UMass comeback not enough as win streak ends at URI

Minutewomen led by four with three and a half minutes to play

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(Mehroz Kapadia/Daily Collegian)

By Thomas Haines, Sports Editor

An early hole proved too much for the Massachusetts women’s basketball team to overcome, as the Minutewomen fell 69-66 to Rhode Island on Sunday for their first loss since Nov. 25.

UMass (14-4, 4-1 Atlantic 10) trailed by 13 after the first quarter and 11 at halftime but turned on the burners in the third quarter to enter the fourth with just a two-point deficit. The Minutewomen took the lead for the first time with less than five minutes to play on a Sam Breen layup, but the Rams regained a one-point lead in the final two minutes.

Trailing by one with less than 30 seconds to go, UMass committed just its fourth turnover of the game, as Davida Dale stole the ball near half-court and passed it to Nicole Jorgenson on the breakaway, who converted an and-one to give the Rams a four-point lead with seven seconds to go. Destiney Philoxy hit a three with 2.5 seconds left, but after hitting a pair of free throws, the Rams survived a final three-quarter-court heave from Philoxy to come away with the win.

“At the end of the game, it comes down to, one, we didn’t execute last play, and then secondly, we didn’t box out, we didn’t rebound,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said.

The lack of rebounding wasn’t limited to the end of the game. The Minutewomen were outrebounded 56-31 over the course of the game, with Jorgenson leading the way with 17 rebounds for the Rams. UMass was weakened inside in the first half when center Maeve Donnelly picked up her third foul and went to the bench halfway through the second quarter.

“Obviously we had to go smaller [without Donnelly],” Verdi said. “We knew how physical Jorgenson is, and I had to communicate to our players to stay under the basket and keep their hands up, don’t swipe down.”

The Minutewomen were unable to capitalize on a game where the Rams shot just 45.2 percent from the free-throw line and turned the ball over 21 times. In crunch time, Philoxy’s three with two seconds to play marked the only points UMass mustered over the final 3:30, as a 63-59 lead turned into a 69-66 defeat.

On offense, the Minutewomen also got very little production from their sharpshooters, as Hailey Leidel and Vashnie Perry combined to go 4-for-27 from the field and 3-for-17 from deep.

“Hailey Leidel can’t go 2-for-16, she just can’t,” Verdi said. “And Vashnie can’t go 2-for-11. So you look at both of those guys who knock down shots for us, they’re 4-for-27. So they got to knock down shots, they know that.”

It was Sam Breen who led the comeback for UMass, finishing with 26 points and putting up the only resistance inside, as the Rams dominated the paint to the tune of 38 points down low.

“She’s one of the best offensive scorers in the A-10,” Verdi said. “She totally changed the complexion of the game. Thought we could’ve gone to her down the stretch, and I think we missed her a couple times where we would’ve really wanted to get her the ball. But Sam, regardless if she has a defender behind her, I think she can score on anybody. So she’s a nice weapon to have.”

The loss snapped an 11-game win streak, a program record for UMass.

“We haven’t lost in a month and a half. It stinks,” Verdi said. “I’m sure it stinks right now for everyone. We just have to get in the gym tomorrow and work on a couple things, but our mentality has to be that all five people have to rebound. It doesn’t make sense, just one person rebounding. All five people have to defensive rebound, and they know that, and it’s just about going out there and doing it. If we do it, we’re going to put ourselves in position to win basketball games. If we don’t do it, it’s going to be a struggle to win.”

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