UMass fights back but falls to No. 13 Iowa State 76-71 in Florida Gulf Coast Championship

Minutewomen fight to the last second but come up short

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Maya Geer/ Daily Collegian

By Lulu Kesin, Sports Editor

The two headed monster of Ashley and Aubrey Joens trampled the Massachusetts women’s basketball team in the first half, but UMass (7-1) resurrected in the second half to turn an 18-point deficit at halftime to ultimately a five-point loss to No. 13 Iowa State on Sunday night.

It was a tale of perfection on an inside-out game for the Cyclones (7-0) for a lethal percentage of the contest. The Joens sisters made it difficult for the Minutewomen to stop any success from downtown and on the inside, Morgan Kane was right there for the layup when needed.

But when the clock neared the eight-minute mark in the third quarter, the lethal percentage turned into an ice-cold stretch.

Destiney Philoxy went coast to coast, punching at the large Iowa lead to make it 48-31. As the ball gracefully left Sam Breen’s hands while elevating, the deficit was cut into again. After Kane’s jumper couldn’t mirror the success of Breen’s a play later, Philoxy snagged the board to dribble it down once again the court in full speed. What looked like a turnover was a last-minute trick pass to Angelique Ngalakulondi for another two. Emily Ryan raced back the other way in attempt to kick back into a groove following UMass’ mini run, but traveled at the sight of Philoxy coming out to defend her.

The Minutewomen capitalized as Breen found herself at the line to make it a 10-0 run before Ashley Joens answered back with a 3-pointer. In the heat of the run stopping deep shot, Breen caught the hot hand for a 3-pointer to push the run back in the hands of UMass.

With just under four to play in the third quarter, Breen’s second triple lit up the Minutewomen bench and elevated a mini run into a game changing quarter. Mayo backed up Breen from deep with a 3-pointer of her own to cut at the run even more. Mayo shot 50 percent from beyond the arc and from the field, finishing with 13 points. After shooting 5-of-7 from the field, Ngalakulondi secured her fourth 10-plus point game.

“On any given night, I think we can play with some of the best teams in the country,” head coach Tory Verdi said. “Going into halftime, I challenged [the Minutewomen] and I thought that they played a great second half and gave us everything they could. I am super proud of their effort when you are down like that to a really good team, it’s easy to quit and fold. The fight that we had tonight, showed me that they can put [UMass] in a position to win a championship.”

Once UMass got back into the game, it remained there until the final second. Shavonne Smith checked in early in the fourth quarter and contributed with a layup to add to the success. It wasn’t long before Breen’s 3-pointer pulled the Minutewomen within four just three minutes into the fourth quarter.

“I said ‘finally’,” Verdi said of his thoughts when Breen’s crucial 3-pointer drained. “Keep getting stops, just one more stop. I knew eventually we would put together a string of offensive runs and I just saw us exude confidence and get it back. You saw it in both [Philoxy] and [Breen] who carried us in the second half.”

Breen finished the night with a loud double double. She finished 7-of-17 from the field scoring 21 points, snagging 12 rebounds and shooting 3-of-7 from downtown. Philoxy’s momentum from Saturday night carried over to another double-digit performance as she totaled 15 points going 3-of-9 from behind the arc and securing three rebounds and five assists.

Aubrey Joens fifth triple of the night momentarily reminded UMass who it was playing against, but the visible disrespect Philoxy felt when a Cyclone defender sat at the 3-point line with her hands down resulted in Philoxy answering right back. Philoxy’s triple made it a one-point game with just under three to play.

Without the help of sharpshooter Sydney Taylor, the late game 3-point success neared in Iowa State’s favor. Taylor had two points on the night, both of which came from the free throw line. Taylor took an uncharacteristically low three 3-point attempts but remained on the floor to productively distribute to whoever had the UMass hot hand.

“I just think offensively it wasn’t her night,” Verdi said. “I challenged her, and this was one of the biggest things we have talked about is her consistency to grow … I thought that she did a great job in the second half defending.”

Philoxy’s 1-of-2 from the foul line made it 72-69 with 45 seconds on the clock. When given the chance to tie things up, Verdi drew a play for Breen at the 3-point line but a rushed shot in hopes to have enough time to make things happen with a tie gave Iowa State the upper hand.

The Cyclone’s offense that imitated UMass for the opening two quarters had enough juice left to pull out the win, despite the improbable comeback that saw the Minutewomen outscore Iowa State by 13 points in the second half.

“A game like this gives people the opportunity to see what we are capable of doing,” Verdi said. “And we’re not finished.”

UMass faces Fairfield at the Mullins Center on Wednesday, Dec. 1. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

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