March 4, 2023
Survived and advanced: Atlantic 10 Tournament Day 3 notebook
A mix of familiar and new faces made the A-10 Tournament semifinals
WILMINGTON, Del. — After another exciting day in Chase Fieldhouse, what started as an 11-team Atlantic 10 Tournament shrunk to four. Here’s how Day 3 went down.
No. 1 UMass 63, No. 9 George Mason 50
UMass did not play the perfect game against George Mason to advance to its third semifinals in a row. The top-seeded Minutewomen shot just 35.9% from the field, their second-lowest mark of the season, and were outrebounded 48-38. But head coach Tory Verdi was okay with that.
“Whether it’s [by] 13 [points] or one, I’m just happy that we got the W and we’re moving on,” he said. “You’re not going to always play perfect. The ball always isn’t going to go in, but a sign of a great team is they figure out ways to win … and you can still win games when you’re not shooting a high percentage from the field. And we weathered the storm, and that’s what great teams do.”
After only scoring nine points in the first quarter, UMass outscored Mason 17-11 in the second quarter behind six points from junior Ber’Nyah Mayo.
Mayo was one half of a dynamic backcourt duo for the Minutewomen defensively. She and graduate student Destiney Philoxy each had four steals. The team totaled 10 steals as well as five blocks and 23 points off of Mason’s 19 turnovers.
Though senior guard Sydney Taylor’s shot wasn’t falling for most of the game — she shot 3-for-13 in the first three quarters — she still finished with 13 points and contributed in other areas, grabbing six rebounds and recording one steal. After getting elbowed in the face by teammate Makennah White in the team’s regular-season finale against George Washington, Taylor had to spend most of the week icing her eye, but she refuses to make excuses and will continue to fight through the injury.
Taylor credited Philoxy with helping her throughout the game while she struggled with her eye. When asked about the spark Philoxy provided in the third quarter, Taylor said, “That’s just Destiney.”
The overall lesson the Minutewomen learned from the game was simple. “We’re going to get everybody’s best, and we obviously need to come together and play UMass basketball and rebound and get stops,” Mayo said.
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No. 5 Richmond 70, No. 4 Fordham 65
After Fordham guard Asiah Dingle missed a layup with six seconds left in the third quarter, Richmond’s Rachel Ullstrom grabbed the rebound and passed it to teammate Grace Townsend, who sprinted down the court to lay the ball in as time expired to tie the game at 51.
“Grace is a jet. She’s crazy fast,” Richmond freshman Maggie Doogan said. “And that just got us going in the fourth quarter.”
“That was maybe the play of the game,” head coach Aaron Roussell added.
The Spiders maintained the momentum into the fourth quarter, scoring the first seven points and building a lead they would not relinquish.
Doogan, who missed five weeks with a broken hand at the end of conference play, was confident down the stretch and finished with 20 points. Roussell noted that the plan towards the end of the game was to put the ball in her hands, and he was confident that she would knock down free throws, as she’s done all season. She was 4-for-4 from the line in the fourth quarter and hit two free throws to give the Spiders a five-point lead with seven seconds to go.
“Coach [Roussell] puts a lot of confidence in me, probably more than I put in myself,” Doogan said.
For the second game in a row, Richmond struggled to shoot the ball in the first quarter. On March 2 against Dayton, the Spiders shot 5-for-17 from the floor, though they went into the second quarter tied at 11. Against Fordham, Richmond shot 2-for-16 from the floor, falling behind 19-6.
The win gave the Spiders their first semifinal appearance since 2009, and they will face UMass. Roussell said he wants to avoid overcoaching his team in the first quarter like he did on March 2 against Dayton. When Richmond played UMass in January, the Spiders got off to a hot start but struggled to rebound in the second half. He knows his team will need to rebound better throughout the game.
“Our kids are jacked, man,” Roussell said about his players’ excitement heading into the semifinals. “… This has been brewing for a while, and I think from administration to coaching staff to players that we’ve had here to players that we have right now, this is a really huge and important step for our program.”
No. 2 Rhode Island 68, No. 7 George Washington 56
Fans in Rhode Island blue could be seen in Chase Fieldhouse long before the Rams’ 5 p.m. tip. They cheered loudly when the team took the court 10 minutes before tip-off and continued throughout the game.
“They text me every day, they call me — it’s like they’re part of our family,” head coach Tammi Reiss said. “… As a player, if you’ve ever played [a] sport, to play on a stage with fans, there’s no better atmosphere. No one wants to play in an empty gym. And so our fans, our Rhody Nation, they’re the best and we owe them everything [and] our gratitude every day.”
The fans had a lot to cheer about on Friday, as Rhode Island advanced to the A-10 Tournament semifinals for the first time since 2003 and will take on Saint Louis. The win was not just the team’s first conference tournament win under Reiss, but also its first since 2016.
“It’s been 20 years since we made it to a semifinal, so to get that monkey off our backs felt pretty good today,” Reiss said. “So I told them [I’m] really proud of how they kept their composure. [We] made foul shots at the end and listen, no matter how you do it, you survive and you advance, and that’s what this group did.”
Rhode Island has struggled to make free throws at times this season, including missing all five free throw attempts against Loyola Chicago on Jan. 15, but shot 21-for-23 from the line on Friday. The team’s 91.3% shooting was its second-best of the season, behind only its 4-for-4 night against Buffalo in December.
Because Rhode Island turned the ball over 20 times and let GW grab 15 offensive rebounds, Reiss believes the free throws were the key to the game.
“If we didn’t make free throws today, we lose this game,” she said. “So it was absolutely huge because we didn’t do what we normally do. We didn’t take care of the ball, which has been [our] Achilles heel all year, but really giving them 15 [offensive rebounds], that right there is something uncharacteristic that we don’t do. And normally we lose games when a team has more shot attempts and more o-boards than us but free throws today, [they] saved us.”
No. 3 Saint Louis 59, No. 6 Saint Joseph’s 44
In Saint Louis’ first team meeting of the season, graduate student Brooke Flowers told the team that she wanted to win a championship.
“That was a bold statement, considering all the challenges we all knew we had ahead of us,” head coach Rebecca Tillett said. “And now she’s led our team one game away from that opportunity.”
This is Saint Louis’ sixth semifinal berth in the last eight years, but it’s the first under Tillett and the first time an Atlantic 10 coach in their first year made the semifinals since Shauna Green in 2017. Saint Louis started the season 1-7 and entered conference play with a record of 4-11, but while the Billikens were building the program, they never considered it a rebuilding year.
“Our coaching staff, especially Tillett, did a really good job of saying, ‘Hey, people are going to label this as a rebuilding year, but we don’t have to wait until next year,’” Flowers said. “For me, I don’t have a next year. So that was something that kind of stuck with me, like, give everything you have now.”
Flowers shot 6-for-9 from the floor against the Hawks for 12 points and added 15 rebounds, one assist, one steal and three blocks. Tillett praised “her leadership, her rebounding and just her calm presence.” She added, “We really went to her in the second half and she delivered.”
Rebounding in the second half was key for Saint Louis. After being outrebounded 22-14 in the first half, the Billikens outrebounded the Hawks 22-10 in the second half. Saint Louis held Saint Joseph’s to 10 second-chance points on 10 offensive rebounds, including just four second-chance points on three offensive rebounds in the second half.
Overall, defense was critical for Saint Louis, which held Saint Joseph’s to its lowest point total this season after allowing the Hawks to score 71 points in a regular-season meeting on Jan. 7. Flowers noted that Saint Louis worked in practice to try to make every shot the Hawks took difficult by going over their common actions.
Sophomore point guard Kennedy Calhoun, who tied her career high with six steals, said, “Bottom line, we all wanted to win, and one of the key points for this game was being disruptive, especially on the defensive side.”