Sam Breen, Destiney Philoxy help UMass hold off Saint Louis, 69-66

  • UMass’ Destiney Philoxy goes to the basket during the Minutewomen’s 69-66 win over Saint Louis on Saturday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass’ Sam Breen goes to the basket during the Minutewomen’s 69-66 win over Saint Louis on Saturday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer 
Published: 2/5/2022 3:34:34 PM
Modified: 2/5/2022 3:32:53 PM

AMHERST – While it wasn’t quite the finish that UMass drew up before the game, the Minutewomen's final seconds against Saint Louis on Saturday provided the kind of heart-stopping moments that make for great basketball games.

Sam Breen hit back-to-back jumpers in the paint and Destiney Philoxy capped off a 20-point performance by sinking two free throws with eight seconds left to give UMass a three-point lead in the dying seconds. Despite a slight defensive miscommunication that gave the Billikens an open 3-pointer at the buzzer, Natalie McPheal’s shot went wide, and the Minutewomen snuck out of the Mullins Center with a 69-66 Atlantic 10 win. 

UMass improved to 17-5 overall, 5-3 in the A-10. The Billikens fell to 6-13, 2-5.

“That's what they do,” UMass head coach Tory Verdi said when asked about Philoxy and Breen's clutch performances. “They've been here before, both of those guys have made big baskets for us down the stretch. To step onto the line (and) knock those (free throws) down were huge, and that's the difference of winning the game and losing the game.”

Though the win was what they wanted, the Minutewomen didn’t make it easy on themselves, something Verdi made sure to point out during postgame. Up by three with 11 seconds ago, Saint Louis’ Peyton Kennedy sank a layup and was fouled, going to the line with the potential to tie things up. She ultimately missed the foul shot, which allowed all the fans in the Mullins Center to exhale, but both that play and the open three at the end left a little too much of the game up to the basketball gods. 

“Being up three, you want to allow them to make the layup, that's fine. At the end, they had a wide open three, and I'm not sure why we're helping,” Verdi said. “Those are pressure moments, and we work on those things. Sometimes in the heat of the battle, in the moment, we forget to execute but regardless, I thought our effort was there.”

Some of that lack of execution was evident in the first half, where UMass was outscored 13-4 in the opening five minutes. The Minutewomen's offense looked lackluster, and Saint Louis was scoring at will as the game started. While that was quickly remedied from the second quarter onward, it wasn’t a strong performance to open the contest. 

“I think that the first period, we were a hot mess. We turned the ball over, we were sloppy. We had a lot of turnovers here today and a lot of that was unforced turnovers and we can't do that,” Verdi said. “I think that our frustration or lack of offensive production kind of hurts us defensively. We’ve got to figure that part out.”

But despite the slow start, both Sydney Taylor and Philoxy got going toward the end of the first period, which kick-started the momentum that UMass never let up. Taylor finished the contest with a team-leading 22 points and eight rebounds. Despite every effort that Philoxy put in to outscore her; Philoxy walked away with 20 points, three rebounds, six assists, and seven drawn fouls, a complete effort across the board for the senior guard. 

After outscoring the Billikens 21-9 in the second quarter, the second half became a much more tightly contested affair, with Saint Louis unwilling to go down without a fight. UMass managed to outmuscle the visitors thanks to a strong performance in the paint, outscoring them 46-34, and picking up 18 points on fast breaks. Makennah White also grabbed nine boards, leading the way in the team's 42 rebound performance. 

FAST AND FURIOUS 

UMass knew going into the game that its speed was an element of the game they could use to exploit the Billikens. The team had been working on its transition game earlier this week, and it showed on Saturday – the Minutewomen outscored Saint Louis 18-6 on fast breaks, and while the Billikens may have length, the Minutewomen could still outrun them. 

“Looking at our offensive game plan, we want to attack downhill and get to the rim. We knew that we had to do a great job of finishing at the basket, especially because of their size,” Verdi said. “But we wanted our guards to be extremely aggressive, attack, get to the rim and then obviously follow up with some post play and getting some inside play." 

PHILOXY V. HARBISON

Fans who saw the game got an extra treat, watching Saint Louis guard Ciaja Harbison go to work against the Minutewomen. The 5-foot-6 senior posted 27 points for the Billikens and was lights out all afternoon long. Just as entertaining was the matchup between her and Philoxy, two show-stopping guards who have battled against each other their entire careers. 

“This one was a little personal to me, only because me and Ciaja Harbison came in together, and most of the time we play each other, we go at it with each other. So that's what it was like today,” Philoxy said. “If we end up seeing them again, it's gonna happen again.”

SYDNEY SAYS 

While it's easy to see that Taylor had a good game just by looking at the scoresheet, what might go overlooked is her improved communication on the court.

“She's been terrific," Verdi said on Taylor's vocal leadership. “That's an area that we addressed with her and she's been great practice as far as just communicating and talking to everyone else. She's experienced, she's played a lot of games. So, she's coming into her own on both sides of the ball.”

It's something that Taylor has had to grow in to – as she's gotten older and more comfortable with this system of play, so, too, has she gotten better at playing a bigger part in it. 

“I think I've been a lot more vocal over the past two seasons. When I first started, I was kind of just watching, getting to know the offense,” Taylor said. “Now that I've become accustomed to how we play, I'm comfortable talking just leading the team.”

Next up for UMass is a road trip to play at St. Bonaventure on Wednesday night.


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