Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass becomes Atlantic 10 regular season co-champions

Sam Breen becomes all-time leading scorer for Minutewomen
Dylan Nguen / Daily Collegian

When timeout was called with 1:43 left in the fourth quarter, the game was already over. The Massachusetts women’s basketball team had a 21-point lead over George Washington, and head coach Tory Verdi used his timeout to get his starters off the floor to avoid injury in a game that was all but decided. Except one.

Sam Breen.

In the ATO, Breen, along with most of the Minutewomen (24-5, 14-2 Atlantic 10), stacked the paint before flying out to different directions. Again, Breen was the outlier as she made a quick cut to seal her defender on her back, before another GW (17-12, 9-7 A-10) defender came running over, ready to deny Breen her chance at history. Breen caught her defender with an up-fake before going off one leg to kiss a layup off the glass, gaining the record and putting a stamp on her career in a Massachusetts uniform, besting Sue Peters’ record that stood for 43 years.

As Breen exited to a standing ovation, there stood Verdi, ready to give her a hug that seemed to last a lifetime. As she sat on the bench with the clock counting down, UMass would win 84-61.

“How many hugs can you have with [Breen]? We have a senior night after this, and I went through all of her honors … It’s going to take me 10 minutes just to get through that,” Verdi said. “When I recruited her, I saw something in her. But to see it actually happen, it’s just amazing.”

“That’s really crazy,” Breen said on being the program’s all-time leading scorer. “I saw that [Peters] emailed me and that’s awesome. I haven’t read it yet, but I know it’s going to make my day.”

Breen finished as the game’s leading scorer, with four of her teammates also finishing in double figures. Ber’Nyah Mayo, Sydney Taylor, Makennah White and Destiney Philoxy all hit that mark, with Philoxy hitting that mark in the first quarter. She went 4-of-4 from downtown in the opening 10 minutes, including an and-one 3-pointer that had the Mullins Center rocking.

Off the back of that and-one, Philoxy missed the free throw, before two offensive rebounds led to a Taylor 3-pointer, essentially giving the Minutewomen a six point possession. Mullins grew even louder after Taylor’s bucket, a testament to how full the building was. Over 3,000 people filed into the Mullins center on Saturday evening, a number that is far and away the largest attendance figure that the Minutewomen have had this season.

“Unbelievable environment [on Saturday], and I am so appreciative of that,” Verdi said. “Just to have our community, to get people to come out and be excited about women’s basketball. This is something that we’ve been working for. There have been nights where it’s crickets in the Mullins Center. We’ve built something really special, and to see it all come together is amazing.”

After losing the rebound battle in its previous game against Saint Louis, UMass dominated the boards on Saturday. The Minutewomen grabbed double the offensive rebounds of GW and outrebounded their opponents by 13. Breen led the team with 10 rebounds, while White and Angelique Ngalakulondi each added six of their own.

Pregame, Verdi emphasized that defense was the most important thing for his team to focus on in the opening minutes, and UMass played up to its coach’s standard. GW runs a fast, free-flwoing offense with lots of passes that tries to isolate its shooters and get them open. It attempted almost double the amount of 3-pointers as the Minutewomen, but only hit three more. UMass shot 50 percent from beyond the arc while GW mustered only 37.9 percent.

With their victory on Saturday, the Minutewomen clinched both A-10 regular season co-champions along with Rhode Island and the No. 1 seed in the A-10 tournament with Fordham’s concurrent win. Postgame, the team gathered at center-court before they each took turns cutting off a piece of the net.

“To [cut the net] on your home court, in front of your fans and your community, it’s something that I will always remember,” Verdi said. “I will say that I’m proud of myself, because I did hold back a lot of tears [Saturday]. But I did tear up at the end.”

With the regular season now over and the A-10 championship tournament fast approaching, the Minutewomen will travel to Wilmington, Delaware. They received a double bye in the opening stages of the tournament and will not have their first game until Friday, March 3. Tipoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. and the opponent has yet to be determined.

“We have a team of special women,” Verdi said. “They deserve for people to know about what they’re doing. I don’t do this by myself. This is a culmination of assembling a team of great coaches, support staff, having administration that supports us every step of the way and believes in you. When we’re all connected, we all win. And [Saturday], we’re champs.”

Johnny Depin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Jdepin101.

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