March 21, 2022 

Where do Dayton and UMass go from here?

The 2021-22 season comes to a close in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament for two Atlantic 10 teams

Both Dayton and UMass saw their seasons come to an end in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. For the Flyers, it was the last run for three sixth-year players, while the Minutewomen will come back last year with most of its key pieces still in place.  

Georgia’s rebounding and free throws were the difference for Dayton

After a First Four win over DePaul, the Flyers fell to the Lady Bulldogs 70-54 on March 17 and were outmatched by Georgia’s size and physicality from the start. Dayton coach Shauna Green noted this disrupted what the team was trying to do. 

The Lady Bulldogs won the rebounding battle 48-31 in a game in which Dayton’s starting center, Tenin Magassa, didn’t play due to injury, though she was available. This, however, provided an opportunity for Mariah Perez and Brynn Shoup-Hill to play more minutes. 

“They came in and they battled,” sixth-year guard Jenna Giacone said after the game. “Very proud of both of them. They are both going to be coming back. That was huge minutes for them as players just to experience guarding Georgia bigs, and hopefully [it] will just motivate them going to this offseason to [next] season to work and get stronger so when they are in this position, because they will be a year from now, it’s going to be a different result.”

Green said the physicality of Georgia’s length disrupted some of Dayton’s shots, but that her team also missed open shots that they had made Wednesday night against DePaul. The Flyers shot 35.9% from the floor, compared to 44.6% against the Blue Demons. 

“The ball bounces your way some days and some days it doesn’t,” Green said.

Dayton shot just four free throws to the Lady Bulldogs’ 30, which proved to be a difference-maker in the game, as Georgia made just one more field goal than the Flyers. 

Dayton will look very different next season

Amari Davidson and Kyla Whitehead still have an additional year of eligibility if they choose to use it, but this was the last game for three sixth-year seniors who returned this season in Giacone, Araion Bradshaw and Erin Whalen. 

“I’m just really happy that I got to play under the super seniors and the regular seniors that we had. It was just a really good time overall,” sophomore Makira Cook said. “They took us under their wing … I feel like it was a great experience. I wouldn’t have wanted to learn under anybody else.”

The Flyers will return multiple sophomores, including Cook, who led the team in scoring this season, and Magassa, who led the team in blocks and was second on the team in rebounds in just 18.1 minutes per game. 

Next season, Dayton, which has not finished lower than fourth in the A-10 standings under Green, will look to replace the contributions of four of its top scorers and its leading rebounder. In addition to losing 60% of its scoring next season, the departing Flyers had 62% of the team’s assists this season. 

Rebounding struggles sink the Minutewomen

Prior to UMass’ 89-78 loss to Notre Dame, Destiney Philoxy said, “That’s our biggest, I guess you could say problem, is size.” 

Sydney Taylor thought that while the Fighting Irish’s length didn’t disrupt the Minutewomen’s offense much, as UMass was still able to get open shots, coach Tory Verdi noticed it did disrupt one player in particular. 

“I think that their length bothered [Philoxy], especially at the rim,” Verdi said. He later added, “She’s explosive. She can turn the corner and try to get to the basket. I mean that’s what she’s done all year. But [she] really struggled because they stayed on her hip.” 

Philoxy only made one field goal against Notre Dame, but three other starters, Sam Breen, Sydney Taylor and Ber’Nyah Mayo scored in double figures, with 31, 21 and 12 points, respectively. 

Breen, the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, credited her confidence for her 31-point performance, as well as feeling like she had nothing to lose in the team’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998. 

The Minutewomen, who average 40 rebounds per game, were out-rebounded 37-22, matching its largest negative rebounding margin of the season. Mayo, the shortest player on the court, led UMass with five rebounds. 

The second-year guard has played all 40 minutes nine times this season, including against Notre Dame. 

“I look at her and I’m like Ber’Nyah, like you need a sub? Are you tired? She’s like no, I’m good,” Verdi said. 

He called her the most undervalued point guard in the A-10. “She doesn’t care who is out on the floor,” Verdi said. “She doesn’t care that she’s playing against Notre Dame. She doesn’t care. She’s going to get out there and be competitive and she’s going to continue to drive and attack and try to get to the rim.”

Verdi believes his team will need to do the little things, including boxing out on every possession, to take the next step and win an NCAA Tournament game. 

UMass has the pieces in place to return to the NCAA Tournament 

While this isn’t how UMass wanted its first NCAA Tournament trip in 24 years to end, the team will return nearly its entire roster next season with only Philoxy, who has an additional year of eligibility if she chooses to use it, and Michelle Pruitt graduating. Philoxy averaged 10.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game and played in all 33 games for the Minutewomen. 

UMass is set to return 79% of its scoring next season, with the losses of Philoxy, Pruitt and two in-season transfers. 

After the loss to Notre Dame, Verdi emphasized how hard it is to get to the NCAA Tournament, something that is a dream for most people was a dream come true for his players. From work in the offseason to prepare for a season that lasts four and a half months, to success during the season itself, the Minutewomen know what they need to do to return to the biggest stage. 

“I’m super excited about what we have returning,” Verdi said. “But at the end of the day, we need to continue to work harder, and we need to continue to be different than we were this year.”

Breen believes that this trip to the NCAA Tournament is just the beginning for UMass.

“I think that this isn’t going to be our first time here,” she said. “We’ll definitely be back.”

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently covers both the Atlantic 10 and the WNBA.

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