KINGSTON, R.I. — Providence coach Ed Cooley hates the Providence-Rhode Island game.
URI coach Dan Hurley can’t stand the stress of it.
Fatts Russell will probably never forget his first one.
And as a result, the Rhode Island Rams may have found a player the Atlantic 10 will have a hard time dealing with this season and beyond.
Meet Fatts, a nickname given to him he said by his mother Tahar Sutton, that has already stuck for the fans at the Ryan Center and will become a calling card for opposing teams trying to scout the Rams.
Trust me on this one: When Fatts is on the court, everyone knows.
“He’s a nag,’’ said E.C. Matthews as he exited the Ryan Center Saturday night after the Rams’ 75-68 victory over the Friars. Matthews, who hasn’t played since the second game of the season due to a fractured wrist, meant the comment in the most complimenting way.
Fatts (and for these purposes we’ll call him that rather than Russell because it just sounds better, of course, over his given name Daron) is a game-changer.
He makes things happen. Anything.
WATCH: @RhodyMBB freshman Fatts Russell (game-high 20 points) talks about playing in the electric atmosphere at @TheRyanCenter, the PC-URI rivalry, and his confidence in his shooting @ABC6 #URI @daron_russell pic.twitter.com/PCOiXkR3HQ— Nick Coit (@NickCoit) December 3, 2017
Pest. Nudge. Keep on tossing out the nicknames and they’ll all be fair game. Russell finished with 20 points, five rebounds, one steal (not sure how that is correct since he seemed to be forcing turnovers with his active hands). Oh, and he only played 24 minutes yet it felt like he was on the floor constantly. When he was off, you noticed. When he was on, it seemed like there were two or three of him.
By the way, he’s only 5-10.
Senior guard Jarvis Garrett used the word “jittery” to describe Fatts.
“He never stops,’’ said Garrett, who won his first game in this rivalry since the Friars had won seven in a row. “He doesn’t get tired. He reminds me of my freshman year, especially at the defensive end. I told him you’re going to love this game.’’
He did. Wow, did he ever.
He said it’s the most fun he’s ever had playing basketball and it was more than he ever expected.
Fatts is from Philadelphia and he said this blew away anything he’s seen (are you listening Big Five?).
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“Honestly, it’s the craziest game I’ve ever been to or played in,’’ said Fatts. “If I hit a big shot, I want it back. I’m a momentum player. I’ve got the will.’’
If you’ve never experienced the Ocean State game (and I hadn’t until Saturday night), you must at some point. The Ryan Center was jacked up 30 minutes before the game and until the final buzzer with a crowd of 7,959, the second-largest in the building's 15 years.To understand the intensive of the rivalry, listen to long time Providence Journal columnist Bill Reynolds. He mentioned the diss Sly Williams had on Providence when he ended up at Rhode Island in 1976. But it’s more than that he said. The issue for the fan bases, especially URI, is that Providence is the state’s school without being the state school. The Friars were better and more nationally relevant for decades when it mattered most as the sport was booming in the Big East in the 1980s. Yet, URI was treated in the state as the second-class citizen, even though the Rams were the state university. The jealously and bitterness hasn’t faded.
Hurley said he never felt a rivalry in New Jersey growing up and wouldn’t even dare to compare this to Seton Hall-Rutgers.
“There is true hatred between the two fan bases,’’ said Hurley. “It’s a stressful game. There’s no better college basketball venue when it’s packed than the Ryan Center. Nowhere in the state. Nowhere in New England.’’
Hurley said the requests for tickets and people giving him strategy lessons were flooding in to him during the day.
Cooley clearly doesn’t like this game and made sure to say the Friars have big games throughout the Big East. They do. But he was quick to credit URI, the fans and Fatts, for what transpired.
Hurley said when they watched Fatts two summers ago he was the best player they saw. He was undersized but it didn’t take long to figure out he was the most electrifying player on the floor.
“He played with such unbelievable confidence,’’ said Hurley.
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Matthews said he will be back for the Rams game against College of Charleston on Dec. 16. He will miss Wednesday’s game at Alabama. The Rams, the preseason A-10 favorite, are the only team to have beaten two Big East teams, knocking off Seton Hall last week at the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn and now Providence.
Hurley said he didn’t come to URI to beat Providence only. He came to win championships and get to the NCAA tournament.
Fatts has helped him get closer with the way he played Saturday night, adding to an at-large type resume by the first week of December.
“He saved us with E.C. out,’’ said Hurley. “Without that little spectacular guy, we would be in trouble.’’