Surviving near-collapse is new for the Minutewomen

UMass outscored 21-8 in the final five minutes but still pulls out win

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Surviving near-collapse is new for the Minutewomen

Nina Walat

Nina Walat

Nina Walat

By Tim Sorota, Collegian Staff

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This game should not have been this close.

The Massachusetts women’s basketball (5-3) led New Hampshire (2-6) by 19 midway through the third quarter of Thursday night’s game. The Minutewomen were far from perfect up to that point, but after the Wildcats trimmed the lead to nine and Tory Verdi called a timeout with 1:01 remaining in the third, UMass closed with two baskets. It seemed like the game was safely in the Minutewomen’s win column.

But then came a fourth quarter collapse which, combined with 22 turnovers throughout the game, seemed like the perfect recipe for a Wildcat upset. The 2019-20 edition of UMass women’s basketball would not allow that to happen, though, securing a 67-65 win after a desperation half-court heave by UNH did not fall.

“I just told my team that probably in the past years we don’t pull this game off and win,” Verdi said. “That’s the one positive and that’s what I told them. In the past we’d probably lose this game because we just don’t have enough to pull it out and we did.”

Through three and a half quarters, it felt like the game was not as close as the scoreboard indicated. The Minutewomen never surrendered the lead, and between the midway point of the second and five-minute mark of the fourth, the smallest lead they had was six. But UNH remained in striking distance, mostly because UMass committed turnovers at a steady rate throughout the contest.

“It was disappointing because we have taken care of the basketball,” Verdi said. “For whatever reason, whether it was lack of focus or lack of execution. I’ve never seen anything like it where we are just handing them the ball. We made bad passes and just handed them the ball.”

The mistakes finally started catching up to the Minutewomen late in the game, with UNH outscoring UMass 21-8 in the final five minutes and shrinking the lead down to one possession multiple times during the game’s final 60 seconds.

While the Wildcats continued to hit big shots to keep up the pressure, the Minutewomen’s confidence and belief in one another never wavered. Senior captain Vashnie Perry has been on UMass teams that in the past, like Verdi said, may have let this game slip away.

This year seems to be different.

“He is definitely right,” Perry said. “But this team, this year, there is just so much heart, there’s so much fight, there’s so much passion, there’s so much confidence, and there’s so much love for each other that there’s no reason why we can’t pull ourselves out of these situations.”

The Minutewomen have shown this season an ability to win games when they have performed poorly in certain statistical areas. Against UMass Lowell, other than Hailey Leidel, UMass shot 2-of-14 from beyond the arc and was still victorious by 16. On Thursday, the glaring weakness was turnovers.

“I think with this team, because we work so hard off the court, that it’s just the little things that add up,” Perry said. “Yes, we had 22 turnovers, but at the end of the day we have more to our game than just mistakes.”

Freshman Maeve Donnelly accounted for four of those 22. Even though this is her first year in Division I basketball, she echoed her captain’s words about being a dynamic bunch that is not defined by just one bad stat.

“If we stay together little things like turnovers or fouls, it’s obviously going to hurt us, but if we stay together and continue playing our game, we can still pull out the win,” she said.

On Sunday against Holy Cross, the Minutewomen will look to clean up the mistakes from Thursday but hope to continue their winning ways.

Tim Sorota can be reached by email at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TimSorota.