Tied at 61 with eight seconds left on the clock and facing the prospect of a four-game losing streak, the UMass women’s basketball team was able to defeat Liberty on a buzzer-beating three by Paige McCormick.
That three-pointer was McCormick’s second of the game and sixth on the season, as the freshman forward from Ogdensburg, New York, has taken on a critical role in the offense for UMass (3-3).
“She’s a scorer,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “She scored over 2000 points in high school, and was the reason why they were a success there. But she’s a scorer by nature. We expect her to attack the basket, we expect her to be a ready shooter and knock down the three or the two for us. She’s really confident and she’s excelling for us right now.”
One of seven new players for the Minutewomen this season, McCormick has hit the ground running, averaging over 10 points per game. Perhaps most impressively, she is averaging over 30 minutes per game, starting every game so far for UMass.
“I definitely come into practice doing what I can to get better each day,” McCormick said. “I definitely need to become more consistent, but I’m still working on that. I just don’t want to let the team down, so I just come in and give good effort.”
With only four returning players, McCormick and the other freshmen are crucial to the Minutewomen’s success this season. Leah McDerment, one of UMass’ two seniors, said that the quick adjustment by the freshmen has propelled the team this season.
“I think they’re doing a great job,” McDerment said. “I think that they know how valuable they are for us, and each one of them can come in and do something important…everyone knows that it doesn’t matter how much you play or how little you play, that you are important and that you can do something for us. So I think that they’re gaining a lot of confidence, which is really good.”
The Liberty game was UMass’ sixth of the season, and the win snapped a three-game losing streak dating back to the weekend before, when the Minutewomen dropped two games in North Dakota on their first road trip of the season. That trip also saw McCormick’s worst performances of the season, as she hit just 23 percent of her shots from the field and scored only seven points over the two games.
As UMass prepares for another road trip this week — this time to Texas for three games in four days — McCormick said that the struggles on the North Dakota trip helped her learn what to expect on the road.
“North Dakota was just like, whoa. My first big road trip, so we didn’t have time to really relax,” McCormick said. “So that was a hard adjustment. Going to Texas, I think I’ll be a little bit more prepared, as the rest of the team will be too. We have a lot of newbies.”
One lesson McCormick mentioned from the North Dakota trip was the importance of mental preparedness.
“We know what to expect, so that’s in the back of our heads,” McCormick said. “And really just bringing our own energy is so important on the road. I can’t stress that enough. Because we struggled with energy in our road games, so that’s a big part of everything.”
Regardless of the location, McCormick emphasized the importance of continued improvement.
“Individually, I need to become a more consistent shooter and crash the boards, because we definitely need people crashing,” McCormick said. “And as a team, I think just improving our team chemistry, because that’s always something we can improve on. We need to be more consistent each game because we have the talent, we have the will-to, we just got to put it all together every game, not take a day off.”
Thomas Haines can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @thainessports.