Women’s basketball: UMass can’t dig out of early hole, drop 1st A-10 game at Rhode Island

Staff Writer
Published: 1/17/2022 8:43:02 PM
Modified: 1/17/2022 8:41:57 PM

Heading into Monday's much-anticipated matchup between UMass and Rhode Island, it looked like it was going to be a battle of opposing concepts. The Rams boasted the Atlantic 10’s best defense, while UMass entered with the league’s top offense. 

The Rams’ defense stoned the Minutewomen's offense in the first half however, and though Sam Breen put the Minutewomen on her back and led a strong comeback effort, the Rams’ early lead was just too much for UMass to overcome in a 66-58 loss in Kingston, R.I.

“We did not play well in the first half, I don't think that’s rocket science,” UMass head coach Tory Verdi said. “We weren't focused, we defensively missed assignments, not knowing personnel offensively, just didn't have anything and really struggled. We dug ourselves a pretty big hole.” 

UMass struggled in areas they usually excel in, especially during the first half. After the final buzzer, the Rams had outrebounded the Minutewomen 43-28, and those boards were crucial for the Rams’ success. In the first half, UMass shot just 31 percent from the field compared to URI's 48 percent, and scored just 12 points in the paint, while the Rams posted 22 points inside. 

“They found us on the boards and I didn't think we did a really good job, just collectively as a group. We're shooting the ball and our guards are watching instead of everyone crashing the boards for whatever reason, I don't know,” Verdi said on his team's rebounding. “(That’s) something that we'll take a look at and we'll get back at it and hopefully be better next time.”

The first quarter started off relatively close, with Rhode Island and UMass trading buckets back and forth over the first couple of minutes, but the Minutewomen’s offense dried up midway through the quarter. URI went on a 14-0 run to close out the opening frame, blazing out to a 24-8 lead and putting some serious distance between the two teams right out of the gate. 

Verdi tried to slow down Rhode Island’s momentum, calling a timeout with 2:27 left, when the score was still 19-8. But it couldn’t get UMass back into a scoring groove, and URI’s offense and defense stayed hot. 

A key cog in Rhode Island’s win was Emmanuelle Tahane, who went 4-for-6 from the field in the first quarter alone and caused a lot of problems for the Minutewomen. Tahane finished with 15 points on the night, the Rams’ second-leading scorer behind Dolly Cairns (21 points), but the tone of the game shifted every time Tahane stepped on the floor and got the ball in her hands. 

The second half was much of the same for the Minutewomen, who were still frustrated offensively and could not get a basket to fall their way. Rhode Island scored eight points in the paint in the second quarter, adding to the 14 points they scored there in the first, and continued to stymie the Minutewomen on offense. 

But, as we know by now, this UMass team is a resilient one, and has shown that they can heat up in the latter half of the game. That’s exactly what happened in the third quarter, when Breen burst onto the scene and showed why she's one of, if not the, best player in the Atlantic 10 right now. She exploded with 10 points, four rebounds, and three steals to pull the Minutewomen back into the game, and by the end of the third frame, UMass was within six points. 

“Especially in the second half, I thought Sam Breen was a catalyst for us,” Verdi said. “I think that she took it upon herself, you know, to score the ball. I mean, the fact that she had, you know, 25 [points] and 13 [rebounds] says a lot about who she is.”

Verdi chose to go with Makennah White down the stretch instead of Angelique Ngalakulondi, who has been one of the team's starters and one of their most reliable post players as the season has wore on. Verdi liked what he saw from White in general on Monday, but emphasized that his team's post play needed to be stronger as a whole. 

“I just thought that offensively she was helping us out, she was being more physical, ducking in. I thought she was doing a really good job in the paint the second half. I felt good with her and I stayed with her,” Verdi said on White's play. “That doesn't change anything about Angelique. But collectively, our post game needs to be better. And, you know, that's all those guys.”

It was a nailbiter of a fourth period, with the Minutewomen pulling within four points on multiple occasions during the quarter and even pulling within two points courtesy of a couple of Breen free throws.

But the Rams were determined to not give away the lead they'd banked up, and they needed every one of the points they'd gotten in the first half to stave off the UMass comeback.

UMass (14-3 overall, 2-1 A 10) will go back home off a 2-1 road trip, and though Monday wasn't the outcome they wanted, Verdi recognizes that there's plenty of time for his team to learn from its mistakes and bounce back.

“We weren't good enough today,” Verdi said. “We're gonna learn from this game and the second time we play them, we will be more prepared. I guarantee you that, and I'm excited about playing them again.”


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