The Massachusetts women’s basketball team boasted four double-digit scorers on Senior Night to defeat Rhode Island, 68-57.
Jasmine Watson led the way on offense with 15 points and four rebounds. The win means that UMass now controls its own destiny as far as where it will be seeded for the Atlantc 10 tournament.
“Everybody was pumped up for this game,” said senior guard Megan Zullo. “Right from warm-ups, everyone from me to the last person on the bench was up for this game.”
Zullo was right behind Watson in scoring, tallying 13 points and handing out six assists.
UMass never trailed in the contest, leaping out to a quick lead against the Rams, even before the offense started to really click.
Zullo opened the UMass scoring with her first of three 3-pointers on the night. Immediately after that, Watson added a pair of her own baskets to extend the lead to 9-3. UMass coach Sharon Dawley had high praise for the senior and her ability to lead the team.
“I think the big obstacle we had to get by was when we lost Carolann [Cloutier] at St. Louis,” said Dawley. “But Megan took over the reins, and she is doing a phenomenal job.”
Millie Niggeling also added nine points and four assists, making an impression from beyond the arc as well.
The pressing UMass forced a turnover on the inbound, allowing Zullo to convert her second beyond-the-arc effort. Emily Mital (11 points, 3 assists) joined the three party, before Niggeling added her second.
Everything was going UMass’s way until about halfway through the first half. The Minutewomen added five more points to their tally in the last 12:55 of the first-half, then went ice cold for the remainder.
The Minutewomen went 1-for-10 for the rest of the half while also committing eight turnovers. The remaining three of those points came from free throws, but there was also a trio of misses from the charity stripe.
URI added 16 points in the last 10 minutes of the half to pull within three, leaving UMass with a slim 26-23 halftime lead. The Rams used dribble penetration to get into the lane and made some easy baskets as the game wore on. Kerry Wallack converted a pair of lay-ups, while Emilie Cloutier found success from a couple of jumpers.
“I think the fire was there, but we were just out-of-sync,” said Dawley. “I think sometimes you can play too hard, you can rush things. We talked about running the break, and if it’s not there then let’s take our time.”
The Minutewomen responded to their coach and came out firing immediately after halftime, opening with a 9-0 run. Robinson and Watson found the space in the lane to drive to the hoop. Emilie Teuscher drilled a pair of jump shots, including a corner 3.
Robinson, who was almost completely absent in the first half, came alive with eight early second-half points.
“I think [Shakia Robinson] came out at halftime saying ‘I have to do more,’” said Dawley. “I think [her improved second-half] is all to her credit. She’s saying ‘I have to do more,’ and Millie’s taking minutes from her, so it’s natural to want to fight to get those minutes back.”
The Rams didn’t go away though. Teneka Whittaker struck a pair from the free throw line. Ashley Rivera, who had 13 points on the night, then added two buckets.
With the Rams trailing by just four points and a little over seven minutes to play, strong play from the UMass guards began to create a gap.
“Everybody stepped up and showed us something tonight,” said Zullo. “I think going forward we have a lot confidence.”
Jeffrey Okerman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @MDC_Okerman.