UMass finishes 2019 with blowout win over Southern Connecticut State

  • Sam Breen, right, of UMass, scores inside against Southern Connecticut State in the fourth quarter, Monday at the Mullins Center. J. Anthony Roberts

  • UMass head coach Tory Verdi, left, talks to his players during a timeout in the third quarter, Monday at the Mullins Center. J. Anthony Roberts

  • UMass guard Hailey Leidel, left, drives past Ednaija Lassiter, of Southern Connecticut State, in the second quarter, Monday at the Mullins Center. J. Anthony Roberts

  • UMass guard Vashnie Perry, left, shoots over Jessica Fressieof Southern Connecticut State, in the second quarter, Monday at the Mullins Center. J. Anthony Roberts

  • UMass guard Hailey Leidel, back, shoots over Ednaija Lassiter, of Southern Connecticut State, in the third quarter, Monday at the Mullins Center. J. Anthony Roberts

Staff Writer
Published: 12/30/2019 9:11:21 PM
Modified: 12/30/2019 9:11:05 PM

AMHERST — Monday’s halftime message from coach Tory Verdi was straightforward.

With UMass leading Division II Southern Connecticut State by 19 points at the break, Verdi wanted the Minutewomen to erase all doubt about the game in the third quarter. Within the first few minutes of the second half, UMass did just that, holding the Owls without a field goal until 30 seconds remained in the period.

By the time Southern Connecticut State made a basket, UMass had extended its lead to 39 points and made 11 of 19 shots from the floor. The thumping continued even as Verdi pulled his starters late in the third quarter, culminating in an 86-43 win at the Mullins Center in UMass’ final nonconference game of the season.

“We asked for them to have that (killer instinct) mentality,” Verdi said. “You look from our first game where we played against Merrimack, I’ve always said give Merrimack credit for winning that game, but we gave them a lot of confidence … and that’s the last thing you want to do is give your opponent confidence and make them feel good about where they’re at. Our players did a really nice job of taking it to (Southern Connecticut State) and then just outworking them for 40 minutes.”

The second half has been the Minutewomen’s best half this year, a departure from previous seasons when the third quarters were a bugaboo for the team. In the first six games of its current seven-game winning streak, UMass (10-3) had outscored opponents 215-185 in the second half while extending slim halftime leads into more comfortable victories.

UMass extended on that mark against the Owls, outscoring them 45-21 over the final 20 minutes.

“From my standpoint being here now three years, our third quarters had been kind of sluggish at times,” junior forward Paige McCormick said. “It was really good to see that we came out ready to execute. A lot of it has to do with the maturity of the older teammates on our team. It just feels different from previous years.”

McCormick registered her first career double-double with 13 points and a career-high 12 rebounds in the victory. She also doubled her career best with four steals in the contest while playing a team-high 31 minutes.

Yet her performance was overshadowed by the player she is tasked with guarding each day in practice. Sam Breen made her Mullins Center debut a memorable one, scoring 28 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in just her second game in a UMass jersey. The Penn State transfer was 11 of 19 from the floor, including 4 of 5 from behind the arc, and also picked up six offensive rebounds.

“It was super exciting to play at Mullins for the first time,” Breen said. “Obviously, I’ve been practicing here for a year, so to be able to actually put the uniform on on game day after watching my teammates do it for a year was really exciting.”

UMass built its early lead on the back of senior Vashnie Perry, who replaced the injured Destiney Philoxy at point guard. Perry was efficient and made all of the right decisions until she was pulled from the game late in the third quarter.

Perry finished with 16 points and a career-best eight assists in the victory.

“Ever since break, Vash has come in with the mentality of doing something really special,” Verdi said. “We need that leadership from her, she understands how important that role is and she’s done an unbelievable job. She’s been a different player since the break, just her mentality on the floor has been extremely different.”

HISTORIC RUN — UMass will enter Atlantic 10 play on a seven-game winning streak, its longest since 1998 when it won nine straight. The Minutewomen also won all six games in December for their first unbeaten month since winning all eight of their games in February 1998.

Despite the recent stretch of victories, Verdi said he feels the team still hasn’t come close to reaching its peak, so he’s excited for conference play to watch the Minutewomen continue to improve.

“Everybody may think that because we’ve won 10 out of 11 games, we’re playing our best basketball,” Verdi said. “I don’t think we’re playing our best basketball, but our potential and where we could go this year, we could be a special team.”

ROSTER REPORT — UMass was down to just nine uniformed players for Monday’s win. Philoxy missed her second game with a lower-body injury and Verdi said he hoped the sophomore guard would be able to return within the next few weeks. Freshman forward Angelique Ngalakulondi was suspended for the game for a violation of team rules per a team spokesman.

UMass was also missing walk-on Lauraine Joensen, who left the team for personal reasons over winter break. The Northampton native played in four games this season, scoring two points and grabbing four rebounds in 15 total minutes of action.

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