Rebounding suffers with Ngalakulondi, Fair out against Central Connecticut

Blue Devils out rebound UMass 38-32

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Dylan Nguyen/ Daily Collegian

By Michael Araujo , Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team pulled away from Central Connecticut State (0-1) thanks to a strong second half showing, topping the Blue Devils 72-57 on Monday.

UMass (1-0) welcomed back Destiney Philoxy to the starting lineup, who was absent from the team’s exhibition game versus Assumption last week and was wearing a walking boot. She saw 37 minutes of action and posted a stat line of 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting, five assists, one rebound and one steal.

“At the moment [my ankle] is throbbing,” Philoxy said with laughter. “We live to breathe another day. I’m going to ice it tomorrow because we got a big game coming up. Just gonna suck it up and play.”

However, with one player being removed from the injury report, two more were added on, Angelique Ngalakulondi and Laila Fair. The two post players were not dressed for the game and Fair was wearing a walking boot.

“Both those guys are day-to-day,” Verdi said. “I’m hoping that they will be back in practice, if not tomorrow, the following day. We got bit by the injury bug a little bit here today … Nothing severe and I expect those guys back sooner than later.”

While Verdi pointed towards a quick return to action for the two players, it will be interesting to see if the pair will be active for the Tennessee game just three days away.

Ngalakulondi and Fair’s absence on the court was noticed, as the Minutewomen were out rebounded by the Blue Devils 38-32. Five of Central Connecticut’s eleven rebounds came in the first quarter, which kept the score knotted at 19-all when the first buzzer sounded.

“There were a lot of things missing here tonight and it wasn’t perfect,” head coach Tory Verdi said. “I think we missed Angelique [Ngalakulondi] and we missed Laila Fair. Both of those guys do a good job of rebounding. That’s their strength. But collectively, we have got to do a better job. Today, for whatever reason, just like the Assumption game, the shot goes up and we turn around and we allow them to go right to the paint, get an offensive rebound and second chance points.”

In the second half, there was a clear shift in urgency to rebound the basketball. More players were crashing the boards, and the improved rebounding provided a spark on the offensive end.

With less than thirty seconds of the third quarter gone by, Ber’Nyah Mayo crashed the boards and snagged a rebound in a sea of Blue Devils. Mayo immediately got out on the fastbreak, dashing past defenders before dishing it to Philoxy for the easy layup.

While it was a rough 3-point shooting night for UMass, an opportunity opened up after Makennah White grabbed a defensive board, then quickly moved it up the court to Philoxy, who found wide-open Sydney Taylor for three.

The Minutewomen’s second half resurgence in the rebounding category was a positive sign, but Sam Breen knows it will take the entire team to take down Tennessee.

“I also just think we need to do a better job,” Breen said. “Not even just boxing out because sometimes we’ll have the box out, but like pushing the people back and going for the ball. I think [Ngalakulondi and Fair] obviously help but we can help ourselves a little bit, too.”

UMass will have a quick turnaround as they travel to Knoxville where they will battle No. 5 Tennessee at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.

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