Phillips led the Rams with 17 points in Friday’s quarterfinal win. PHOTO CREDIT: gorhody.com
It was a successful start to the Atlantic 10 postseason tournament for the University of Rhode Island women’s basketball team, who took down the George Washington Colonials 68-56 in the quarterfinals on Friday.
The Rams came into the game looking for their first postseason win in five games under head coach Tammi Reiss. The team’s last tournament win came back in 2016, in the quarterfinals vs. Saint Joseph’s. Coincidentally, it was a quarterfinal matchup vs. the Hawks that sent Rhode Island packing in 2022.
URI fifth-year Emma Squires was kept out of the starting lineup with an ankle injury sustained in their season finale vs. Dayton, but team staff reported that she is not expected to be out for the whole weekend, should the Rams continue to progress. First-year Anaelle Dutat replaced Squires for her first start of the season.
Defense was the name of the game as both teams struggled to find the basket early on in the first quarter, shooting a combined 1-11 from the floor in the opening four minutes. An early layup from Rhode Island third-year Mayé Touré was the only field goal for either team in that stretch.
Despite the poor shooting, Touré went 2-2 to open the game, spearheading a 4-0 run for Rhode Island that saw them take a 6-2 lead going into the under-five timeout. George Washington continued their dry streak throughout the first quarter, shooting 0-6 as their only points through the first six minutes came from the charity stripe.
Faith Blethen eventually kickstarted the Colonials offense with a pair of three-point efforts that tied the score at eight with three minutes left in the first quarter. The Rams then re-took the lead off of a pair of free-throws from second-year Sophie Phillips and never looked back, going into the first-quarter break with a 13-8 lead.
Blethens led all players in the first 10 minutes with six points on four rebounds. Touré led the Rams with 4 points and three rebounds of her own.
Touré would continue where she left off in the first, putting away a layup one minute in to give the Rams their first double-digit lead of the night, 18-8. The lead didn’t hold up for long, as Nya Lok and Asjah Innis combined for nine straight points for George Washington to claw the deficit back down to one.
The teams continued to trade baskets through the next three minutes, before a Phillips three-point effort coupled with an and-one free throw from fifth-year Tennin Magassa began a ten-point run for the Rams. The run re-established a nine-point lead for Rhode Island, 33-22, with just over a minute left in the half.
Lok would add four more points before the conclusion of the half to keep it close, as the Colonials went into the break trailing 33-26. She led all players at the half with 14 points as the only player in double-figure through the first 20 minutes, while Magassa led the Rams with eight points off the bench. The Colonials also had the slight advantage on the boards in a heavily-defensive first half, going into the break leading Rhode Island 19-15 off the glass.
The second half saw another slow offensive start for Rhode Island, who saw their only scoring in the opening four minutes come from a Dutat layup early on. A 7-3 lead on the boards in the early stages of the half for URI prevented the Colonials from running away with it, and with just under six minutes to go, third-year center Tennin Magassa fired up the Rhode Island bench with an and-one free throw to take the 38-31 lead.
With four minutes remaining in the third quarter, it was George Washington that would once again come alive, going on a 6-0 run to bring the deficit to three points. However, Rhode Island would respond with a run of their own, as a pair of layups from Dutat and Touré kept the distance between them and the Colonials. Phillips would further increase the distance with what was only Rhode Island’s second successful three-pointer of the night with under a minute to go, and the Rams went into the final quarter leading by 10, 49-39.
Going into the fourth quarter, Lok continued to lead all scorers with 21 points, while Phillips led the Rams with 12 of her own, shooting 4-5 from the field and 2-3 from distance.
Third-year Dolly Cairns opened up the scoring for URI just over a minute into the final period with her first field goal of the night, giving the Rams a 12 point lead. Just over two minutes later, another Phillips three-point shot followed by a Touré layup would further extend the lead to 17, URI’s largest of the night, before the Colonials snapped the run through a Nya Robertson three-pointer.
Through the final four minutes, the Colonials surged back, connecting on a pair of three-point attempts that trimmed the lead back down to four. With just under two minutes to go, the Colonials held Rhode Island to a 4:15 scoring drought, trailing 58-54. Fifth-year Madison Hattix-Covington ended the drought with a layup to re-extend the lead to six, but this game was far from over.
The teams continued to battle it out in the final minute. Eventually, perfect trips to the line from Touré, Phillips and Cairns in the final minute were enough to see Rhode Island retake the 12 point lead, and the Rams came out with the 68-56 win despite a late scare.
“It’s been 20 years since we’ve made it to a semi-final, so to get that monkey off our backs felt pretty good today,” Reiss said following the win. “[I’m] really proud of how they kept their composure, made foul shots at the end, and no matter how you do it, you survive and advance. That’s what this group did.”
Rhode Island finished the game shooting 41.5% from the floor compared to George Washington’s 30.6%. Neither team shot particularly well from distance, as Rhode Island connected on only three of 15 attempts from beyond the arc. The Colonials weren’t much better, going 7-27.
Three Rams finished in double-figure scoring. Phillips led the way with 17 points, while Touré had a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Magassa also had a season-high 11 points. In her first start of the season, Dutat finished with 8 points and 8 rebounds, just shy of her season-high.
Despite the historic victory, Phillips and Touré both emphasized the team’s mentality going into tomorrow’s semifinal: The job is not done yet.
“It’s [the win is] definitely a big accomplishment, but we’re obviously just looking towards the next game, and nothing else really matters except tomorrow’s game,” Phillips said.
“I really love this team, we play for each other,” Touré said. “It’s [the win is] great because that’s a lot of work and we were looking for that, but it’s just one step, we gotta lock in for tomorrow now. It’s just one down. We’re not thinking about two games, it’s just one and we need to win.”
The Rams will face St. Louis in tomorrow’s semifinal. Tip-off from Wilmington, Delaware is set for 1:30 p.m. on ESPN+.