UMass fights tooth and nail in 74-65 loss to No. 5 Tennessee

The Minutewomen go on a 12-0 run in the fourth quarter but the Lady Vols thwart the late comeback attempt

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Chris Tucci / UMass Athletics

By Michael Araujo , Collegian Staff

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Massachusetts women’s basketball team fell 65-74 to No. 5 Tennessee at the Thompson-Boling Arena on Thursday.

Facing a 19-point deficit with 7:15 remaining in the fourth quarter and UMass (1-1) on a 1-for-12 shooting stretch, the moment appeared bleak.

All night long, Sydney Taylor struggled shooting the basketball. It looked as if every 3-pointer or layup she took went halfway down and then coughed back up. Her frustration was evident, and at one point, she hung her head in disbelief after missing back-to-back shots. But she did not quit.

As Tennessee (1-1) pushed the ball up the court to start its offense, Taylor broke into the passing lane and intercepted Rickea Jackson’s pass and took it all the way for two. With that one play, Taylor had unknowingly jump started a 12-0 run to put the Minutewomen back into the game.

“A lot of times reporters and people ask me ‘what is UMass basketball?’” head coach Tory Verdi said. “If I could just take what we did tonight and put it in a picture and give it to them, that is who we are. We’re a team that comes in and we’re going to work extremely hard for 40 minutes.”

After getting the stop on defense, Taylor grabbed the board and moved the ball up the court to Destiney Philoxy who passed the ball on a rope to Ber’Nyah Mayo, who drilled the 3-pointer.

Again, UMass forced a stop on defense and Taylor grabbed the rebound, but the offense failed to click on its next few possessions. Rather than sulk and play lackadaisical defense, the Minutewomen got another stop the next time down the court. Then another. And another until its offense caught fire again.

“You can say that [Taylor] didn’t play that well tonight, but I thought she was outstanding,” Verdi said. “I know she went 1-for-7, and she’s a dynamic scorer for us…but the way she impacted the game. Her ability to rebound the basketball and then her outlets allowed us to get out in transition and run.”

Taylor had 11 points on an efficient 4-for-19 shooting, including going 1-for-7 from behind the arc. On the positive side, she had seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.

The effort and emphasis that Taylor and all the Minutewomen put towards rebounding the basketball was night-and-day from its exhibition game and season opener. Against the second-best rebounding team in the country, UMass grabbed more boards, 49-45.

“For us to out rebound a team that is second in the country in rebounds is pretty significant,” Verdi said. “Rebounding is effort, it’s a want to, a mindset and for what our players just did, I am extremely proud of them.”

Mayo, a player that received zero other Division I offers to play college basketball, and was not voted to any Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Conference teams, battled against a Power-Five school and played consistent, efficient hoops. Mayo’s 15 points trailed only Breen’s 18 for the most on the team, and she knocked down timely shots when the Minutewomen’s offense sputtered, shooting 44 percent from the field at a 7-for-16 clip. She also had a team-high four assists, as well as grabbing three rebounds and one steal.

“Honestly, it feels good just to know no matter if I was on a team or not, like the work that I’m putting in is constantly showing,” Mayo said. “Whether they believe in me or not, I put in the work each and every day so regardless of who believes in me, I believe in myself.”

Angelique Ngalakulondi returned to the court for the first time this season for UMass, she finished with five points on 3-of-5 shooting. Makennah White got the start, grabbing eight rebounds to finish with six points.

While the end result was not in UMass’ favor, Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper gave the Minutewomen their flowers.

“[UMass] is a veteran team and a championship team,” Harper said. “They know how to win. They’ve got good, solid players, they’re very well-coached and they’re disciplined. And they are tough.”

The Minutewomen return to the Mullins Center on Monday where they will host Maine for a 7 p.m. showdown.

Michael Araujo can be reached at @michaelarauj and followed on Twitter @araujo_michael_.