Sophomore guard Ber’Nyah Mayo embodied the Massachusetts women’s basketball team’s number one strength on Friday night: toughness.
At 5-feet-six inches, Mayo is the shortest starter for UMass. On the court, however, she plays far from it. She is constantly crashing the boards and being active on the defensive end. Regardless of the height disadvantages Mayo faces when competing with taller teams like she saw against Harvard on Friday, Mayo’s playing style doesn’t change. She proves that playing with heart will overcome playing with height.
In her 34 minutes of action on Friday, Mayo finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds to go along with four assists and six steals. Mayo recorded her second double-double of the season and shot 40 percent from the 3-point line, including a flashy step-back from behind the arc after dropping her defender.
“It just goes to show you, and I’ve said this all along, her competitive spirit that she has,” head coach Tory Verdi said. “I saw that when I recruited her. She’s little but she is mighty.”
Mayo made several game-changing plays towards the final minutes of the game. Her most outstanding maneuver came with six minutes and 38 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Making a leaping grab for a loose ball out of bounds, Mayo turned around mid-air and fired the ball off the body of a nearby defender, resulting in UMass retaining possession. The highlight play rocked the Mullins Center and rendered a wild reaction from the UMass bench.
“Just doing what my team needs me to do,” Mayo said of the miraculous save. “Making hustle plays and playing hard.”
During the first quarter, Mayo injured her ankle and walked off the court to the locker room. The injury scare was short-lived, as Mayo returned for the start of the second quarter and showed zero signs of it slowing her down. Within the first minute of being back on the floor, her presence was felt immediately as she swiped the ball from a Harvard defender.
Verdi stressed the importance of remaining vigilant and physical throughout the course of the game. Facing a tough team like the Crimson, UMass was able to respond to everything that was thrown its way.
“I told my team in the pregame speech, I said how you beat Harvard is you got to out-tough them,” Verdi said. “It’s about making winning plays.”
Mayo out toughed Harvard on both ends of the floor. Mayo aggressively pushed the ball into the teeth of the defense all game, and she was rewarded with four trips to the free-throw line. Despite shooting 5-of-14 from the field and converting only four of the eight free throw attempts, the misses did not adversely affect her. Mayo continued to drive to the basket and garner foul calls and was not afraid to shoot the ball down the stretch.
“I’m not sure what fazes her,” Verdi said. “She’s so competitive and that’s what I love about her.”
The Minutewomen will be back in the Mullins Center on Tuesday when they host Iona College at 7 p.m.
Michael Araujo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @araujo_michael_.