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 sends Fordham home heartbroken, Minutewomen top the Rams 80-79

Ber’Nyah Mayo’s 29 points lift UMass to victory at the buzzer
Kayla Wong / Daily Collegian

Asiah Dingle’s 30th point was pure magic. She elevated, the net barely moved, and the player silenced Mullins with one minute to play. 77-76, Fordham with the lead. Sam Breen’s jumper failed to connect but Makennah White was prepared, she stretched herself, outworked the Fordham (16-9, 8-4 A-10) defender and grabbed the game changing offensive board. White couldn’t get the drop but back in the hands of Breen it went. 78-77 with the Massachusetts women’s basketball team on top. Mullins was loud again.

Anna DeWolfe wanted 17 in heroic fashion, so the guard hits a jumper to put the one point lead back on her side, forcing UMass (20-4, 10-1 Atlantic 10) to call its final timeout.

With 11 seconds left, 27 points on the night already, Ber’Nyah Mayo decided she wanted just a little bit more. She drove, she scored, she called game.

Roughly seven years ago, head coach Tory Verdi wanted to be Fordham. The Rams played hard, they could win, and they brought in championships. Verdi told his team that before the game on Wednesday night.

“I think this rivalry is special … the fact that we were able to pull out this win tonight is outstanding,” Verdi said. “We are going to continue on this journey to rewrite history here.”

What separated the two teams who spent all 40 minutes battling was that even after Mayo’s late game dauntless display on offense, the Minutewomen knew that it would take five players to lock down on defense, make the stop and secure the win. Dingle didn’t want to give up the ball until Mayo forced her to. White was there to help on Jada Dapaa, and the Rams offense didn’t have enough to get off a shot before the ball rolled out of bounds.

Mullins remained electric, Verdi proudly celebrated with his team, nine straight wins, securing the 20th of the 2022-23 season and a rivalry that ends in a 80-79 victory for UMass on its home court.

“We knew this was going to be a battle, we knew every possession was going to count,” Verdi said. “Right out of the gates, you have to give Fordham credit. They were playing faster than us, we got their best punch. I thought they did a great job of attacking us on our switches, we got in rotation and we couldn’t contain the dribble penetration which lead to 3-pointers and made baskets. We made adjustments at halftime … it wasn’t our best basketball but we still found a way to win.”

For the first half, the Rams had every reason to celebrate. As Verdi applauded, the Minutewomen weren’t finding ways to stop the high level offense and 3-point percentage of 57.1 in the first quarter alone. By the second quarter, the Rams led by as many as 11, forcing frustration upon the UMass defense and throwing off the connectivity of the Minutewomen on the offensive end.

Dingle didn’t just wait until the latter half to show up, rather, she controlled and dominated the opening half. She finished 68.4 percent from the field and had 21 by halftime. Wednesday marked her third career 30 point game, making her mark in Amherst even though she left Massachusetts with a heartbreaking loss.

What flipped a switch for UMass ultimately became effort by all five on the court, including timely possessions from players off the bench as well. Just five minutes into the first quarter, Stefanie Kulesza came off the bench and had two back to back steals into layups, and while White only knocked in six points, Verdi applauded all six. Not to mention the five rebounds she grabbed and energy she brought when subbed in.

Prior to Dingle’s ice in her veins shot, Breen drew Fordham’s Kaitlyn Downey in, forcing the forward to play Breen’s hot hand. Breen extended to get the shot attempt off, whistle blew and Downey’s fifth foul was called, sending the defensive anchor to the bench with eight points and seven rebounds. The coaching staff knew to take advantage of Downey’s foul trouble and with Breen’s specialty on offense, it was almost bound to produce something beneficial for UMass if Breen attacked the paint. It paid off as Breen sank two free throws and eliminated Fordham’s multifaceted veteran. Downey can shoot from beyond the arc and score downlow, two things she’s done to the Minutewomen defense year after year.

The career night for Mayo in points came with four rebounds, three steals and three assists. Breen finished with 18 points, Destiney Philoxy brought in 15, five rebounds and six assists. Philoxy was critical for the Minutewomen all game, stepping up when Verdi needed. Philoxy hit a 3-pointer with less than three minutes to play, forcing Fordham to call timeout when UMass reclaimed the lead, 74-73. Verdi flapped his arms to get cheers even louder than they were, applauding the late game effort by his team.

The game winning atmosphere was widely celebrated by the crowd, as a sizable audience got their money’s worth. Mayo, Breen and Verdi recognized the benefit that the UMass crowd brought in, paying their gratitude to those who supported them on Wednesday night.

“We all win, this is all of us,” Verdi said.

UMass looks to Sunday, as the Minutewomen travel to face George Mason with tip off scheduled for 3 p.m.

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

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    Mike NoonanFeb 8, 2023 at 11:51 pm

    Great article on a spectacular basketball game. Not able to be there as I’m here in Clemson SC for the winter. Lucky to be able to listen to the WMUA broadcast while following on social media at the same time. Great reporting on a night to remember at Mullins (haven’t been that many over the last decade or so)…..