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 falls to Saint Louis in overtime despite a uniting fourth quarter comeback

Sam Breen and Destiney Philoxy ignite comeback attempt but fall short in extended time
Chris Tucci / UMass Athletics

WILMINGTON, Del. – As confetti rained down from the ceiling, there was no celebration from the Massachusetts women’s basketball team. Not even a display of sadness or sorrow. Instead, written across the face of every player was a feeling of demoralizing defeat.

It was a heartbreaking, soul-crushing loss for No. 1 UMass (26-6, 14-2 Atlantic 10) in the championship game of the A-10 tournament, as No. 3 Saint Louis upset the defending champs in the 91-85 overtime thriller. While the outcome was not in the Minutewomen’s favor, the road to greatness was not paved overnight for this team.

In the last three years, UMass has earned three straight tournament championship appearances. In the 2021-2022 season, it raised the championship banner and went dancing in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 24 years. This year, the Minutewomen won their first regular season championship in program history.

Sam Breen and Destiney Philoxy cemented their legacies in the Commonwealth by achieving numerous accolades and breaking multiple records. Breen was named the A-10 player of the year for the second consecutive year and became the program’s all-time leading scorer. Philoxy tallied the most minutes and most games played in UMass women’s basketball history and became the all-time leader in assists.

“When you talk about foundation, [ Breen and Philoxy] are cornerstones,” head coach Tory Verdi said. “I’m super proud of them, their development, their maturation, and I mean, they’ve won a lot of games.”

“They will be remembered as two players that catapulted this program to a national level.”

On Sunday, UMass crawled back from an eight-point deficit in the final frame. The comeback came to fruition because the players fought not for themselves, but for the player standing beside them.

Following a 7-0 Billikens (17-17, 10-6 A-10) run, the Minutewomen walked gingerly to the bench as the wind ripped right out of their sails. With less than nine minutes remaining, UMass had to decide then and there what type of team they wanted to be.

Coming out of the huddle, Makennah White, Ber’Nyah Mayo and Breen each missed an unassisted, difficult, rushed shot. For a moment, it appeared as if hero ball would signal the team’s demise; until the cornerstones provided a spark.

After Mayo picked off an errant Saint Louis pass, she pushed the ball up the floor to Philoxy who sprinted into the paint. Philoxy picked up her dribble at the foul line and passed to Breen who finished a wide-open layup.

On the next possession, Mayo passed out of a contested layup and found a streaking Breen who collected another easy two points. Breen put the lid on a 13-4 run when she splashed a 3-pointer from the top of the arc on an assist from Philoxy.

“We got down, and when your shots aren’t going in, you have got to figure out a way to win,” Verdi said. “You can’t stop playing … We’re too veteran for that to happen. We’ve been down before and we’ve figured out ways to win. I don’t know if it was frustration … The good thing is that we have six players who can score the basketball, and then it was like, ‘I’m going to try and do it by myself,’ and you can’t do it that way.”

“You’re not going to get all eight points back in one play. Let’s get a stop and get a score and then we were able to get run outs and a couple one-legged layups and then all of a sudden we get momentum. In a championship game, every possession counts. Every possession counts.”

Although the result was not in the Minutewomen’s favor, they proved what type of team they are. When they play together and fight in unison for the name on the front of the jersey and not on the back, Verdi believes this team is as good as any in the nation.

“I believe on any given night we can play with anybody in the country,” Verdi said. “I do believe that. But [Sunday], it just wasn’t our night.”

Michael Araujo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @araujo_michael_.

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