UMass feed off noise to clinch thrilling win in quarterfinals

Minutewomen play through the noise, while also using it as an advantage

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Greg Fiume / Atlantic 10

By Michael Araujo, Collegian Staff

WILMINGTON, Dela. — Walking in through the front doors of the Chase Fieldhouse, one could already feel the powerful vibrations of the resounding crowd.

The gentle murmurs grew louder and louder until they became ear-piercing screams as fans crowded down a long hallway leading into the arena to catch the final minutes of the Rhode Island versus Saint Joseph’s game. The crowd roared in shrieks of amazement and sighs of disbelief as No. 7 seed Saint Joe’s defeated the No. 2 seed URI in a nail-biting upset. With the Massachusetts women’s basketball team poised to take on Fordham just moments later, the fans didn’t go anywhere. And neither did their energy.

From start to finish, the building was electrified by the fans. The crowd presence played more of a factor on Friday than in any game UMass (24-6, 11-4 Alantic 10) has played so far this season, and Fordham’s (18-10, 8-6 A-10) hot start had its fan section erupting.

The Rams poured on the 3-pointers early in the game, swishing five in the first half alone. With each made triple, their bench exploded with cheers. Fordham rode that high right up until UMass regained control of the game early in the fourth quarter and turned the tide in its favor. The Minutewomen fed off the energy of the crowd and arose victorious in a 66-63 thriller.

“We don’t get that too much where the whole crowd is on their feet cheering for us,” Sam Breen said. “It was awesome just knowing we had that many people here supporting us. And it’s really appreciated.”

The Minutewomen are accustomed to playing at home in the Mullins Center, an arena much larger than the gymnasium of the Chase Fieldhouse. The seating capacity of the Fieldhouse arena is 2,500 people, only a quarter of the Mullins, which accommodate up to 10,000 spectators. Not only this, but the attendance of tonight’s game was 1148 fans, a larger size compared to the average UMass home game which draws 805 fans per game.

More fans were compressed into a smaller area and the cheers were bouncing off the walls and making the gymnasium seem more packed than it actually was.

“We’re not really used to a loud gym,” Destiney Philoxy said. “I was looking at [everyone’s] mouth and trying to read their lips during the game but it still wasn’t working out so I was trying to do hand signals.”

A few minutes into the second quarter, Philoxy tucked the ball under her arm and was attempting to conduct a play using said hand signals. Both her voice and Verdi’s voice didn’t carry across the court enough for her teammates to hear the play, and as Philoxy frantically tried to facilitate the offense, she was called for a 5-second violation and turned the ball over.

“There was a point in the game where I couldn’t even hear what the play was called,” Sydney Taylor said. “We don’t really get that at [Massachusetts].”

Wilmington, Dela. natives Ber’Nyah Mayo and Stefanie Kulesza came home to a welcoming party of fans. One particular fan’s sign read: ‘Welcome Home Fatty,’ with ‘fatty’ being Mayo’s longtime nickname. Poetically, the hometown hero Mayo iced the game away at the line by going 2-for-2 at the foul line.

“Having two people from Wilmington and having so many family members in the crowd was so great,” Taylor said.

“It feels good to know we have supporters outside of Massachusetts,” Philoxy said. “And knowing that they’re riding with us throughout the whole season and that they’re still going to be here for the next two games.”

The win advances UMass to the semifinals, where it awaits Saint Joseph’s, the only non-top four seed to advance to the final four. The two will tip-off at 1:30 p.m.

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