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 flips the switch in fourth quarter in victory over George Mason

Minutewomen score 22 of their 63 points in final 10 minutes
Mitchell Leff / Atlantic 10

WILMINGTON, Del. – With 8:41 left in fourth quarter and the score tied at 41, Angelique Ngalakulondi hit a tough layup to put the Massachusetts women’s basketball up by two points. With George Mason inbounding the ball, Ber’Nyah Mayo perfectly read the pass and picked it off, giving the Minutewomen (25-5, 14-2 Atlantic 10) a chance to grow their lead, something that neither team had been able to do for the majority of the game.

As Mayo reset the offense, with her teammates jogging back into the half court, the ball eventually found its way to Sydney Taylor who was tightly covered behind the 3-point line. A few pump fakes and jab-steps later, Taylor hoisted a 3-pointer that seemed to linger in the air. When it hit nothing but the bottom of the net, UMass had taken a five-point lead which it wouldn’t relinquish. The Patriots (16-15, 8-8 A-10 ) never sniffed the lead again, with the closest they came being seven points. When the final buzzer sounded, the Minutewomen stood victorious 63-50.

“I honestly don’t know,” Mayo said on her thought process of stealing the inbound pass. “Just being aware of the ball, knowing that they were trying to inbound it quick. I was just lingering around, hiding a little bit, getting my hand on the ball. [Taylor], knowing that’s her shot, pass it to her and [she] knocks it down.”

Mayo led the team in points in front of her hometown crowd, finishing the game with 15, along with two assists, two rebounds and four steals. Taylor was second on the team with 13, with Sam Breen finishing with 10. It was a tough day of shooting for both squads, with UMass shooting 35.9 percent while George Mason clocked in at 33.3 percent.

Eight 3-pointers were hit by both teams on a combined 36 attempts, with the Minutewomen canning two more from downtown than their opponents. Taylor accounted for three of the long balls, while Destiney Philoxy and Stefanie Kulesza each hit one of their own.

“It wasn’t the prettiest of games that we’ve played, but you have to give George Mason credit. They came out with a sense of urgency and want-to,” head coach Tory Verdi said. “I’m really proud of my players. There were periods where we took [George Mason’s] best punch, and we responded.”

Before the explosion of offense for UMass in the fourth quarter, it shot a paltry 32 percent from the floor. Turnovers plagued the first 30 minutes, committing seven which led to 12 points for the Patriots. The Minutewomen were also out-rebounded in every quarter but the fourth, allowing 11 second chance points in the first three quarters.

Everything changed in the final 10 minutes, with UMass grabbing three more rebounds than the opposition in the fourth. It also outscored George Mason by nine in the last frame.

“We started to get stops,” Verdi said on what changed in the final 10 minutes. “We changed what we were doing defensively, went zone, I think that was a really good momentum shift. We were able to get some offense off of [defensive stops], [George Mason] did turn the ball over a couple times. We did a better job of attacking downhill, and not only are we attacking downhill but we’re getting to the line.”

Philoxy echoed Verdi’s words with her actions, going hard to the cup multiple times in the fourth quarter. The offensive possession after the contested Taylor 3-pointer, Philoxy found herself alone at the top of the key, the ball in her hands, matched up in a one-on-one. After blowing by her defender, Philoxy went for a hop-step, faking out the help defense. She went up strong through contact, and the whistle blew as the ball fell through the net, giving her an and-one opportunity which she would capitalize on.

UMass as a whole had a less than stellar day from the charity stripe, shooting 60 percent. It hit 12 of its 20 attempts from the free throw line, three more than the Patriots mustered. Philoxy led the team with four made free throws, with both Mayo and Ngalakulondi finishing 3-of-6 from the line.

The Minutewomen await the result of the Fordham and Richmond to see who their opponent will be in the next round of the tournament. That game is slated for Saturday, March 4, with tipoff at 11 a.m. from Chase Fieldhouse.

“If you want to win a championship, you got to play defense and you got to rebound,” Verdi said. “Otherwise you’re not going to win. We’ve got to do a better job of that moving forward, and we will. We have all year long.”

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

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