UMass women’s basketball buries Central Connecticut after early run

  • UMass senior guard Destiney Philoxy drives against Central Connecticut State at the Mullins Center on Tuesday. She finished with 13 points and 10 assists in an 87-50 win. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass junior forward Angelique Ngalakulondi led the Minutewomen with 14 points off the bench against Central Connecticut on Tuesday at the Mullins Center.  CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass senior point guard Destiney Philoxy dished 10 assists against Central Connecticut State on Tuesday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass guard Shavonne Smith, a Towson transfer, scored seven points off the bench in her debut for the Minutewomen on Tuesday at the Mullins Center. UMass defeated Central Connecticut 87-50. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/9/2021 8:23:37 PM

AMHERST – UMass started its 2021 women’s basketball season fast.

The Minutewomen scored the first nine points Tuesday against Central Connecticut State and cruised to an 87-50 victory at the Mullins Center.

The Blue Devils didn’t score for the game’s first five minutes and didn’t make a field goal until center Ashley Berube’s layup with 6 minutes, 3 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

“I thought we played fast and our defense created a lot of our offense,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said.

UMass (1-0) had 21 fast break points. The Minutewomen swiped 10 steals led by three from sophomore guard Ber’Nyah Mayo. They scored 30 points off turnovers.

“We started pressuring them after makes and we got a lot of deflections,” UMass junior Angelique Ngalakulondi said. “We’re talking on defense and moving around, that helped us a lot.”

Five Minutewomen scored in double figures. Sydney Taylor led the way with  16 points. Sam Breen had 15 and nine rebounds, while Ngalakulondi scored 14. Destiney Philoxy (13 points, 10 assists) and Mayo (12 points, 10 rebounds) collected double-doubles. It was the first of Mayo’s career.

“We think that her best basketball is ahead of her,” Verdi said. “The rebounding comes naturally because she’s so competitive.”

Philoxy began the game distributing the ball and getting her teammates involved. The senior guard accumulated six assists in the first half, as UMass built a 42-26 lead.

“Destiney is our catalyst, she makes us go,” Verdi said. 

She got herself going to start the second half. Philoxy poured in seven points in the first 5:24 of the third quarter. Eleven of her 13 points came after halftime. She made 6-of-9 shots from the field, 5-of-7 in the second half.

“I realized what they were doing. I saw them playing me and it was like she wasn’t respecting me and who I was,” Philoxy said. “So I was like, ‘I’m going to take it to the basket read my defender.’”

The Minutewomen scored 11 points in a row over 2½ minutes in the second quarter to push their lead from 11 to 22. It reached as many as 37 with 3:47 remaining.

They benefited from 29 bench points, a rarity down last year’s stretch run when UMass played with just seven on the roster.

Ngalakulondi led the way with her 14, but freshman Stefanie Kulesza – who debuted last season after graduating early – added seven and Towson transfer Shavonne Smith scored seven in just shy of 18 minutes largely in transition or attacking the rim.

“She’s exactly what we need. She’s like the missing piece to our puzzle,” Philoxy said of Smith. “We need someone else explosive, we need someone else to depend on.”

The Minutewomen played in front of fans for the first time since March of 2020 and relished the opportunity.

“There was a lot of people out there. The energy started with us, and then it came from the fans,” Ngalakulondi said. “It felt good all around.”

UMass returns to action at the Mullins Center Friday against Harvard.

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