UMass basketball: Minutewomen’s season ends in 89-87 loss to Harvard in WNIT second round

  • UMass’ Makennah White (5) holds possession during the Minutewomen’s WNIT game against Harvard on Monday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass’ Sam Breen (34) dribbles toward the basket during the Minutewomen’s WNIT game against Harvard on Monday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass’ Sydney Taylor (1) defends Harvard’s Harmoni Turner (14) during the Minutewomen’s 89-87 loss in the WNIT on Monday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/20/2023 9:41:46 PM

AMHERST — Monday’s second round WNIT game between UMass and Harvard came down to the final play.

With 13.6 seconds on the clock and trailing by two points, the Minutewomen brought the ball up the court in desperate need of a bucket. Harvard’s defense forced a desperation three-point attempt from Destiney Philoxy as the buzzer sounded, and it bounced off the rim twice before falling to the floor, sealing the Minutewomen’s fate. 

Harvard won the game 89-87 at the Mullins Center to advance to the third round of the WNIT, where it will face Rhode Island, which bested Richmond 74-64 earlier in the day.

“The last play was supposed to be dribble handoff to an on-ball screen for a three or (to) turn the corner. But they did a great job on (Sydney Taylor), Syd didn’t have anything and then Destiney just got the ball back in her hands and just tried to make something happen, so it became a broken play,” UMass head coach Tory Verdi said.

UMass ended its season with a 27-7 record, while Harvard improved to 19-11.

Sam Breen finished her UMass career with one more record, breaking the single-season scoring mark with 589 points. The previous record was 587, set by Sue Peters in the 1978-79 season, and she was in attendance to see Breen break another one of her records on Monday. 

Breen also recorded her 60th career double-double with 14 points and 11 boards. Ber’Nyah Mayo also recorded a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists before fouling out with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Sydney Taylor led the team with 21 points and Philoxy had 16 points. 

Taylor and Philoxy both sank triples in the opening minutes to take an early lead, and the pair combined for 10 points in the first 2:52 of the contest. Up 12-4 thanks to an Angelique Ngalakulondi layup, the Minutewomen forced a Harvard timeout as the visitors tried to recover. 

From that timeout, the Crimson went off from the three-point line, dropping five triples over a five minute span. Harvard closed out the first period on a 10-4 run to take a 28-24 lead heading into the second. 

Harvard kept up its hot three-point shooting in the second, firing at an 80 percent clip from behind the arc with four more triples. McKenzie Forbes and Lola Mullaney were lights out for Harvard, finishing the first half with 19 and 16 points, respectively. Mullaney had five of Harvard’s 10 first-half triples and Forbes had four. 

The Crimson steadily built upon their lead in the second, at one point building a gap of 11 points. Taylor hit a clutch triple with five seconds to go in the half to make it a 51-43 game going into intermission, but the Minutewomen had a lot of work to do in the second half. 

“I told them we need to show up and play defense. I mean, god, we give up 51 points. [In the first round] Albany didn't score 51 points the entire game, and for whatever reason, we just didn't have a sense of urgency to defend,” Verdi said. “We were breaking down left and right and our on-ball screen defense was terrible. Going into halftime, I’m like, ‘if you don't play together and you guys don't talk, the results aren't going to change, and that's on you.’ I don't have a magic pill that I could give you guys half time. It's not what we're doing, it's how y'all are doing it.”

UMass came out hard and erased Harvard’s lead immediately – Taylor opens the second half with a triple, and shortly after Mayo got a steal and dished to Breen, who put up a layup for an immediate five points in the first 18 seconds. The trio of Philoxy, Taylor and Mayo combined for 19 of UMass’ 21 points in the third quarter, but a late layup from Harmoni Turner gave Harvard a 69-64 lead going into the final frame. 

There were shining moments in the fourth, particularly from Makennah White, who went 6-for-6 from the free throw line and drew a charge with less than two minutes to go to give the Mullins Center some life.

“What I liked the most today was Makennah’s energy,” Philoxy said. “But Makennah came off the bench, she started off rough, but second half she came off explosive, ready and honestly that's the Makennah we need and we're going to see next year. She gave us what we needed.” 

Despite White’s energy boost, Turner hit a clutch layup and three free throws down the stretch to put the game away for the Crimson.


Breen wrote her name in the history book one final time against Harvard. The graduate student knocked down a basket with 14 seconds to go to give her 589 points on the season, setting a new single-season points record. The previous record was 587 points, set by Sue Peters back in the 1978-79 season. Peters was in attendance on Monday to watch Breen break yet another one of her long-held records. 

“It's awesome. It's definitely not something I expected coming in. It's super, super cool. I don't think it’s hit me yet, I don't think it'll hit me for a while,” Breen said. “It's definitely not something I needed or that I necessarily wanted, but it's definitely something that I'm proud of.” 


Breen and Philoxy will both graduate this spring and have closed out their careers with the Minutewomen, but the impact that they’ve left on the program will be felt for a long time. 

“I'm extremely proud of these two beside me,” Verdi said on Breen and Philoxy. “Probably the best duo to ever play here at the University of Massachusetts… I'm just extremely proud of them and everything that they have done, both on and off the court.” 

When asked how they wanted their legacies to be remembered, Philoxy said she wanted to be remembered for her joyfulness and her competitive spirit. 

“I was just saying, Destiney was always smiling, she was always ready to play. I came in every game ready to play and made sure I had fun and I played every game like it was my last,” Philoxy said. 

Breen, who finished with 60 career double-doubles and has been one of the team’s most consistent players, hoped she would be remembered for her positivity and constant presence. 

“Never taking anything for granted, coming into each and every day consistent, the same energy control, control what you can control, whether shorts or going in or you’re getting stops or not,” Breen said. “And like Destiney said on senior day, coming into everything with a positive attitude.” 

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