With about three minutes left on the clock, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team could almost taste its first win in 11 tries.
Senior center Jasmine Watson sank a layup to cut her team’s deficit to four as UMass trailed Duquesne 46-42 with 3:15 to go.
Seconds later, after Duquesne sophomore guard Belma Nurkic missed a 3-point opportunity, junior forward Kiara Bomben snagged the rebound and fed it to Watson, who was fouled on her way up, creating a frenzy on the UMass bench.
But with the pressure on, Watson missed both free throws and the next two minutes became a string of turnovers and misses by the Minutewomen (3-24, 1-11 Atlantic 10), leading to a 53-44 loss Sunday afternoon at the Mullins Center.
Despite the loss, coach Sharon Dawley said there were positives to take away from the defeat.
“I’m really proud of them,” Dawley said. “We can’t control a lot of things in life and we can only control our attitude. I think our players have been doing a great job of coming to work every day and getting better every day.”
The Dukes (20-6, 9-3 A-10) struggled at the beginning of the second half, but Jocelyn Floyd and junior guard Oditte Odisho, who combined for 31 points, helped Duquesne overcome UMass’ second-half run.
Dawley said her team’s defensive play on the post was ideal, matching the Dukes with 36 rebounds, but that UMass’ offense was lacking.
“We continue to have a problem in terms of scoring,” Dawley said. “For us to only come up with 44 points — that’s tough — and we’re gonna drop games if that’s all we can produce at the offensive end.”
The teams traded scores throughout the first half, and UMass took the lead with 10:09 left when Bomben made a layup after recovering from a would-be turnover.
Duquesne pushed ahead and took a 33-21 lead into the break.
Bomben, who was playing in her first game back from an injury, said that putting up valuable numbers was a challenge because of the Dukes’ athleticism.
“I was, to be honest, a little nervous at the beginning, but I have a lot of faith in our trainer,” Bomben said. “I knew they wouldn’t put me out if they didn’t feel I was going to be strong and confident.”
Turnovers were also a major factor in the loss as the Minutewomen coughed up the ball 29 times, which Duquesne converted into 19 points.
Watson was also unhappy with the outcome, saying that her individual statistics –team-high 10 points and 7 rebounds – don’t ease the pain of a close loss.
“As hard as I feel like I work every game, the stat sheet will never show it,” Watson said. “I have to be so involved in every play, even if I don’t get the ball, I have to talk to my teammates. I’m happy with the few stats I do have, but I could’ve done better, I should’ve did better as a captain and a leader of the team.”
UMass now has two games remaining, beginning with a road contest Wednesday night at Saint Joseph’s before hosting Xavier on Saturday in its season finale.
Peter Cappiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @MDC_Cappiello.