Rhode Island women's basketball comes up short against St. Joseph's; here's what happened

SOUTH KINGSTOWN — The play was designed for someone else.

Teisha Hyman’s drive down the right side was meant to spark action elsewhere. Sophie Phillips came off a screen toward the left corner, Dee Dee Davis drifted along the top of the key and Mayé Touré popped toward the left wing.

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Teisha Hyman looks to get past a St. Joseph's defender on Sunday. URI vs. St. Joe's, 1/21/24
Teisha Hyman looks to get past a St. Joseph's defender on Sunday. URI vs. St. Joe's, 1/21/24

None of those three options came open. Hyman was left to step back and attempt the tying 3-pointer Sunday afternoon, a shot that ultimately found glass and rim before bouncing out.

It's the latest chapter in a familiar struggle this season for the University of Rhode Island women. Offense hasn’t come easily. The road to an expected Atlantic 10 title challenge has featured more detours than at any point in the last three years.

Saint Joseph’s held on for a 51-48 victory at the Ryan Center, keeping pace with Richmond, VCU and George Mason among the current wave of contenders. The Rams are one defeat more likely to surrender the crown they earned in 2022-23, and it’s largely because of the chemistry they still lack with the ball in their hands.

“You hold one of the top three teams to 51 points, you should win that game,” URI head coach Tammi Reiss said. “You should be able to score more than 51 points to win a game. But, again, offensively, we have trouble some nights putting the ball in the hole.”

URI faced a three-point deficit with 8.6 seconds to play, and the Hawks had two fouls to give. They elected to simply guard the Rams straight up, and Hyman’s miss from the wing came with a hand in her face. Mackenzie Smith’s drive down the left and pair of free throws inside the final 1:40 were enough for Saint Joseph’s to make it 9-0 away from Hagan Arena this season.

“We were ready to compete today,” Reiss said. “Are we at the level where we can execute for 40 minutes to win a game like that? That’s the question, and that’s where we have to get better.”

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URI women's basketball coach Tammi Reiss draws up a play as her players look on during Sunday's game vs. St. Joseph's at the Ryan Center. 1/21/24
URI women's basketball coach Tammi Reiss draws up a play as her players look on during Sunday's game vs. St. Joseph's at the Ryan Center. 1/21/24

URI didn’t manage a field goal over the final 4:38 of the third, allowing the Hawks to build a 42-32 cushion. The Rams hit back in the opening 4:32 of the fourth, pulling into the game’s first tie when Hyman buried a 3-pointer from the right side. Touré spun for a jumper on the right block to knot it again at 44-44, but Saint Joseph’s collected the next five points to ultimately take the lead for good.

“We knew exactly what they were going to bring, and it was a bloodbath today,” Reiss said. “Every possession mattered.”

URI ultimately couldn’t take a first lead since early in the second quarter, and that came largely due to 36.8% shooting and a 2-for-14 effort from 3-point range. Hyman, Touré and Davis all hit double figures, but the Rams managed just five points and went 2-for-19 from the field outside that trio. Phillips was scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting from 3-point range — the first time she’s failed to connect from deep since a conference tournament loss to Saint Louis in March.

“I thought we’d be much better offensively,” Reiss said. “I did. I thought we’d average high 60s. I’m just being honest with the kids, with what their skill set was coming in.”

It’s the fourth time URI (12-8, 4-3 Atlantic 10) has been held to 50 points or less through 20 games. The Rams are 0-4 on those occasions — this was their first such defeat at home. Smith led three in double figures with 15 for the Hawks (17-2, 6-1), who dropped their last two trips here in overtime and double-overtime, respectively.

“It doesn’t surprise me where we are, because I see it every day in practice,” Reiss said. “I know where we need to get better.

“You’re going to have to get better to win games — we're going to have to. That’s part of the process, and we can. I know what we can do.”

URI visits La Salle for a special morning tip Wednesday before a grudge match against rival Massachusetts next weekend. The Rams will host the Minutewomen looking to avoid a third home defeat on this floor — that would exceed URI’s total from all of the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons. Reiss is still seeking the brand of mental steel and cohesiveness those teams possessed while making the program’s first pair of WNIT runs.

“It comes from the coaches right now,” Reiss said. “We’re trying to find that on the floor. That’s the difference with every team every year.

“I tell them all the time, ‘We’re not comparing you guys to the past.’ We’ve got to make our own season — this team. And we are where we are right now. We’ve got to get better.”     

On X: @BillKoch25 

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: URI women's basketball comes up short against St. Joe's, 51-48