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 backcourt comes up huge late in A-10 Tournament win over Saint Joseph’s

Guards Ber’nyah Mayo and Destiney Philoxy energized the team in the second half and overtime
Courtesy of Brian McWalters/Atlantic 10 Conference

Before Thursday, freshman guard Ber’nyah Mayo of the Massachusetts women’s basketball team had never played in a postseason college basketball game. With close to no guard depth off the bench behind her and zero experience playing in a tournament setting, the youngster from Delaware came out and had one of the best games of her collegiate career. Most importantly, she stepped up when it mattered most, including a game-sealing steal and layup to put UMass (12-6, 7-5 Atlantic 10) up double-digits on Saint Joseph’s (7-10, 5-9 A-10) with under 20 seconds to go.

“I just looked at it as another game and another opportunity to get better and get closer with my teammates,” Mayo said of how she approached her first A-10 Tournament game.

“I thought she was terrific,” Minutewomen head coach Tory Verdi said of his first-year guard. “She’s so active defensively with deflections and steals and turning those steals into points. She was creating for herself and others… she was our catalyst.”

Her second half included nine points, two three-pointers, five assists and two steals – a stat line that would be solid for her over the course of an entire game. She was also making hustle plays throughout, something made difficult by her career-high 41 minutes. And perhaps most surprisingly in a game of such high magnitude, she was having fun and making it look easy, as evidenced by a nifty behind-the-back pass late in the fourth quarter in transition.

“Going against each other in practice every day, we make each other better with the passes and being creative, so I feel like that really helps us a lot,” Mayo said of the importance of letting loose on the court. “So when we get on the court and we’re actually playing with each other, it just makes it that much better and even more fun.”

That highlight reel pass was to backcourt partner Destiney Philoxy, who has been a mentor to Mayo on and off the court all season long. While Philoxy was uncharacteristically careless with the ball in this one, as shown by her seven turnovers, she too made plays down the stretch when the team needed her.

“I think she was just going too fast and probably trying to do a little bit too much and trying to force the game instead of allowing it to come to her,” Verdi said of his captain guard’s relatively slow first 20 minutes. “She kept fighting, [and] I think that we saw that. She knew that she wasn’t playing well, but she was able to have a “what’s next” mentality, and I thought that she did a terrific job.”

That mentality extended to the overtime period, as the feisty Philoxy found herself in an unusual situation. The lay-it-all-out type of player that she has been all season hadn’t drawn an offensive foul up to that point. Naturally, she decided to draw two charges in the five-minute frame, allowing the Minutewomen to build what would eventually become an insurmountable lead.

“It’s crazy because Samantha Breen came up to me after the end of the first half and was like, ‘Where my charges at?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I forgot about those,’” Philoxy said. “When I catch charges for my team, they pick me up, they laugh; it’s just great energy. So I was like, ‘why not give my team good energy right now?’”

Despite both playing over 40 minutes in the tight, back-and-forth contest, the two certainly had a lot of energy postgame. Now, UMass’ hope is that this vibrancy can extend to tomorrow’s contest against the second-seeded Fordham Rams. After being Fordham for the first time in over 11 years earlier this season, UMass has a chance to do it again on Friday.

“I expect our players to be super excited about tomorrow’s game… [but] it’s been a long time since we’ve beat Fordham, and even longer [since] we’ve beat them back-to-back, but there’s a first for everything,” Verdi said. “We know that they’re going to come out extremely aggressive and hungry… [we just have to] stick together and do our best to win this basketball game.”

Tipoff for the quarterfinal matchup in Richmond is scheduled for 5 p.m.

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

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