UMass defeats Kent State 72-64 and moves to 7-0 on the 2021 season

The Minutewomen advanced to the championship game of the Gulf Coast Showcase

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Maya Geer / Daily Collegian

By Michael Araujo, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team overpowered Kent State, securing a thrilling 72-64 win to keep its unbeaten streak alive.

With the win in the semifinals of the Gulf Coast Showcase, UMass (7-0) advanced to the championship game.

“Really proud of our effort,” head coach Tory Verdi said. “Great win for our program and making some history is pretty good, too.”

It was a tale of two halves as the Minutewomen struggled to contain the Golden Flashes (4-1) on defense and failed to find consistency on offense in the first half.

Kent State shot the ball with great success early on. Right out the gate, senior forward Lindsey Thall nailed two 3-pointers and set the tone for her team. She had 12 points in the first quarter, and her efficiency helped propel the Golden Flashes to a 35-27 lead at the halfway point.

The exact opposite was true for UMass, who started off ice cold shooting the basketball. In the first half, the team collectively went a combined 8-of-29 from the field and 3-of-15 from three.

“The ball was sticking in people’s hands,” Verdi said. “We weren’t sharing the ball and making the extra passes. We weren’t playing together… we’re on defense for at least 20-something seconds then we go down offensively and it’s one pass, one shot.”

UMass has been particularly dominant on the boards all season, but Kent State challenged them initially, and outrebounded the maroon and white 21-19 in the first half. The Golden Flashes snagged five offensive rebounds and converted them into nine second chance points.

UMass showed much more fight in the second half of play, as its efficiency greatly improved on both sides of the ball. Destiney Philoxy was the first to step up for the Minutewomen, as she fearlessly drove to the basket. Sydney Taylor got into the action when she solidly squared her feet before absorbing contact and taking a charge, which led to a Sam Breen layup on the other end.

“I challenged them at halftime,” Verdi said. “If this program was to take the next step, then they would come out and show me how tough they are and that they would respond. And they did that.”

Philoxy’s impact on the floor was the difference maker for UMass. Normally known as a distributor, Philoxy flipped the script Saturday, leading the team in scoring with 21 points. She knocked down two 3-pointers to go along with her six rebounds and two assists. She also had nine points at the free throw line and proved that she is not afraid of charging to the hoop and putting her body on the line. UMass has played its best basketball when it feeds off each other’s energy, and on Saturday, Philoxy was the catalyst.

“[Philoxy] took over the game,” said Verdi. “She changed the momentum of the game for us.”

UMass pulled away in the fourth quarter, thanks to Breen who recorded her fourth double-double of the season after putting up 17 points and 11 rebounds. After a relatively quiet first half, she showed up in a big way down the stretch. She made a crucial three-point-play in crunch time after getting the ball in good position down-low in the post, then spinning away from the defense and sending home an underhand layup through contact to draw the whistle.

“[Breen] knew she was struggling to make some shots [early in the game],” Verdi said. “When you look at the game, I continued to go to her. I know eventually it’s going to go, it’s going to drop… All of the sudden when [Breen] starts making shots, that energy became infectious.”

The win can be attributed to the Minutewomen’s ability to share the ball and play as a team, as well as their defensive prowess down the stretch.

“Collectively, we played together, we played tougher,” said Verdi. “We just started to play UMass basketball. Change of possession, get out and run the floor and get one-legged layups.”

The win sends UMass to the championship round of the Gulf Coast showcase, where it will face Iowa State for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.

Michael Araujo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @araujo_michael_.