SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Dan Hurley stole an occasional glance at the raucous Rhode Island section and realized just how much this NCAA tournament means to a starved program, and to an entire state that loves its basketball even if far more under the radar than so many of the others featuring powerful programs.

Who could blame them? Back in the tournament for the first time in 18 years, these Rams are on a roll they hope lasts a little longer.

Jeff Dowtin scored a career-high 23 points with a perfect day at the free-throw line, upstart Rhode Island answered every threat and the Rams ran right into the next round of the NCAA tournament by stunning cold-shooting No. 6 seed Creighton 84-72 on Friday in an opener of the Midwest Regional.

“The emotion from (the crowd), it almost felt like 18 years’ worth of excitement, and they really inspired the guys,” Hurley said.

Kuran Iverson scored 17 points, and Hassan Martin had 12 points and eight rebounds as 11th-seeded Rhode Island (25-9) earned its ninth straight victory. The program won an NCAA tournament game for the first time since advancing to the Elite Eight and losing to Stanford in 1998.

Ronnie Harrell Jr. scored a career-high 15 points in Creighton’s 40 percent shooting day when little went right – like all the missed layups.

Hurley couldn’t wait to build happier memories in Sacramento, where his older brother, Bobby, survived a life-threatening car wreck as an NBA rookie with the Kings in December 1993. Rhode Island hit the court for loose balls, crashed the boards with energy and found a way to withstand every spurt by the Bluejays (25-10).

The Rams made a lot of free throws, too.

E.C. Matthews coolly converted two chances from the line with 2:32 remaining and made all 10 of his free throws on his way to 16 points. Dowtin also hit all 10 from the line as URI went an impressive 28 of 31 on free throws in all.

And what fun for all those blue-clad Rams fans who traveled cross-country from Kingston, Rhode Island, through a major Northeast snowstorm to California’s capital to witness the program’s milestone moment.

“Across the bench, it was amazing that they were there and we could see them and they were loud,” Dan Hurley said.

Oh yes, and Bobby Hurley was there in the stands at Golden 1 Center – along with the rest of their basketball-crazed support system featuring Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley Sr. Bobby Hurley is the Arizona State coach and now will be called upon for his “Pac-12 intel” on URI’s next opponent, Oregon.

MICHIGAN 92, OKLAHOMA STATE 91: Derrick Walton Jr. scored 26 points and Michigan (25-11) made 16 3-pointers to hold off Oklahoma State (20-13) in the first round at Indianapolis.

LOUISVILLE 78, JACKSONVILLE STATE 63: Mangok Mathiang scored 18 points and Deng Adel added 16 to help Louisville (25-8) pull away from Jacksonville State (20-15) in the first round at Indianapolis.

KANSAS 100, UC DAVIS 62: Frank Mason III scored 22 points and had eight assists as Kansas (29-5) won its opening game of the NCAA tournament for an 11th straight year by beating UC Davis (23-13) at Tulsa, Oklahoma.

OREGON 93, IONA 77: With star big man Chris Boucher cheering in a bulky knee brace from the sidelines, Tyler Dorsey scored 24 points to lead four players in double figures, and seed Oregon (30-5) beat Iona (22-13) in the first round at Sacramento, California.

MICHIGAN STATE 78, MIAMI 58: Nick Ward scored 19 points to help the Spartans(20-14) atone for last season’s early NCAA tournament disappointment with an opening-round win at Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The ninth-seeded Spartans trailed by as many 12 points in the first half before blitzing past the stunned Hurricanes (21-12) the rest of the way, using a 20-2 first half run to take control for good.

EAST

BAYLOR 91, NEW MEXICO STATE 73: Reserve Al Freeman scored 21 points, and Baylor (26-7) defeated New Mexico State (28-6) in the first round at Tulsa, Oklahoma.

DUKE 87, TROY 65: Grayson Allen had 21 points off five 3-pointers, Jayson Tatum added 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Duke (29-7), the ACC tournament winner, continued its perfect postseason by beating Troy (22-15) at Greenville, South Carolina.

SOUTH

ARKANSAS 77, SETON HALL 71: Jaylen Barford hit the go-ahead layup with 57.8 seconds left to help Arkansas (26-9) hold off Seton Hall (21-12) at Greenville, South Carolina.

NORTH CAROLINA 103, TEXAS SOUTHERN 64: Justin Jackson broke out of a shooting slump with 21 points to help North Carolina (28-7) roll past Texas Southern (23-12) in the first round at Greenville, South Carolina.

WICHITA STATE 64, DAYTON 58: Wichita State’s high-scoring offense didn’t get off the ground until the closing minutes, when the Shockers (31-4) played like the more tournament-experienced team and pulled away from Dayton (24-8) at Indianapolis.

CINCINNATI 75, KANSAS STATE 61: Troy Caupain scored 23 points, Kyle Washington added 16 and defensive-minded Cincinnati (30-5) shot its way past Kansas State (21-14) at Sacramento, California.

NOTES

NORTH CAROLINA STATE: The school hired Kevin Keatts of UNC Wilmington to take over as head basketball coach.