UMass basketball: Sam Breen, Destiney Philoxy shine in final home game as Minutewomen blast George Washington for share of Atlantic-10 title


Staff Writer 

Published: 02-25-2023 10:18 PM

AMHERST – You really couldn’t have scripted it any better. 

The UMass women’s basketball team had control of its own destiny – a win would secure a (shared) regular season title and the No. 1 spot in the upcoming Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament. The Mullins Center was packed with the Minutewomen’s biggest crowd of the season.

The game was an 84-61 blowout victory, led by a dominant first quarter performance from fifth-year senior Destiney Philoxy. Sam Breen cemented herself in UMass history forever, scoring 23 points to move into first place as the all-time scoring leader in UMass program history. The cherry on top? The win was head coach Tory Verdi’s 200th career victory as a collegiate head coach. 

“I will say that I'm proud of myself, because I held back a lot of tears today. And actually before the (senior night) game even started… I wasn't making any eye contact and it worked. But I did tear up at the end,” Verdi said after the win. “I’m super proud of our players and what they've been through. It's not easy when you’re picked number one in the preseason poll and you have all these expectations and all that pressure. For us to just be resilient and come out each and every single day and battle – it's an honor for me to have the opportunity to coach these players.”

It was a typical win for the Minutewomen (24-5 overall, 14-2 A-10). Five different players finished in double figures – Breen (23), Philoxy (15), Makennah White (14), Ber’Nyah Mayo (12) and Sydney Taylor (11). Breen’s record-breaking night was also business as usual as she added 10 boards for a double-double, and also had a team-high seven assists. The Minutewomen out-rebounded George Washington 44-31, and scored a whopping 48 points in the paint to GW’s 18.

The lone dark spot on the day was an injury to Taylor early in the fourth quarter. After battling for the ball in the post, Taylor got hit in the face around her eye, and was pulled out for the remainder of the contest; it wasn’t immediately clear how serious the injury was. 

It was an especially emotional day for Philoxy and Breen, the pair of UMass ‘seniors’ who were honored prior to the contest. Philoxy has been at UMass for five years because of COVID-19, and Breen is in her sixth year of college basketball, fifth at UMass. Both were honored prior to the game, and Philoxy’s sister Selena showed up to surprise her. 

“It meant a lot to me, honestly. Only because I was on the phone with her the night before… she made me believe she wasn't coming. And then (during pregame) I hear cheering again, but Sam's not walking… I look and I see someone with dreads. I'm like, ‘I only know one person with dreads like mine,’” Philoxy said. “I actually teared up a little bit because we’ve never really shared a basketball moment before. We all went our separate ways. So for her to come back and support me shows how much she really loves me. Sometimes you need a little love, and I feel like I needed that today.” 

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That love was a catalyst for Philoxy, who exploded in the first quarter with 12 points, going 4-for-4 from the three-point arc in the opening frame, highlighted by an incredible and-one bucket that she made while falling to the floor. She missed her free throw, but UMass grabbed the rebound and Taylor sank a triple of her own to make it a six-point play one one possession.

By the end of the first quarter, the Minutewomen were up 29-16, and that trend continued for the rest of the night. At halftime, they held a 46-29 lead, and that had ballooned to a 25-point advantage by the end of the third quarter.

Breen’s record-breaking moment came off an inbound set play in the fourth period that was designed to get the ball in her hands. She raced over to the near post, breaking free of her defender thanks to a pick from Laila Fair, and put up a layup to cement her place in UMass history. Verdi immediately pulled her out of the game once she hit the milestone. On her way out, teammate Kristin Williams jumped up behind her, placing an imaginary crown on her head as ‘Queen Breen’ checked out for the final time at the Mullins Center. 

“I saw (former record-holder) Sue Peters emailed me – I haven’t read it yet, but I already know that’s gonna make my day,” said Breen, who broke Peters’ UMass scoring record of 1,858 points. “Getting that today was absolutely crazy. It wasn't necessarily something that was on the top of my mind, but once it happened, it happened. It makes it so much more special to do it in Amherst.” 

The Minutewomen will have almost a week off before they play their first game in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Earning the No. 1 spot gives them a bye straight to the quarterfinals, where they’ll play either No. 8 La Salle or No. 9 George Mason at 11 a.m. at the Chase Fieldhouse on Friday, March 3. Fans who don’t make the trip to Wilmington can watch the team’s title defense on ESPN-Plus.