Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Hailey Leidel hits buzzer-beater to lift Minutewomen over URI

UMass women's basketball breaks its losing streak with a win against Rhode Island

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(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

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Hailey Leidel hit a jump shot at the buzzer to give the Massachusetts women’s basketball team a 61-59 win over Rhode Island Sunday afternoon, completing a comeback from nine points down in the fourth.

UMass (10-11, 2-6 Atlantic 10) fell behind by nine with less than six minutes left to play, but went on a 15-4 run in the final minutes. Freshman Paige McCormick’s free throw with eight seconds left tied the game, and guard Bre Hampton-Bey came up with a steal as URI tried to inbound the ball, setting up Leidel for the game-winning shot.

“You face adversity, there’s two ways it can go,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “I thought our players did a great job toward the end to make it happen and come out with the win here tonight.”

Leidel finished with 25 points and six rebounds in a complete effort for the Minutewomen. Naturally a guard, Leidel spent several minutes at center during the second half and came up with a bevy of clutch defensive plays.

“She played positions effectively that she hasn’t played a lot,” Verdi said of Leidel’s effort. “She played it last year for us, but this year she didn’t play the middle zone, and I thought she did a really good job in the middle zone for us. She was undersized, but she was active, and that’s exactly what we needed from her.”

Leidel’s presence inside was necessitated with the absence of Maggie Mulligan, who committed two early fouls and saw only five minutes in the first half. As a result, the Minutewomen deployed five guards for several minutes in the second half.

“We really relied more on our perimeter play than anything else,” Verdi said. “We’d like to be able to attack from both the inside and the outside, and we weren’t able to do that here tonight.”

After a series of hot starts in recent games, UMass came out of the gate slow on Sunday, shooting below 25 percent partway through the second quarter.

“I thought we were passive against their zone, and we knew they were going to go zone against us,” Verdi said. “In my mind, I thought we would do a great job of attacking gaps and moving the ball, and then we got in foul trouble, Maggie got in foul trouble, and [that] took away our inside production.”

In a game where the UMass offense was struggling, the defense stepped up and created opportunities with 20 of the Minutewomen’s points coming off turnovers. Hampton-Bey, who finished with five steals, had two in the final 15 seconds to set up UMass’ last three points.

The last-second win followed a series of close losses, including an overtime defeat to Davidson last Wednesday and losses in the final seconds against Saint Louis and Duquesne.

“You look at some of those games that we lost on one possession, and here’s another opportunity, it’s a one-possession game and fortunately for us we come out,” Verdi said. “’I thought our players did an unbelievable job the last three possessions defensively and we made it happen, and that’s what it’s about.”

Coming into Sunday’s game, UMass had lost seven of its last eight games. Although Rhode Island has only three wins, Verdi said that the victory would help the Minutewomen going forward.

“I think every road game is tough, and it’s a conference win no matter what, regardless of who you’re playing,” Verdi said. “I just feel that this may be the one that kind of gets us over the hump a little bit. We’ve won more games this year than we had last year, so I feel like the needle’s moving. We have a lot of games to play still, and we still have a lot to play for.”

The Minutewomen will look to build on Sunday’s win when they return home to face Richmond on Wednesday.

Thomas Haines can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @thainessports.

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