Women’s basketball: High-powered Dayton holds off UMass, 69-60

  • UMass guard Destiney Philoxy goes to the basket during the Minutewomen’s game against Dayton Wednesday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass’ Michelle Pruitt backs down her defender during the Minutewomen’s game against Dayton Wednesday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer 
Published: 1/19/2022 10:12:11 PM
Modified: 1/19/2022 10:11:07 PM

AMHERST – The Minutewomen didn’t get any time to recover after a difficult loss to a tough Rhode Island team on Monday night. UMass traveled back to the Mullins Center and were tasked with facing an intimidating Dayton team, ranked No. 1 in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll and undefeated in conference play. 

It ultimately proved to be too much for the Minutewomen, who fell 69-60 for their second consecutive loss, the first time all season they’ve had to endure a losing streak.

UMass (14-4, 2-2) didn’t come out poorly, but Dayton was able to outplay the hosts to keep them at arm’s length. Both teams take pride in their rebounding prowess, but UMass finished the first half with just three offensive rebounds; Dayton picked up seven ORs and out-rebounded UMass 24-19 in the opening half.

Though the Flyers didn't blow out the Minutewomen by any means, the energy from the home team's bench couldn’t match the depth that Dayton put on the court. For the first time this season, the Minutewomen also had to deal with height and length that at times proved to be overwhelming; Dayton’s Tenin Magassa towered over everyone at 6-foot-5, and of the nine players who stepped on the floor for the Flyers, seven of them were 6 feet or taller. 

“They're just long, and I think that frustrated us in the first half. Destiney [Philoxy] and (Sydney Taylor), they both had some pretty good passes into me and I had to meet it better,” UMass forward Sam Breen said. “And they were longer, which we haven't really played against a collective team that long. I think that just like got to us a little bit.”

The opening frame was closely contested, with both teams capitalizing on misplays and turnovers. UMass’ Taylor opened the scoring two minutes into the quarter with a fast-break layup, which was quickly matched by Dayton’s Erin Whalen on the next possession. The teams traded buckets back and forth and spent most of the first frame tied, with Dayton getting an edge as the quarter wore on. Whalen hit a triple in the final seconds of the first quarter to give Dayton a five-point lead.

Turnover really hurt UMass. The Minutewomen gave the ball away 16 times, and seven of those came in the first quarter alone.

“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot, to be honest with you. We had 10 turnovers, and it was just passing the ball into Sam in the post... we weren't meeting passes and we weren't making really good direct line passes,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “You’ve got to be better than that, and we weren’t. We weren't very good here today.”

The Minutewomen kept things close in the beginning of the second quarter, not cutting into Dayton’s lead but not allowing the Flyers to pull away either. That changed in the latter half of the quarter, when the Flyers outscored the Minutewomen 11-2 over a 4:39 span, causing Verdi to call a timeout with 1:29 left in the half in an attempt to slow their momentum. 

Verdi chose to sub in Michelle Pruitt, who made an immediate impact for the Minutewomen in the paint. Pruitt’s physicality earned her a layup on her first possession in the game, and she drew a foul on UMass’ next trip to the offensive zone, sinking a free throw to boot. Philoxy also scored a layup at the buzzer to cut UMass’ deficit to 11 points, with the team staring at a 30-21 deficit at intermission.

In what has become the team's calling card, the Minutewomen came out of halftime with a vengeance, going on a 6-2 run to open the third quarter and forcing Dayton to take a timeout with 7:49 remaining. Angelique Ngalakulondi opened the frame with a layup, and then picked up another one off of a sweet feed from Breen across the paint.

The   Flyers settled down and pulled back ahead to make it a 10-point cushion. Magassa found her groove in the paint, using her height to put away a couple of baskets over the Minutewomen's outstretched arms, and Whalen knocked down a pair of 3’s a minute and a half apart, answering back after both Philoxy and Stefanie Kulesza both put away triples – this was Kulesza's second game with significant minutes for UMass. Dayton hit a buzzer-beater in the dying seconds of the third quarter to extend their lead to 13 points heading into the final frame. 

D own but not out, Breen knocked down a pair of back-t0-back 3’s early in the third quarter, chipping away at Dayton's lead. Shortly after, she drew a foul and knocked down a free throw and put up another hook shot to bring the Minutewomen within six. That was as close as they’d get however, as Dayton made free throws down the stretch to secure the win.

It’s been a tough stretch for UMass, which played four tough conference teams in eight days. This stretch is also coming off a break where the entire team was sick and still hasn’t really had any practice time together. Though they didn’t get the win Wednesday, UMass players said they're still a resilient group, and that there will be no easy games from here on out. 

“We’ve got to come out and play, because these teams are coming for our necks, and we know what it's like when our backs [are] against the wall and I feel like this week proved that,” Philoxy said. “We didn't get the outcome that we really wanted, but it does show that we do have fight and we're not going to give up ‘til the last buzzer.”

Next up for UMass is a road trip Saturday to play at George Washington (2 p.m.).

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