Destiney Philoxy’s 21 points illuminate UMass offense on Saturday night

Philoxy steps up to carry the Minutewomen to a 72-64 win over Kent State

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Maya Geer / Daily Collegian

By Lulu Kesin, Sports Editor

In dire need of an energy surge, Destiney Philoxy shifted her defender with a textbook jab step and drilled a 3-pointer to put the Massachusetts women’s basketball team up 48-45 on a talented Kent State team with two minutes to go in a game changing third quarter.

After the Golden Flashes (4-1) displaced most of UMass’ (7-0) offense in the opening two quarters on Saturday night, the Minutewomen needed a spark plug to connect the effort done on the defensive end with success shooting wise. Philoxy embodied that assignment, carrying UMass to a victory over Kent State in the semifinals of the Florida Gulf Coast Showcase.

“[Philoxy] is ultra-competitive, she has always been that way,” head coach Tory Verdi said. “She knew what needed to happen and she was like ‘I got you coach, I gotcha.’ Its players like that, that help change the complexion of the game. She went out there and did what Destiney [Philoxy] does.”

The 5-foot-7 senior guard who plays true to her captain title finished with 21 points but began pushing the Minutewomen over the edge when she had just around eight points on the night.

The Golden Flashes rained 3-pointers from the jump, capitalizing on any late help defense and remained lethal from behind the arc even with a UMass hand in their face. Philoxy, not particularly a 3-point shooter herself, despite knocking in three of her own on Friday, made up for the offensive success from her opponent by making plays on both ends of the floor.

After Sam Breen yelled in celebration of an and one to start quarter four, Kent State hit another triple to answer right back. Philoxy then took it coast to coast, drawing contact on a lefty one legged lay-up, erupting a roar of cheers from the Minutewomen bench, and resulting in visible frustration from the Golden Flashes.

“Her momentum, and I guess her ‘swag if you will’, her confidence became infectious to everyone else,” Verdi said. “Then we start feeling pretty good about what we are doing on the floor because of her.”

During a timeout mid-way through the third, with energy at an all-time high, Verdi told his team they were winning Saturday’s game. Philoxy, was right behind him, echoing the same sentiment to the four other Minutewomen walking back on the court with her.

By the time Philoxy found rhythm offensively, she had already recognized drawing contact was an efficient way to chip back into the game when UMass struggled to shoot as a team. Nine of Philoxy’s 21 points came from the free throw line and she finished 60 percent from there. In the fourth quarter, the Minutewomen scored 24 points and 10 of them were Philoxy’s.

“Just knocking down shots my teammates needed me to make,” Philoxy said. “The first half was shaky and in the second half [Verdi] told me to just attack the rim and [Kent State] will play off me … [defenders] didn’t respect my jump shot, I took it and my teammates helped me out. They realized that they kicked it out to me, and they believed in my shot.”

At halftime, Verdi and his coaching staff recognized that Kent State was jamming on ball screen action and not allowing the UMass post players to slip to the basket and get usual touches down low. When Breen, Angelique Ngalakulondi and Makennah White were swarmed with high pressure defense, it turned to the guard’s responsibility to carry the offense.

Philoxy had to create those opportunities for herself and secure one-legged, fast pace lay ups to take advantage of the ability to attack guards one-on-one. Despite usually being a pass first player and leading the Atlantic 10 in assists per game, Philoxy stepped into a lethal scorer when UMass needed it most. She finished with two assists and six rebounds.

In the crucial third quarter stretch, Philoxy had herself a lay-up on the go but at the last second fed a sprinting Sydney Taylor for an easier two points. With just under two minutes and 45 seconds to go, Philoxy dove for a loose ball but found herself out of bounds. Despite not capitalizing on the steal that play, she found Ber’Nyah Mayo after faking a pull up jumper and got her backcourt duo partner to the foul line. In that same burst of energy, the next play was when Philoxy drilled the go ahead 3-pointer to make it 48-45.

Philoxy ended the contest with two triples, one steal, a single block, went 5-for-11 from the field and 9-for-15 from free throw line.

With Saturday’s win, Philoxy and the Minutewomen advance to the championship game at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday night.

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