UMass fights back but falls to URI 66-58 on the road

Little things come back to hurt the Minutewomen on Monday night

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Maya Geer/ Daily Collegian

By Lulu Kesin, Sports Editor

As expected for a game between two of the best teams in the Atlantic 10, there were very few quiet moments at the Thomas M. Ryan Center. However, the quietest moment came during a momentum-shifting run for the Massachusetts women’s basketball team.

Sam Breen missed a layup, secured her own rebound and put it back up only to be fouled hard to the ground with her head bouncing back on the gym floor. Breen took a few seconds to get up. UMass (14-3, 2-1 Atlantic 10) was in the midst of yet another comeback at the time of her fall and Breen was the catalyst. After teammates offered a helping hand, Breen got up, walked to the free throw line and sank two free throws to make the score 56-58.

The Minutewomen are used to playing catch up, as that’s been a theme all season. On Monday night, Rhode Island’s monstrous first half was too hard to completely erase, and the Rams (13-3, 3-0 A-10) snapped UMass’ winning streak, remaining undefeated in conference play with a 66-58 win.

“I just told our team that I’m so proud of them,” head coach Tory Verdi said. “Regardless of the outcome here [Monday], I loved our fight in the second half. We did not play well in the first half, that’s not rocket science. We weren’t focused, defensively missing assignments, not knowing personnel, just didn’t have anything and really struggled. We dug ourselves a pretty big hole.”

The Rams are the A-10’s top defenders but on Monday night to start the game, URI put on an offensive clinic to go along with its top tier defensive showing. By the end of the first quarter, the Minutewomen found themselves down 24-8 after a 12-0 run.

Emmanuelle Tahane dominated the opening quarter, sneaking through both man and zone defense thrown at her by the Minutewomen. With the guard depth and pace the Rams have, often times their offense spreads out the defense. Some early three-point shooting from URI made Angelique Ngalakulondi expect a guard to curl cut or kick to the top of the key.

Like they did all night, the Rams capitalized on the tiny, unexpected mistakes from UMass and when Tahane saw Ngalakulondi’s head turn for the slightest second anticipating a kick out, she drove. Ngalakulondi paid the price, fouling Tahane from behind and sending her to the line for a three-point play.

“When you start playing against really good basketball teams and you’re on the road, you know you got to do the little things,” Verdi said.

Deep in the third quarter, Tahane yet again drove into a post and dropped to the right side before switching to the left at the last second for the layup. One play later, the 6-foot-1 inch powerhouse looked to make the same move she had been doing all night, but Philoxy adjusted, dropped to the weak side and was there to meet Tahane and strip the ball under the basket. Capitalizing on the momentum shift, Breen picked off a pass into the lane and euro stepped into a layup with 37 seconds left to make it a five-point game.

The little things needed to turn big to rewrite the story of Monday’s game.

Breen became a continuous big moment for UMass with help from Philoxy in the second half but the failure to clean up the little things continued to plague the Minutewomen throughout.

With seconds left on the clock following Breen’s crucial layup, the last person the Minutewomen needed to have the ball was Dolly Cairns. With four seconds left, the ball left Cairns’ hand from behind the arc and dropped in, extending URI’s lead to 47-39 and putting momentum back in the hands of the Rams.

Cairns’ lethal three-point shooting began in the first few moments of the game. No excuse for the Minutewomen to leave the most dominant shooter on the floor wide open and almost every time she was left open, UMass was made known. Cairns finished with 21 points and went 5-for-12 from downtown, and 8-for-15 from the field.

Tahane’s 15 points and 50 percent shooting from the field combined with Cairns’ hot hand made things difficult for the Minutewomen but Breen and Philoxy’s attempt to mirror the Rams’ duo’s success turned a blood bath into a classic conference match up. Breen finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds while Philoxy added 11.

Breen continued to split defenders and claw back at the score midway through the fourth, with help from reverse layups and spin moves from Philoxy. After Ngalakulondi’s matchups began taking control in the first half, Makennah White provided minutes off the bench for UMass and life on offense with hook shots and short jumpers. Philoxy hit a layup to bring it back to five before the next play saw involvement from all three Minutewomen. Breen hit White who kicked back to Philoxy, she drove to draw two defenders then dished to the wide-open White under the basket.

Things began to click for UMass but simultaneously never stopped kicking for URI. The Rams missed two foul shots but got a rebound only to be fouled again and made one of two to turn a three-point game into a four-point one with a minute left.

“It’s a big deal but regardless that’s not why we lost the game,” Verdi said of that sequence. “We lost the game in the first period, but I thought that we fought back and I’m really proud of our effort.”

UMass’ challenges don’t stop but the road trip does. The Minutewomen head home to face A-10 leader Dayton on Wednesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Lulu Kesin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @LuluKesin.