UMass beat Fordham for the first time in 11 years on Sunday

A strong second half guides the Minutewomen to a historic victory

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Chris Tucci/UMass Athletics

By Lulu Kesin, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team beat Fordham for the first time since February 6, 2010.

Coming off a double-digit win over Davidson on Friday, UMass (8-2, 4-1 Atlantic 10) found itself down by seven at the half on Sunday afternoon. Sam Breen, the consistent sparkplug for the Minutewomen, rose to the occasion and went on a 6-0 run herself in the third quarter to bring UMass within one.

“Even before we took the lead, when we closed the gap to like one or two the momentum started to swing,” Breen said. “We can’t get down again. we’re here, we are right here, we can take the lead not lose the lead.”

Breen’s 17 points and 10 rebounds certainly gave UMass the extra push in a timely fashion, but the team effort led by the freshman brought new energy to the second half.

“Makennah White was the ‘X’ factor today,” head coach Tory Verdi said. “I thought she came in during the fourth period and changed the whole complexion. With her physicality, her ability to rebound, we knew she had that. Her point production as well, her effort was truly outstanding.”

All season long, freshman Ber’Nyah Mayo has handled the ball against many defensively sound guards. On Sunday, her maturity overshined any nerves in a close, important game.

“I’m really proud of our freshman here today, it goes to show you the type of players we are bringing into the program,” Verdi said. “I thought she [Mayo] handled their defensive pressure because they did pick her up full court and I thought she handled the ball extremely well.”

Veteran Sam Breen was equally pleased with her young teammates when asked about what impressed her about performances by freshman today.

“Honestly, everything,” Breen said. “Ber’Nyah’s ability to handle the ball is just absolutely ridiculous, it’s amazing. Makennah, she can just rebound the ball. If you couldn’t tell today, she can absolutely rebound the ball, pull down those rebounds especially when we need them the most. I swear I don’t know how many rebounds she had but it felt like she had 15.”

White and Mayo had identical stats in both rebounds and points, both finishing with 11 points and six boards. Mayo was 5-8 from the free throw line, which was critical late in the game.

UMass knew coming into the game how important this win would be. Breen described it as fuel to the fire but didn’t put heavy emphasis on the stat itself. Verdi on the other hand, started scouting with a clear, transparent message.

“When we first met as a team to go over Fordham, I put the date ‘February 6, 2010’ in bold letters and numbers on the whiteboard,” Verdi said. “I said it’s been 11 years since we’ve beaten them. I said you have the opportunity to do something that no other team before you in the last 11 years has done.

The team went as far as putting the date on sticky notes on their lockers so when they returned the next day, they were reminded how long it’s been since UMass took down Fordham (6-3, 3-2 A-10.)

UMass took care of business but would not have if it wasn’t for the Minutewomen’s ability to step up when it mattered most.

“Going into halftime we knew we needed to step up on the defensive end,” Mayo said. “They had too many offensive rebounds so we just knew to box out, get the ball and try to get as many 50-50 balls as we could.”

After halftime, UMass stepped on the gas.

“Our overall effort in the second half was tremendous,” Verdi said. “We matched their physicality, we came up with the loose balls, we were faster to the ball, we were quicker than them, we were stronger than them. All those things that we asked our players to do, they did. Total great team effort.”

Breen noticed that settling for jumpers in the first half wasn’t working and switched up her style of play to match what Fordham was giving her.

“I realized my touches in the first half, I think I could have utilized them a little bit better,” Breen said. “I probably could have worked a little more in the post… Once I made one move and realized its working, I continued to go with it and realized that was working was post moves instead of stuff on the perimeter.”

Mayo, who described her role as getting her teammates the ball at the right time noticed how Breen’s game stepped up a level in the second half and made sure to capitalize on that.

“When Sam gets going, there’s pretty much no stopping Sam,” Mayo said. “When she got her first lay up in, we just knew we could keep going back to her and she would finish every time.”

Against a team like Fordham, every play needs to be met with high levels of aggression. Fordham is known for its intensity and physical effort.

“We did what we needed to do,” Verdi said. “The physicality is making contact, driving them back when we have inside position, where in the first half we weren’t doing that. Staying in front of the ball, containing dribble penetration where we picked up charges, I thought Destiney Philoxy was phenomenal in regard to that.”

Philoxy picked up two charges at key moments in the second half.

Verdi was pleased with his guards, specifically Philoxy and Sydney Taylor’s ability to force Fordham star Anna DeWolfe into taking rushed shots. DeWolfe finished with 21 points but was 8-24 from the field.

As of right now, UMass gets a short break from games. They get back on the road to face VCU on Friday. Verdi says his team will focus on offensive and defensive execution this week in practice, as well as boxing out and rebounding.

“We’re going to continue to do the things we need to do as a team,” Verdi said.

Tipoff in Richmond, Virginia is set for 6 p.m.

Lulu Kesin can be reached [email protected] or followed on Twitter @Lulukesin.