Defensive stand delivers UMass women’s basketball tight win over Saint Joseph’s

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 01-15-2023 1:30 PM

AMHERST – Ber’Nyah Mayo brought UMass back scoring at will.

She put the Minutewomen over the edge with a perfectly placed pass.

UMass trailed Atlantic 10-leading Saint Joseph’s by a point with 1 minute, 29 seconds left after Hawks guard Olivia Mullins drained a 3. Mayo already had 19 points and hit 7 of her first 11 shots. She also had missed her previous two shots and was whistled for a charge. But Mayo sliced through the defense and drew two defenders. That left Makenna White wide open for a drop pass and a wide-open layup to put UMass ahead for good.

“She was just confident, so I’m like ‘we’re gonna go right back to her,’” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “She’s gonna go make something happen, and she did.”

Destiney Philoxy added one more free throw, and the Minutewomen locked down Saint Joseph’s final two offensive possessions when the Hawks had shots to take the lead or tie the game in a 58-56 win Saturday in the Mullins Center. UMass (13-4, 3-1 A-10) held Saint Joseph’s (14-3, 4-1) to 2-of-10 shooting in the game’s final stretch.

“Our defensive stand down the stretch was impeccable,” Verdi said. “Collectively, we did a great job preparing our players to go out there and be successful.”

The coaching staff emphasized ball pressure and active hands in practice this week. UMass took those lessons to heart and lived in the Hawks’ passing lanes. The Minutewomen snatched 13 steals, one short of their season high. Sam Breen and White had four steals each. They forced 18 turnovers and scored 15 points off them.

“That’s what got us to this point,” Mayo said.

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UMass trailed by double digits multiple times in the game. Laura Ziegler splashed a 3 90 seconds into the second quarter to make it 22-12. The Minutewomen ripped off an 11-1 run to knot the game at 23 over the next four minutes. Mayo scored seven of those points.

Philoxy splashed a 3 that tied the game at 30 at halftime.

“For whatever reason, in the beginning of games, we're turning the ball over, settling for shots. We’ve got to do a better job to start games,” Verdi said. “We can't allow teams to get confidence and start playing behind. We’ve got to figure that out.”

The Hawks stormed out of the locker room with the first eight points of the third quarter. UMass missed its first six shots. But the Minutewomen shaved it to a three-point deficit by halftime.

Mayo, who also had three rebounds and three assists, stepped back to her left and drained a fade away 3 with 6:45 left to give UMass its first lead 51-49. 

“The crowd got into it more and then as well as our bench, so I felt like that was a key moment for us,” she said.

Breen (nine points, eight rebounds) extended the UMass advantage to 55-51 with two free throws at the 3:33 mark. But Saint Joe’s responded with the next five points and took the lead on Mullins’ fourth 3.

The Hawks didn’t score again and suffered their first conference loss.

“The last couple days we've kind of been harping that defensive end to just get stops, talk on screening action and all that,”said UMass guard Sydney Taylor, who finished with 10 points and six rebounds. “We came out of timeouts with different plans each time just to try to catch them off guard, and it ended up working out in our favor.”

White finished with 10 points and five rebounds.

UMass only shot 39 percent from the field and 59 percent from the free throw line. The Minutewomen were out rebounded and had just 10 assists. They also poured in 32 points in the paint and scored 18 fast break points.

“It’s not always going to be pretty. Teams are going to try to take you out of what you want to do offensively,” Verdi said. “At times when you don't score, you got to do all the things that impact the game. Super proud of our fight.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>