Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass women’s basketball mount massive comeback, take 69-66 thriller over Holy Cross

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Still reeling from a tough loss to Boston University on Wednesday, it took a major comeback for the Massachusetts women’s basketball to claim a statement victory over Holy Cross Sunday, taking a 69-66 win thanks to a 22-4 run in the third quarter after enduring an 18-point halftime deficit.

“First of all, I have to give our kids some credit,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “They faced a lot of adversity. Down 23 points, they’re not feeling too good about themselves. We talked at halftime, made some adjustments defensively, and I think they did a great job of just chipping away at the lead and making shots.”

Twenty-one points for Hailey Leidel and a career-high 15 for Leah McDerment, along with nine points and 12 rebounds from Maggie Mulligan, helped the Minutewomen overcome some lights-out shooting from Holy Cross.

The Crusaders were red-hot early, racking up 30 points on 10-16 shooting from 3-point rang, torching UMass (6-6, 0-1 Atlantic 10) from deep throughout the first half and stretching their lead to as much as 23 points. Holy Cross junior Katie Doherty was on fire in the first half, knocking down five 3-pointers before halftime.

It took some stingy second-half defense, and an all-around team effort on the offensive end for the Minutewomen to claw their way back.

“I thought Alyssa Lawrence gave us a lot of energy, especially defensively,” Verdi said. “Alyx Stiff was hitting some shots, Maggie Mulligan started getting it going in the second half, Hailey Leidel knocking down 21 points, and I thought Leah McDerment was really good in the second half, being our catalyst and attacking the basket.”

Holy Cross took a 43-25 lead into the break, and UMass was looking at yet another big halftime deficit. However, in their previous losses after slow starts, the Minutewomen didn’t have Alyssa Lawrence.

Lawrence, in just her second game back from injury, gave UMass a major spark off the bench. During the big run in the third, a steal from Lawrence and an and-one finish on the other end put a charge into her team, and minutes later things were tied 47-47.

“I can’t even explain how amazing it is to have Alyssa back,” McDerment said. She’s just such a presence on the court, offensively no one can guard her going to the basket, and defensively her athleticism is unmatched. Having her back is just so good for us.”

Eventually, Stiff drilled a 3 with 1:53 remaining to give the Minutewomen their first lead since the opening minute, and the comeback was complete. The Crusaders led for 36:22 on Sunday before Stiff’s triple and would not lead again.

It was only fitting that Mulligan, the driving force behind this UMass team all season, would be the one to come up big in the final moment. With the Minutewomen up by three and just 18 seconds to play, Mulligan rose up to stuff a potential game-tying 3 from Lauren Manis, and Stiff sank both of her free throws on the other end to ice the game.

“More than anything, it shows that we are capable,” McDerment said. “I think now, hopefully we never dig ourselves a hole like that again, but we know we were down 23 and we can come back and win games. I think it was really good for us, and we really needed that win going into the Christmas break.”

“It feels great,” Verdi added. “Ee just gotta get back in the gym and continue to get better. With Alyx and Alyssa coming back, getting them more involved, we’re trying to build chemistry, and I think our best basketball is ahead, and a win like this can definitely catapult you into some great things.”

Riding the momentum from a big win, the Minutewomen now shift their focus to A-10 play.

“It’s a huge morale boost,” Mulligan said. “Especially after the BU game, I think it’s what we needed going into conference play.”

But before UMass can worry about A-10 opponents, the Minutewomen escape the cold northeast weather and head to Miami, to participate in the FIU Holiday Classic at Florida International University.

After taking on FIU and Drexel on Dec. 28 and 29, UMass opens A-10 play in Ohio against Dayton on New Year’s Eve, before returning to Amherst on Jan. 4 against Rhode Island.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected].


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