Women’s basketball falls to St. Louis in Atlantic 10 semifinals despite heroic comeback effort

Touré recorded nine points, nine rebounds and two assists in the loss. PHOTO CREDIT: gorhody.com

The University of Rhode Island women’s basketball team fell to the Saint Louis Billikens on Saturday by a score of 59-56 in the Atlantic 10 tournament semifinals in Wilmington, Delaware.

The Rams defeated the George Washington Colonials yesterday to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2003. The last time the Rams made it to the semifinal round, they were victorious over Xavier University before falling to the Colonials in the finals.

Prior to the matchup on Saturday, the Rams faced the Billikens on Jan. 12 in St. Louis, a game they won 76-65.

Saint Louis started the first quarter strong, shooting 3-6 in the first 3:20 to jump out to a 6-3 lead. The Billikens’ defense started well, forcing the Rams to shoot only 1-10 in the first five minutes of the game. At the first media timeout, the Billikens held a 10-3 lead after a 6-0 run over two minutes. URI was scoreless in the stretch, after missing eight straight field goals for almost three minutes. First-year Anaelle Dutat ended the Rams’ scoreless stretch with a layup, starting in her second consecutive game.

With 1:46 remaining in the first quarter, the Billikens held a commanding 18-5 lead after making their last four field goals. SLU finished the quarter on a 14-2 run for over five minutes, as the Rams went scoreless for over three minutes. 

After the first-quarter beatdown, SLU held a 21-6 lead over Rhode Island. The Rams went 2-17 in the first quarter, with a only 12% shooting percentage. The Billikens, on the other hand, shot 9-16, with a percentage of over 56. 

The struggles continued for Rhode Island at the start of the second quarter, as Saint Louis used a full-court press to force two URI turnovers. Once the Rams got the ball upcourt, fifth-year Sayawni Lassiter was able to make a step-back three-pointer to end the scoring drought, but the Rams still trailed 26-9.

Rhode Island Head Coach Tammi Reiss spoke after the game about the struggles the Rams had early on. 

“Maybe they were a little scared, I don’t know what it was to start the game,” Reiss said.

“Uncharastically, we didn’t do anything we were supposed to do.”

The Rams started to pick it up about four minutes into the second quarter, going on a 9-0 run and making three straight field goals. Fourth-year Brooke Flowers of Saint Louis quickly quieted the URI crowd though, as she converted a layup and was fouled on the way up, completing a three-point possession. 

At the second media timeout, with 4:27 remaining in the half, the Billikens had a 16-point lead over the Rams, 34-18. Although the Rams had a better offensive output, scoring 12 points compared to their first quarter total of six. They could not outscore Saint Louis, however, who scored 13 points to Rhode Island’s 12 through almost six minutes. 

SLU began to figure out the Rams and went on a 10-0 run while the Rams went 0-6 from the field spanning the 5:30 mark to the 3:40 mark in the second period of play.

As the end of the half neared, the Rams went on a 6-2 run but also ended up going scoreless for over two minutes. SLU led URI 41-24 after the first half, with third-year forward Peyton Kenndey leading the charge with 16 points in just 13 minutes. 

The second half started well for the Rams, as they went on an 8-2 run and forced Saint Louis to call a timeout after scoring eight straight points in just 1:07. URI on this run cut the lead to 43-32.

After a slower-paced few minutes, Rams second-year guard Emmi Rinat hit a corner three-pointer to electrify the Rhode Island crowd. 

When the first media timeout of the second half came with 4:05 remaining in the third quarter, the Rams had cut the Billikens lead to 10, with SLU leading 47-37. The Rams held Saint Louis scoreless for over three minutes as they outscored the Bilikens 13-6 to start the half. 

Rhode Island outscored Saint Louis 17-9 in the third quarter, on their way to cutting the Billikens’ lead to single digits. SLU still led URI by a score of 50-41, but Rhody had the momentum and were out rebounding the Billikens 35-32. Two guards, third-year Dolly Cairns and Lassiter were leading the Rams with nine points apiece through three quarters. Dutat also became a major factor for URI, as she had six points and 11 rebounds. 

Right out of the break, fifth-year guard Madison Hattix-Covington made a three-pointer from the top of the arc, putting the pressure on SLU. The Rams started the fourth quarter on a 6-0 run, cutting the lead to 50-47. 

Soon after that, fourth-year Julia Martinez caused the Saint Louis fans to erupt with a three-point play, bringing the SLU lead back to 6 at 53-47 with six minutes to play. 

With 4:50 remaining, Reiss called a timeout with the team down 53-49. URI had outscored the Billikens 8-3 in the fourth quarter up to this point but could not get back to a tie. 

The Rams and Billikens struggled to score down the stretch, with both teams turning the ball over, as the Bilikens had 4 turnovers in just three minutes. With 1:41 remaining in the game, Lassiter got URI within two points as she made two free throws. As time ran down, third-year forward Mayé Touré was fouled with 52 seconds remaining in the game. Touré made both free throws to once again bring the Rams back within two points, still down 57-55. 

Reiss spoke post-game about the message she gave the team during halftime to get them back in the game.

 “I lit a fire under them,” Reiss said. “If you’re not going to play hard or do what we ask you to do, hold you accountable, you’re not playing.” 

Touré then got a block with 25 seconds remaining, and Lassiter was fouled as she drove toward the hoop the other way. Lassiter made one of two free throws, cutting the deficit to one, with 17 seconds remaining. Saint Louis called a timeout, now only leading 57-56. 

With 14.5 seconds remaining, second-year guard Sophie Phillips took a charge from Kennedy to get the Rams the ball back. 

As the Rams tried to inbound the ball, it was stolen by Martinez who was fouled by Hattix-Covington. Martinez made both free throws to extend the lead back to three. 

With four seconds remaining, the Rams got the ball to Phillips whose three-point attempt went off the back iron and out, as Rhody lost to SLU 59-56. 

Rhode Island fell to Saint Louis, with the difference being in the first half. The Rams shot 7-35 in the first half, a low 20%. 

Dolly Cairns discussed post-game how she felt the team played and what the problem was in the first half.

“I wish we started better,” she said. “I think we needed more of a spark of energy, and to get everyone on the same page.” 

Reiss added on about the second half and how she thought the team played. 

“Great 20 minutes, that second half,” she said.

Cairns discussed the Rhode Island fans and how they had an impact on the games this weekend.

“It’s awesome, we really appreciate our fans,” She said. “That’s what makes it fun, and that is what gives us energy.”

 Up next, Saint Louis moves on to face the University of Massachusetts on Sunday at 12 p.m. URI awaits selections for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) to see if they are playing more post season basketball in 2023.