Ber’Nyah Mayo wins A-10 Championship in her hometown

The sophomore point guard soaks in hometown glory

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Greg Fiume/ Atlantic 10

By Lulu Kesin, Sports Editor

WILMINGTON, Dela. — Dayton scrambled to catch Ber’Nyah Mayo to intentionally foul. The Flyers caught Mayo but as she looked up at the scoreboard which read 60-54 with 23 seconds on the clock, she let out a scream.

In front of her family, friends, teammates and other Wilmington, Dela. natives, Mayo sank four free throws in the final 35 seconds to lift the Massachusetts women’s basketball team to its first ever Atlantic 10 Championship.

“In the back of my mind knowing the job isn’t finished yet but to look up on the clock and know we are right there honestly I feel like it was the perfect time to let it all out,” Mayo said of her scream. “I’m just glad the job is finished, but we’re not done yet.”

With the win on Sunday, UMass gets an automatic ticket to go dancing in the NCAA tournament.

No. 1 seeded Dayton was not an easy task. The Minutewomen needed to play their best basketball to hang with the Flyers and use the lower seed energy as fuel to take down the top dog. UMass came out the gate and caught fire. With the early lead it was necessary to maintain a level head. No one embodied that more than Mayo, commanding the point guard position for the entire 40 minutes.

With the shot clock winding down and less than 40 seconds on the game clock, Mayo drove hard and drew a foul. Up only four points, Mayo sank two free throws to extend the lead to six and further push away the comeback miracle from Dayton. Mayo is a 59 percent free throw shooter but went a perfect 4-for-4 when UMass needed it most.

Earlier, with just under six minutes to go, Mayo recognized clock control and awareness were crucial and calmly dribbled down the court despite the Flyers’ Makira Cook playing tight defense. Mayo dripped the shot clock down to seven seconds before driving, drawing defenders and dishing a perfect pass to Makennah White on the left block for textbook offense and an easy bucket.

Midway through the third quarter, Mayo again met the winding shot clock with success. With 3:22 to play she danced off her defender to nail a step back 3-pointer and get her entire fan club on its feet. Mayo threw up three fingers as she sprinted back to immediately play lockdown defense. The hometown hero had half the gym in shirts with her name and number on the back and took up a majority of the bleachers.

“Super amazing feeling,” Mayo said of winning in her hometown. “Honestly … [my friends and family] give me the world every day … so this is for them, and I am just glad they can be proud of me regardless if we win or lose. They always tell me just do my best so honestly this is for them.”

On Wednesday, head coach Tory Verdi organized a surprise for Mayo at the local Boys and Girls Club of Delaware that involved bringing the entire team to the place where Mayo grew up and grew into a player. The hometown tribute kicked off the weekend of tournament play for the Minutewomen that ultimately ended with a basketball net cut, a ring on their finger and a trophy on the bus back to Amherst.

“I think that we have probably one of the most un-valued point guards in the A-10 in Ber’Nyah Mayo,” Verdi said following the championship win. “What she has done for the program from her freshman year, the last two [years] started every single game for us, plays 40 minutes a game and she is expressionless. The highs aren’t too high, and the lows aren’t too low. But she brings it, she is one of the most competitive players on our team.”

Plays following the crowd-energizing triple, Mayo grabbed a steal and dished to Sydney Taylor on a fast break who faked a mid-range jumper but selflessly found White under the hoop wide open for the easier, better shot. Mayo also boxed out 6-foot-5 Tenin Magassa a few minutes into the third quarter on a mismatch which allowed Sam Breen to grab the rebound. Mayo stands at just 5-foot-6.

To add to the impact, with 1:29 to play in the fourth, Taylor grabbed a big rebound and got pushed from behind on the pass, so it was nearly turned over. Mayo recognized and ran in to scoop the pass before Dayton could. The Flyers were forced to foul Mayo and then call timeout. While Mayo facilitated the offense for the entirety of the game, she had her share of off-ball movement to produce for the Minutewomen. On a different possession in the fourth quarter, she had a quality backdoor cut to receive a perfect bounce pass into a layup.

Mayo put up 14 points, five rebounds and one assist in 40 minutes played and now adds an A-10 championship to her stat line.

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