The University of Rhode Island women’s basketball team continued to grind through the early goings of a fresh season, earning their first win against Marist College in their Sunday home opener, 82-61, before falling on the road to the University of Toledo, 65-50, Tuesday night.
Rhode Island (1-2) put the blowout loss versus Syracuse on Friday behind them, and bounced back in a big way versus Marist (0-3) on Sunday afternoon. The Red Foxes started the game with a 5-0 run, but URI responded with 10 unanswered points. The score was tied 12-12 near the end of the first quarter, until URI went on a 7-0 run to give them a 19-12 lead they would never relinquish. The game firmly shifted into the Rams’ control when Marist became ice cold from 3-point range.
Rhode Island’s defense neutralized all shooters except guard Allie Clement, who managed 19 points on 8-of-17 shooting. The Red Foxes could not overcome the disparity in size or physicality, rarely entering the paint with any success. They continued to fire shots from beyond the perimeter, only connecting on 22 percent of their attempts. It became clear before the end of the half that head coach Daynia La-Force had a game plan conducive for victory.
“That’s a very good program,” La-Force said. “I thought it would be very difficult guarding them man-to-man because they have a lot of motion sets, back screens. The challenging thing is to get your team to communicate and be disciplined, and it’s something we’ve been working on. I’m happy we finally got it together tonight.”
The Rams’ defense kept the Red Foxes out of sync in every aspect of their offense. The guards never got comfortable, and as a result of URI’s immense pressure, which they were able to continuously apply due to their implementation of a deep bench, Marist was prone to a high turnover rate. Marist had 16, while Rhode Island committed 14, but the Rams were the more aggressive team, coming away with 10 steals. Marist, despite their inability to find a consistent rhythm, found itself within two points of their opponent with less than four minutes remaining in the first half.
The Rams, just like on defense, were propelled by a balanced attack led by junior Charise Wilson and went on a quarter-closing run to once again seize control of the game. Redshirt junior Morgan Johnson capped off the 14-5 run with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, one of four on a day in which the guard scored a career-high 12 points. The Rams comfortably led 41-30 at the break.
URI effectively put the game out of reach in the beginning of the second half, showcasing their depth en route to building an 18-point lead in the first four minutes of the third quarter. Sophomore Amari Johnson and freshman Ednaija Lassiter each totaled career-highs in scoring, coming off the bench to provide 13 and 11 points respectively. Lassiter helped make the 3-point shot a viable option for her team, shooting 3-of-5 from downtown, as the Rams shot a respectable 33 percent from long-range. La-Force was pleased by the complete effort by her team, knowing how important it will be for all of her players to consistently contribute.
“It’s a matter of the program taking the next step,” La-Force said. “It’s great to see everything come together. Still very early, got a lot of games left to play, and we’re just looking forward to taking it one game at a time.”
The Rams clinched the win with a final of 82-61, rebounding from what La-Force believed to be a learning experience in Syracuse with a successful performance on both ends of the courts. Wilson amended for her own woes in the Carrier Dome with a stat line that included 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting, eight rebounds and five assists, one of which was a highlight reel, no-look pass to Jalissa Ross for a lay-up. Wilson knows she will need to maintain her strong form going forward, but credits her continued growth to the chemistry of the team as a whole.
“Definitely working with the girls in the offseason, we have a collection now,” Wilson said. “I’m happy to play with them and I’m happy to give them more assists, so I can make more of my game less scoring and more of a point guard game.”
The Rams were unable to maintain similar intensity on the road in their matchup against Toledo (2-0) in Ohio’s Savage Arena. A competitive first quarter saw the Rockets leading the Rams 14-10. The complexion the game soon changed in the second frame when Toledo increased their lead to double-digits, with the Rams trailing 36-21 at halftime. This time, it was URI who was bit by the turnover bug, committing 11 through the first 20 minutes of action, and 24 for the game. The backcourt of Dominique Ward and Wilson fell victim to the traps that plagued them against Syracuse in the opener, combining for 11 turnovers.
Offensively, the Rams were rendered ineffective, shooting 20 percent from the field and 30 percent from behind the 3-point line. Freshman center Nicole Jorgenson came off the bench and gave the Rams their only means of efficient production with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting for a career-high performance. Wilson, the team’s primary scorer, slid back into the shooting slump that plagued her against the Orange, and shot just 1-of-16 from the field and 0-of-9 from 3-point range.
The game was never in the Rams’ grasp during the second half, as Toledo continued to apply the same defensive pressure that URI used to limit Marist days earlier. Both teams played to a tie in the half, with URI’s mini-run at the game far too insufficient to avoid the 65-50 defeat.
Rhode Island hopes to get back on track when they return to the Ryan Center Friday at 7 p.m. to face Ivy Leaguer the University of Pennsylvania.