UMass’ winning streak over after frustrating loss to Rhode Island

Lack of offensive execution troubled the Minutewomen from start to finish

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Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Freeman Alfano, Collegian Staff

Despite a season-high 20 points from junior guard Destiney Philoxy on nearly 80 percent shooting, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team failed to reach double-digit scoring in the fourth quarter in their 48-47 loss to the University of Rhode Island Tuesday night.

An offense that had been efficient and productive up until this point looked uncharacteristically sloppy throughout much of the contest, as shown by a season-high 20 turnovers and a near seven-minute scoring drought to start the second quarter.

“Our lack of offensive execution hurt us, and it hurt us on defense, as well,” UMass (6-2, 2-1 Atlantic 10) head coach Tory Verdi said postgame. “Overall, we beat ourselves tonight… we did a lot of uncharacteristic things as if we’re never supposed to be a team that’s down in a basketball game.”

They still had a chance to win the game on the last possession, but a missed floater by freshman guard Ber’nyah Mayo sealed their fate. Verdi said the play was drawn up to get forward Sam Breen the ball in the post off of a back screen and a down screen following a pass from Mayo to Sydney Taylor. But that play, like many of the Minutewomen’s other offensive opportunities in the loss, did not go how they expected.

“There was an option there for Ber’nyah if she gets the catch at the top to rip and drive…, [but] their physicality and their denial on wing entry passes bothered us all night long,” Verdi said of the last play gone awry. “I think we hesitated, Ber’nyah decided to drive the ball, and there was just nowhere [for her] to really go on that.”

Before the final possession, UMass was unable to get its top scoring options humming, as Sydney Taylor and Sam Breen combined for just 15 points, which is lower than either of their individual scoring averages.

Philoxy, on the other hand, was a silver lining for the offense, and has been significantly more effective as a scorer against Rhode Island than against any other team this year. In her two games against them, she’s averaging 19.5 points on 70 percent shooting to go with just five assists per game (her season average heading into Tuesday was 8.6).

“I know URI and I know that they know my strengths, but I don’t think they understand that I’m capable of doing more than just drives; I’m capable of doing more than just passing the ball,” Philoxy said of her approach to playing the Rams. “There’s a lot in me that URI overlooks, and that’s why I just prove to them that they have to pay attention.”

As a whole, the Minutewomen did not start or finish the game on the right foot. Of their 20 turnovers, 12 came in the first and fourth quarters. After their scoring drought in the second, the Minutewomen went nearly the entire second half of the fourth quarter without scoring a point. Much of that came down to the team’s lack of transition and fast break offense, which limited UMass to almost solely half court looks.

“We did not push the ball, we did not run up the floor, we didn’t get them moving defensively; [our offense] was stagnant,” Verdi said. “We looked sluggish, we looked slow, we looked defeated, and we need to be better.”

The lone bright spot was the defense, but even that was wavering at times. The main strength was beyond the arc, as they limited a potent shooting squad to 20 percent on three-point attempts. After holding Rhode Island to 18 first-half points on a rough 23 percent shooting, the Rams more than doubled their scoring output in just the third quarter.

Even considering all these issues on both sides of the ball, this was still a very winnable game for the Minutewomen. They led throughout much of the contest and even held a 13-point lead in the third quarter. Not to mention, Rhode Island (2-4) was a vastly inferior team on paper and had already lost to UMass earlier this season.

“It’s actually really frustrating, just not being able to beat a team that we beat already and know how they play,” said Philoxy. “[But now] it’s all about the get back. Last year, they broke our 11-game winning streak, and this year, they broke our six-game winning streak. We can’t let this team get the best of us, so we’re going to come back stronger. We promise that.”

While Philoxy and the rest of the Minutewomen will have to wait until Valentine’s Day to redeem their loss to Rhode Island, Davidson (6-3) is up next on Friday. Tipoff in Amherst is scheduled for 5 PM.

Freeman Alfano can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @freemanalfano.