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With doubleheader sweep, CCRI remains one of the hottest programs in Region XXI

With doubleheader sweep, CCRI remains one of the hottest programs in Region XXI

Freshman Jayden Upchurch (Providence, RI) hit the game-winning jumper in the closing seconds Tuesday to lift the Community College of Rhode Island’s men’s basketball team to a critical 87-86 win over third-place Quinsigamond Community College at the Warwick Campus Field House.

The victory by the men capped a doubleheader sweep Tuesday, which also included the reigning two-time Region XXI champion women’s team coasting to an 83-19 over the Wyverns. Both teams return to action tonight with a league doubleheader at home against Massasoit beginning with the women’s game at 6 pm. 

With the conference tournament on the horizon, both CCRI teams are among the hottest in the region; the first-place women, also ranked No. 11 in the nation, are 12-0 in league play and have won 33 in a row against their conference opponents while the men have won seven of their last nine league games and are currently sixth in the region with a chance to jump as high as fourth with two regular-season games remaining.

Led by head coach Doug Haynes, CCRI’s women’s team is on the precipice of its third consecutive undefeated season in league play entering Thursday’s Region XXI finale against Massasoit. The Knights have won eight of nine overall and have already clinched their third consecutive regular-season title as they await an upcoming tournament semifinal match against fourth-place Roxbury, whom they’ve beaten twice this season by 34 and 46 points. Massasoit and Northern Essex are battling tooth and nail for second place, but regardless of who finishes second and third, the two will face one another in the semifinals.

The Knights have exceled defensively in 2023–24, ranking fourth in the nation in points per game allowed (46.5) while limiting opponents to 31.4 shooting from the field, good for seventh nationally. They also remain deadly from behind the arc offensively, shooting 30.0 percent from three-point range, which ranks ninth in the nation.

Sophomore guard Nysia Ortiz (Providence, RI) and freshman guard Angelisse Melendez (North Providence, RI) remain the team’s top-scoring backcourt duo with Ortiz averaging a team-best 17.6 points per game and Melendez not too far behind at 15.1 points per game.

With a remarkable second-half surge, CCRI’s men’s team is emerging as the team no one wants to play in the upcoming Region XXI Tournament. Their recent stretch includes wins over the league’s second-, third-, and fourth-place teams, including victories on the road against Bristol and Quincy. The Knights are also the only team in the league other than undefeated Northern Essex to beat Quincy this season. The only blip on the radar in recent weeks was Saturday’s narrow road loss to eighth-place Roxbury.

The ability to not only hang with, but beat, teams ahead of them in the standings bodes well for the Knights entering the Region XXI Tournament. If they finish sixth, they’ll place Quinsigamond for a third time in the quarterfinal round after splitting a pair of close games during the regular season; in addition to Tuesday’s one-point win, the Knights lost to the Wyverns by two points on the road at the beginning of February. Where they end up the standings depends heavily on the outcome of tonight’s showdown against the fifth-place Warriors, who lead CCRI by half a game in the standings.

While the Knights don’t rank favorably among the nation’s top teams in any of the noteworthy statistical categories, they’ve gotten a big boost off the bench from Upchurch, who debuted in the second half on January 9 and has scored in double figures five times, including a season-high 16 points in the Knights’ win at Bristol. Freshman forward Connor Chambers (Cranston, RI), another key second-half addition, has become a fixture in the starting lineup since late January, scoring in double figures five times in his last eight games while providing a much-needed presence in the paint.

Aside from the lift provided by its new additions, CCRI’s offense continues to revolve around the output of freshmen big men Henry Robinson (Pawtucket, RI) and Kobe Fife (Providence, RI), who are averaging 13.4 and 11.2 points per game, respectively. Robinson has been particularly stellar of late with 19 or more points in four of his last six games entering Tuesday.

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