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Minutewomen split Thanksgiving Classic

(Jessica Picard/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team split two games in the Thanksgiving Classic tournament this weekend, finishing with a win over Liberty on Saturday to snap a three-game losing streak.

After Liberty (1-4) mustered a comeback in the fourth quarter to tie the game with eight seconds left, freshman Paige McCormick took a pass from Bre Hampton-Bey and drained a three at the buzzer to give UMass (3-3) a 64-61 win.

“I knew that the clock was winding down,” McCormick said. “Bre saw me, and I was wide open, so I’m glad she saw me. And I just happened to knock it down, I guess.”

The game-winning three came after Liberty whittled a seven-point halftime lead down to just one point with less than a minute to go. Coach Tory Verdi called a timeout with 21 seconds left as the Minutewomen tried to preserve their lead.

“We had to inbound the ball and get it in,” Verdi said. “We did that and we got fouled on the free throw line, knocked down some free throws, went up three. And then, obviously, Liberty hit a big three with eight seconds to go. But our kids were resilient, and were able to knock down the final three at the buzzer.”

The dramatic win came after a 64-54 loss to Northeastern on Friday. The Minutewomen held a slim lead at halftime, but fell behind in an ugly third period that gave Northeastern a lead it would not relinquish.

Verdi said that the struggles in the third period started when UMass ran into foul trouble.

“Leidel picked up, I believe it was her third [foul], early on, and she had to come out,” Verdi said. “Then we kind of stalled. Maggie [Mulligan] was struggling; she hit her first two shots of the day, then she went 0-for-4 and 0-for-6 before she hit her next one. So, it was just a lack of offensive production within that third period.”

The offensive inefficiency in the third quarter was symptomatic of a UMass offense that had been struggling to make shots. The Minutewomen made 30.8 percent of their shots from the field Friday against Northeastern, which was an improvement from their previous game against North Dakota.

According to Verdi, the inefficiency stemmed from a lack of energy from the team.

“We knew we had two tough opponents and I thought that yesterday, for whatever reason, we weren’t there,” Verdi said. “We weren’t focused, we didn’t have a ‘want-to’ and I’m not sure why. But I was embarrassed for our play, our lack of effort, and we didn’t do a lot of things.”

Just 24 hours later, the Minutewomen looked completely different, executing fundamentals and playing with much greater intensity.

“We were not systematic against Northeastern,” Verdi said. “We talked about that as a team, and they understood my disappointment, and they made it happen here today. We were really good defensively, we were flying around. At halftime we had 17 deflections, and our goal is to get 25 deflections a game, so they did their job here tonight.”

Part of the difference came from increased confidence from the Minutewomen, who came in looking to turn around a three-game losing streak that dropped them below .500 for the first time this season. McCormick said that the losing streak gave them more incentive going into Saturday’s game.

“Bouncing back,” McCormick said of the team’s mindset, “We knew that we had unfinished business, especially just this weekend. We’ve been working really hard in practice, and I guess just the past couple games we haven’t really worked together, and we needed to find our groove again. So we knew coming in that we were going to be positive, stay positive, work as a team, and work hard.”

UMass has a quick turnaround this week, going on the road to face Texas-Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday as it kicks off a three-game road trip. Verdi said that the team’s growth over the last few games gave him optimism going into those next three games.

“There’s a maturation process in this whole thing,” Verdi said. “We went on the road in North Dakota and had two really tough trips, and I think it hurt us from a confidence standpoint, playing against two really good teams. We came back against Northeastern, and obviously we were still lacking, for whatever reason, confidence. And then today’s win kind of helps you move in the right direction. And I’m looking forward to going on this road trip and winning a couple more games.”

Thomas Haines can be reached at thaines@umass.edu or followed on Twitter @thainessports.

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