The Massachusetts women’s basketball team enjoyed its largest home crowd of the season during its annual Field Trip Day promotion. However, UMass was unable to transfer the added energy into a win as La Salle walked out 68-57 winners in front of 1,682 spectators on Wednesday at the Mullins Center.
With just 11 minutes left to play in the second half, the Minutewomen (3-18, 1-5 Atlantic10 Conference) had their largest lead at 43-35 and as the referees signaled for a media timeout, the UMass bench erupted in excitement. At the final whistle, that excitement had vanished.
“I thought we had a really good 32 minutes out of the 40 today,” UMass coach Sharon Dawley said. “But we had way too many turnovers. We had 25, they had 39 points off of our turnovers. That’s just making the game too easy for them.”
The Minutewomen were riding high into the timeout, but following the break the Explorers (7-13, 3-2 A-10) went on a 13-2 run, swinging momentum and the lead into their favor.
With the added support from the crowd, the Minutewomen battled to match the Explorers in the first half, but threw the game away with sloppy turnovers.
Two early fouls sent Emily Mital to the bench just three minutes into the contest, leaving Carolann Cloutier and Jasmine Harris to shoulder the shooting responsibilities. Cloutier scored eight of her 10 in her 18 first half minutes. Harris also registered four points along with a pair of rebounds on her way to 11 points and three boards.
However, it was Jasmine Watson who propelled the Minutewomen in the rebound column, snatching six of her 11 in the first half.
Watson believed remaining out of foul trouble allowed her to stay aggressive in pursuit of the ball.
“I think the difference this game was that I wasn’t in foul trouble so I could actually go to the boards,” Watson said. “When we rebound as a team, our numbers go way up instead of just depending on the taller people to do it.”
Following the half, Mital returned the lineup registering the first two points of the half from the free-throw line before draining a 3 to break the tie.
Dawley thought that Mital’s freshness in the second half helped the Minutewomen as a team.
“I thought she did a good job in the second half,” Dawley said. “I thought the subs in the first half carried her weight pretty well, but it was certainly nice to have her fresh in the second half.”
Mital hit another 3 to give the Minutewomen an eight-point advantage.
Watson could feel the energy that her teammates brought back to the court in the second half.
“I think any player that’s on the team, whenever they have to come off because of fouls, once they come in they’re really excited,” Watson said. “We try to just kind of build off their excitement because sometimes we have our lows where our energy goes down.
“(Mital) is such a big part of the team, when she came back in talking and clapping it really helped us out, plus she can hit shots.”
However, it was the star of the game, La Salle’s Brittany Wilson, who would outshine the sophomore Mital.
Wilson scored 12 points in the first half, but nearly matched that total from the free-throw line in the second half. She added 10 points from the charity stripe in the final 20 minutes of play and added three more field goals to her totals, finishing with 30 points, five rebounds and five assists, as well as a pair of blocks.
Dawley and her team found it difficult to solve the problems Wilson was throwing at them.
The loss makes it 13 defeats out of their last 14 and their fifth straight in the conference. The Minutewomen, with a conference record that mirrors their first six non-conference games, will take on Temple at the Mullins Center before embarking on an important road trip. Tip-off is at 2 p.m on Sunday.
Jeffrey Okerman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @MDC_Okerman.