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

Minutewomen end season ‘with a bang’ in 95-71 WNIT Consolation Final victory over Ohio

Sam Breen set a postseason program record with 27 points
Laura Wolff

After every game this season, win or loss, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team has come away with significant areas to improve, especially on offense. Whether it was the lack of bench production, not being careful enough with the ball or taking too many shots in isolation, there were always discernible areas the team could get better.

That was not the case in UMass’ (16-8, 7-5 Atlantic 10) season-ending victory over Ohio (15-10, 11-6 Mid-American) in the WNIT Consolation bracket, when they recorded a season-high 95 points, including 52 in the paint.

“I thought today we had an unbelievable [sense of] balance in regard to our scoring – both with our post players and with our guards,” Minutewomen head coach Tory Verdi said. “It was a collective effort… we created for others, we made the extra pass, we collapsed the defense, and then we made them pay for it.”

Their attack was led by top options Sam Breen and Sydney Taylor, who combined for 52 points. Breen set the postseason program record for points in a game with 27 while Taylor tied Octavia Thomas’ former postseason record with 25 of her own.

“Having two score-first mentalities and knowing that we are both capable of having those types of games, as four or five people on our team really are, it makes it difficult for a defense,” Breen said of the dynamic duo and the rest of the offense. “They can’t really focus on one or even two of us because if we find the open person outside of the two of us, they can knock it down… everyone has a little specialty along with all of the little things they do.”

Despite the strong individual performances, their play was a product of the team’s unselfishness and crisp ball movement all afternoon. Led by Brooklyn native Destiney Philoxy’s share-your-snacks mentality, the Minutewomen recorded 21 assists to go with just nine turnovers.

“I’ve said it a lot, but every single person on our team can score,” Breen said. “When we all have our best game, I think it’s pretty clear, and today we all played super, super well. And if one person is off, the rest of us can pick it up, and I think that’s a really important thing to have.”

While it was a culmination of everything the Minutewomen have worked for on that side of the ball this season, it was also representative of what we could see from their attack next year. All of the “Savage Seven” that played in Monday’s game will be returning for next season, including freshmen Ber’nyah Mayo, Makennah White and Stef Kulesza, the latter of whom recorded a career-high nine points and hit her first collegiate three in the contest.

“I think you saw our freshmen really grow up before us and really play a lot of basketball,” Verdi said. “I’m super excited for the future and the future of UMass basketball.”

Regardless of what’s in store moving forward, it was a historic day for the Minutewomen. Beyond Breen and Taylor’s record-setting scoring abilities, it was the first time in program history that the team won two postseason games. They also now hold the distinction of being just one of four NCAA Division I teams to end their season on a win.

“We’re relevant, and we have built something that is sustainable,” Verdi said of what this win means. “This is not a one-hit wonder… we’re here to stay.”

On top of that, this was the 150th victory at UMass for Verdi. Since joining the team in 2016, the self-proclaimed emotional Italian has had his share of trials and tribulations as he tries to build a consistent winner in Amherst. After Monday’s dominant win and this momentous run to end the season, the Minutewomen appear to be on the cusp of that distinction.

“I really don’t think about the milestones,” Verdi said of the accolade. “What I can say is that these milestones happen because I surround myself with great people; not only the players, but my coaching staff… our success is because of everyone who’s committed to our program.”

They may not have won the A-10, as Philoxy predicted they would. They may have been bounced in the first round of the WNIT, too. But after this tumultuous season and with all they’ve accomplished in this past month capped off by this season-ending statement, they certainly made their coach proud.

“All seven [of these] young women that I got to coach have made the best, the best, out of an unbelievable situation that was put in front of them,” Verdi said. “We won’t return [as] champions, but in my eyes, they’re champions.”

Freeman Alfano can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @freemanalfano.

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