UMass advances in A-10 tourney with an overtime win over St. Joe’s

Seven Minutewomen pull out a hard-fought win in game one


Brian McWalters/Atlantic 10 Conference

By Lulu Kesin, Collegian Staff

With just under two minutes to play in overtime, Destiney Philoxy flapped her arms in an upward motion to pump up the crowd as the game seemed to head in the right direction for her team.

But there wasn’t much of a crowd to hear, and there were just two teammates on the bench. With just seven players, one of those being an 18-year-old making her collegiate debut, the Massachusetts’s women’s basketball team pulled out a hard-fought win in overtime over Saint Joseph’s.

According to head coach Tory Verdi, the last time UMass (12-6, 7-5 Atlantic 10) faced Saint Joseph’s (7-10, 5-10 A-10) they did not function as a team. On Thursday night, the Minutewomen were quite literally a different team out there, but this team, played together as one.

“I thought that we were tough and resilient” Verdi said. “I’m really proud of our players sticking together and outworking Saint Joesph’s down the stretch to come out with the win.”

From tipoff, the seven-headed UMass team had energy. But the effort was not met with great scoring and was plagued by Saint Joesph’s winning the battle on the boards.

Even with crafty handles on full display when Philoxy threw a no look behind the back pass to Stef Kulesza at the 3-point line, the Minutewomen just had trouble putting the ball in the hoop. As much as the stat sheet went against UMass in most categories in the first half of play, Verdi’s team was only down six points.

With time to recollect itself at halftime, UMass had shifted focus on eliminating second chance shots. Going 0-7 in the third quarter meant nothing to them going forward.

“We knew that this team liked to get offensive boards and put them back up…we had to look for each other and start our own energy,” Philoxy said of the team’s halftime goals.

The typical Minutewomen third quarter success that has been present all season carried into the tournament. Sydney Taylor began to connect offensively, with a sequence of made free throws and a 3-pointer. But the momentum shifter came when Sam Breen knocking one down from downtown to put UMass up 40-38 with just five to go in the third.

As much as the Minutewomen climbed back into their spot, Saint Joseph’s hung on to trade baskets for the remainder of the quarter.

On Tuesday night, the impression was that the Minutewomen would be without Maeve Donnelly and Desiree Oliver. That number only grew.

A team spokesperson confirmed neither Madison Lowery nor Maddie Sims traveled to Richmond due to a team issue being handled internally.

Freshman starter Makennah White and Angelique Ngalakulondi needed to establish post position early on to produce downlow, and with the length both players have, they found success in putting back second chance boards on Thursday.

The Minutewomen continued to shoot from outside with the confidence that a rebound may end up in their teams’ hands. But in the fourth quarter, there weren’t a lot of second chances needed.

An early 3-pointer from Mayo built a lead that was quickly snapped by the Hawks, who were hungry to keep the game exciting. Layups from Mayo and Philoxy late in the fourth stretched the UMass lead by a little before a crucial three from Taylor outshined the layups.

Down just three with seconds left on the clock, Saint Joseph’s Katie Jekot launched up a deep 3-pointer, sending the game into overtime.

The seven players that played the entire game had enough legs left in them to close out the game, the UMass way. Ball movement, charges drawn, confidence in shooting and a total team effort on both ends of the floor put Minutewomen on top to close out the game.

In the next 24 hours before the quarterfinal game, the UMass agenda is simple.

“Film, film, film, film…eat, sleep, film,” Philoxy said.

For a few hours, there is a lot to celebrate for Verdi and the Minutewomen.

“I am comfortable and confident with the players that we have,” Verdi said. “I thought that their energy was infectious here today. They were together and played for one another there’s no question about that. They had a tremendous amount of pride and I’m super proud of how they handled themselves today.”

But the celebration can only last so long.

“We didn’t come to Richmond just for the weather, we came here to win some basketball games and put ourselves into some very successful situations,” Verdi said.

UMass takes on No. 2 seed Fordham for the second time this season. The first win was historic, marking the first win over the Rams in 11 years.

“It’s probably even longer since we beat them back-to-back,” Verdi said. “There’s a first time for everything,” Verdi said.

Tipoff is set for 5 p.m on Friday.

Lulu Kesin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @Lulukesin.