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

Sydney Taylor’s regulation buzzer beater not enough for UMass to repeat as A-10 champions

The Minutewomen now wait for a potential at-large NCAA Tournament bid
Chris Tucci / UMass Athletics

WILMINGTON, Del — Sydney Taylor’s heroics could only be celebrated for so long. When the pain lingers and tears dry, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team can look back at Taylor’s 3-point game tying buzzer beater that forced overtime with a smile.

In the moment, melancholily energy soaked through the post game press conference as UMass fell short of the Atlantic 10 championship, falling 91-85 to Saint Louis. The opposite end of where the Minutewomen (26-6, 14-2 A-10) were one year ago.

Taylor was fouled on a 3-point attempt with eight seconds to go and the senior stepped up to the line, sinking the first with no issue. The second misses and the third goes in as a timeout is called. Assistant coach Lynne-Ann Kokoski walked over to Taylor, ‘head up,” she said with time still left.

The Billikens (17-17, 10-6 A-10) made two free throws of its own and UMass called a timeout with 3.6 seconds remaining. Destiney Philoxy inbounded, Taylor caught and a slow fight through the screen gave Taylor just enough time she needed to fire away. Bang, she fist pumps but not for long, acknowledging that just meant five more minutes to play.

Heading into the overtime period, head coach Tory Verdi focused on two things: boxing out and rebounding. Sam Breen’s foul shots with under three minutes to play put UMass up two, but 37 seconds later the Minutewomen gave up two offensive boards.

That drained time off the clock in Saint Louis’ favor before taking the ultimate gut punch from a late 3-pointer by Kyla McMakin. UMass couldn’t regain the lead from that moment on, letting empty trips on the offensive end take away any energy carried from the fourth quarter.

“It seemed like [the Billikens] were everywhere and you have to give them credit,” Verdi said. “They had unbelievable want to here today.”

As Verdi began his opening statement upstairs, behind a tent following the game, coincidentally the Saint Louis cheers from the court heightened.

“It’s been a great ride, I appreciate the journey they’ve taken us on,” Verdi said. “We should be proud, we’ve won a lot of games, today wasn’t our day and we have plenty of days where everything is going our way, we are clicking on all cylinders on both sides of the ball and I just felt like it was hard to get any momentum throughout the course of the game today. I am extremely proud … proud of our effort, our fight, especially in the fourth period, being able to make plays down the stretch.”

Queen’s “We are the Champions,” began to play downstairs. “Its really hard to win championships, everyone thinks you can do it, everyone wants a quick turnaround and it’s hard,” Verdi said. “You have one off day and those dreams, everything you worked hard [for] it doesn’t happen but regardless, we are not leaving as A-10 championships, being A-10 regular season champions is something to be proud of.”

Verdi wasn’t pleased with his entire defensive performance, breaking down the layers of what went wrong for UMass on the day. The game plan was to contain dribble penetration, specifically on Julia Martinez who very rarely looks at the basket. Regardless of how the Minutewomen defended her, she got them in rotation. Martinez drove right all game, forcing off ball help for a drive and kick, punishing the defense.

In the first quarter alone, Martinez had five assists and only four points. She frequently drove to bring in a pick from McMakin, then handed off the ball to let McMakin step in for her jump shot.

Taylor and Philoxy both did a quality job containing her but even with less than 10 seconds on the shot clock, she got off and finished her contested jumper. She finished with 27 points on 9-for-20 shooting, hitting only two 3-pointers as she put on an offensive clinic in the paint from start to finish.

Martinez led the way not only facilitating but eventually got her game going on every level. Sunday marked the highest scoring championship game in A-10 history and Martinez contributed 17 points along with 12 assists, and 13 rebounds, snagging a ring and a triple double .

On the other side of the ball, UMass succeeded when team basketball led to easy buckets in the paint. Ber’Nyah Mayo did a quality job getting open looks to her post players down low, but lack of success from beyond the arc (8-for-27) played a factor. All season long Verdi has talked about finding other ways to win when typical shots aren’t falling but on Sunday, it wasn’t necessarily the case.

“I don’t know if it was frustration,” Verdi said. “We have six players who can score the basketball but it was like ‘I’m going to do this myself’ and we can’t do it that way … in a championship game, every possession counts.”

Breen scored just five points across the first three quarters but got things going in timely fashion, closing the fourth quarter with seven, including a 3-pointer to take a one point lead with 2:20 to go. She finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds for her 19th double double this season.

Philoxy had 12 points, seven rebounds and went 5-for-8 from the charity stripe. She also dished six assists in the loss. Stef Kulesza was a bright spot off the bench, grabbing crucial rebounds on both ends of the floor. She had six rebounds in her 17 minutes of action. Nglakulondi finished with 15 points on 6-for-6 from the field and White added seven. Mayo rounded out the Minutewomen in double figures with 14.

The Minutewomen now await their fate, to see if the regular season efforts were enough for an at-large NCAA tournament bid or if they will dance in the WNIT tournament instead. Selection Sunday is March 12.

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

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