Championship quarterfinals against VCU, less than two weeks after beating them.

Now Rhode Island is tied atop the conference standings with Dayton and the focus is staying present but also staying both hungry and fresh.

“I tell them all the time that we haven’t done anything, we haven’t won,” Reiss said. “You either win and become a champion, or no one knows who you are. Every day it’s building those championship habits and they’re starting to show that in practice. Little by little they are growing into that. They love the underdog role, I like the Rocky/Rudy role, you have no pressure. It’s your perception of when you have an x on your back. That’s alright, because all we can worry about is us. It’s the here and now and if you stay focused on the task at hand, you don’t feel that pressure.”

As Elmore listened to Reiss, it was impossible for her not to smile as she continued to draw inspiration. The two go back to the latter’s time as an assistant coach at Syracuse.

In that moment Elmore was back in game mode, observing surroundings, and once again from close range had one last layup in her.

“You just know when she says something, she means it,” Elmore said of her coach. “She speaks with passion and dedication she wants to win. She wants each of us to be champions and believes each and every one of us can be champions. We are just trying to give it back to her.”

Photo credit: Rhode Island WBB Twitter

Zachary Weiss has had a 10 year journalism career, with the past three mainly focusing on Duquesne Athletics and the Atlantic 10.