Sam Breen and Destiney Philoxy show up against No. 5 Tennessee

The graduate students duo efforts keep game competitive

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Chris Tucci / UMass Athletics

By Lulu Kesin, Sports Editor

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tamari Key said that nobody outrebounds Tennessee women’s basketball; normally. On Thursday night, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team did 49-45, with Sam Breen leading the charge snagging 12 of her own.

“They shot a lot of 3-pointers which obviously calls for a lot of long rebounds,” Key said. “I just think we needed to pursue the ball more and we missed a couple key boxes outs. That’s a stat that obviously stings for us, nobody out rebounds Tennessee, usually.”

In a game that saw high level basketball between the No. 5 Lady Vols (1-1) and the unranked defending Atlantic 10 Champions, the Minutewomen (1-1) fell on the road despite a strong first and fourth quarter led by captains Destiney Philoxy and Breen.

Even when the second chance board didn’t fall in the Minutewomen’s favor, defensive effort prevailed. With just under thirty seconds to go following an eruptive fourth quarter comeback, Philoxy intercepted the ball on a lackadaisical pass to center court by the Lady Vols and stopped to drill a 3-pointer, cutting Tennessee’s lead to five with 28.2 to play, forcing Kellie Harper to call timeout.

Philoxy’s triple was indicative of her next shot mentality that pushed UMass’ offense down the stretch. Early in the third quarter, bleak offense slowed the Minutewomen down. Sydney Taylor’s misfire with just under seven minutes to play in the second half sent Philoxy charging for the second chance opportunity, who eventually found the ball back in her hands to nail the triple, making it a four-point game with about six minutes to play in the third.

Missed layups stunted UMass in the third quarter, with Philoxy not necessarily escaping that team-wide negative stat. She stepped around a planted Lady Vol defender in the paint to successfully avoid the charge —a play out of her own book — but the ball rimmed out and fell back in Tennessee’s hands.

What head coach Tory Verdi liked best of his graduate captain and often “catalyst” was her effort on both ends. Rickea Jackson came alive for the Lady Vols when they needed her to, but Philoxy’s tight defense on the player with a hot hand forced her to wind down the clock and take a bad shot.

“Her effort and everyone’s effort was outstanding,” Verdi said of Philoxy. “Being able to get downhill … I know she’d rather have some of those field goal attempts drop in and feel a little better about that, but I felt her effort was outstanding here today.”

In the early minutes, Philoxy threw her classic move at a lengthy Lady Vols frontcourt. In the 1-3-1 zone defense, she tipped the ball off the inbounds, shifted over in timely fashion, surprising Sara Puckett to draw the charge and erupt the Minutewomen bench.

Philoxy finished with 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting, dishing two assists and grabbing seven boards. Her success from behind the arc breathed life back into a quiet 3-point night for UMass, but what started the night for the Minutewomen was  Breen.

“You are not going to hold [Breen] scoreless,”  Harper said postgame. “She can find a bucket, but I thought in terms of schemes we did a good job, just had some breakdowns in other areas.”

During UMass’ late game charge, Breen followed her own triple misfire to grab the offensive rebound, found Ber’Nyah Mayo who nailed the corner 3-pointer in front of the Minutewomen’s cheerful bench, cutting the lead to 10 with a minute to play in the third.

As Breen’s entire family sat near the Minutewomen’s hoop in the fourth quarter, their small group cheers outweighed the home team’s arena. UMass was on a run and Breen nailed a 3-pointer with 3:59 to play, making it a seven-point contest.

Breen saw early that the Lady Vols weren’t letting her come into their town and dominate the paint. The graduate student played further out than usual, trying to see what chances Tennessee was giving her to create some offense. A small burst of momentum for the home team in the second quarter could have been more dangerous, but Breen responded.

In a sequence that started with a ball hawk steal between two guards into a breakaway layup under Tennessee’s rim ended two minutes later with her first triple of the night. Breen cut the Lady Vol lead to two, then made it 27-22 Tennessee with her success from downtown.

“There’s a couple of things scheme wise what we were trying to do, I thought we did a pretty good job trying to limit her touches on the block where we did not do as well,” Harper said of her team’s defensive strategy and effort on Breen. “She was able to find a couple pick and pops, our rotation was just too slow we didn’t see it.”

Breen then continued to find her style of basketball despite the clear game plan, her off balance jumper through contact hit with just over five to play in the second. In the latter minutes of the first half, Breen fed Taylor who found Breen for another 3-pointer. Breen had 12 points with just under three to play in the half.  She finished with 18 points on 30 percent 3-point shooting, grabbed 12 total rebounds, an even split on offense and defense and had two assists. Thursday’s effort is another double-double for Breen, who has frequented that stat line since last year.

UMass heads back to Amherst to welcome Maine to the Mullins Center on Monday, Nov. 14.

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