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 wins thriller at the buzzer to beat St. Johns, 63-61

Sam Breen sinks layup to win it for the Minutewomen
Chris Tucci/UMass Athletics

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team scored when it mattered most on Sunday, as forward Sam Breen sunk a layup at the buzzer to defeat Saint John’s, 63-61.

Despite an early 18-4 run from a tall and athletic St. John’s (2-3, 0-1 Big East) team, UMass (5-1, 1-0 Atlantic 10) changed its strategy by transitioning into a zone defense, inevitably resulting in 16 points off of 21 turnovers against the Red Storm.

“We got down early, St. John’s came out fast, knocked down a bunch of 3s and we were one step slow,” said head coach Tory Verdi. “I told them that it’s a 40-minute game, we can’t lose our composure, to continue to do what we do, to chip away at it, get a stop and a score, and if we can do that a couple times, we can get right back into this thing.”

A slow start to the game for the Minutewomen turned into a 14-point comeback in the first half, as they took a 25-24 lead during the second quarter thanks to a 10-0 run.

“Once we started getting through three quarters into the first period, we started to settle down a little bit, we started to execute, we started to get high percentage shots, and we started to score,” Verdi said. “I’m so proud of our players, we faced adversity right off the bat, and just goes to show you their toughness and resilience.”

From there, UMass and St. John’s went back and forth throughout the rest of the first half, ending it with a score of 35-33 in favor of St. John’s. Guard Qadashah Hoppie came up big for the Red Storm as she dropped 16 points in the first half, finishing with 21 points.

Although the Red Storm were able to pull away a little bit during the third quarter, the Minutewomen stayed with them heading into the fourth quarter.

“We know, no matter if we get down early or not, we know we can fight back,” said senior Sam Breen

It really started to heat up in UMass’ favor in the fourth quarter, as they played a faster paced game, forced turnovers, and ultimately hit important shots.

“Doing the little things, getting offensive rebounds, even if we weren’t finishing, cleaning up the boards, transferred into big things. Especially defensive rebounding going into transition, that helped us a lot too,” Breen said.

A shift of momentum occurred when guard Sydney Taylor hit late game 3-pointers, as well as guard Madison Lowery, who hit a corner three with just over two minutes to go in the game to take the lead for UMass, 59-57. Taylor ended with 15 points, six rebounds and three steals, while the 3-pointer was Lowery’s only basket of the game.

“Madison’s [Lowery] 3 was huge for us because it finally gave us the lead back,” Breen said.

In the end, forward Maddie Sims was sent to the line to shoot two free throws. Despite missing both shots, Breen got the offensive rebound and layed it in for the win. The senior ended with a double-double, scoring 22 points, while grabbing 13 rebounds.

“I’m one that likes to crash on offensive rebounds, especially on free throws, so me and Syd [Taylor] made eye contact and said, ‘We’re crashing here,’” Breen said. “I threw it up, hoping I got it off in time, and luckily it went in.”

Energetic play from guard Destiney Philoxy was also crucial as she drew important fouls throughout the game. The junior ended with 12 points and nine assists.

In post-game interviews, both Coach Verdi and Breen expressed their trust and appreciation for what they each do and what they bring to the team, as well as each other.

“Sam [Breen] makes things happen,” Verdi said. “Sam has a nose and knack for the ball, got it and was able to put it in as time expired. I knew as soon as Sam got it, that we were going to win.”

“[Coach’s] confidence in me has made me the player that I am. He really made me fall in love with the game again and that’s made all the difference,” Breen said.

The Minutewomen now head into a three-week break, before returning to start conference play on New Year’s Day.

“I’m so thankful our administration has allowed our players to go home. They’ve been here since August and it hasn’t been easy,” Verdi said, “It’s going to be really good for them.”

UMass travels to Philadelphia to take on St. Joseph’s on Jan. 1, beginning A-10 conference play for the team. Tip-off is to be determined.

Will Kharfen can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on twitter at @WHK_14.

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    Jonathan KharfenDec 16, 2020 at 9:47 am

    A really well written article.