UMass was attempting a repeat. Saint Louis was looking for their first title. Forty minutes could not decide this contest. Overtime was only fitting to sort this all out. When the smoke cleared Saint Louis emerged A10 PostSeason Champions. The Billikens scored a 91-85 overtime victory at Chase Fieldhouse on Sunday. In every sense of the word, this game was a classic, Saint Louis improved to 17-17 while UMass is now 26-6.
Offensive efficiency: Saint Louis 108, UMass 101
What Saint Louis did well. Maintain poise and resiliency. The Billikens answered virtually every run thrown at them by the Minutewomen. With seconds remaining and a three point difference, Sydney Taylor of UMass scored three of her team-high 18 points, forcing the extra session by virtue of a top of the key buzzer beating trey. UMass took the lead in overtime and appeared to own the momentum. Once again, Rebecca Tillett’s Billikens regrouped. Down two, early in the extra session, Julia Martinez kept a Saint Louis possession alive then found Kyla McMakin alone in the corner. McMakin buried the three pointer restoring a lead and momentum, Saint Louis would not surrender.
What UMass did well. Battle back. Facing a Billiken run and eight point fourth period deficit, the Minutewomen were determined to defend their title. They took a one point lead on a Sam Breen three pointer with just over two minutes remaining. In a game featuring 14 ties and 9 lead changes, Saint Louis answered and seemed to be in the driver’s seat after two late free throws increased their lead to three. Again the Minutewomen showed fight and resolve as Taylor, who missed a crucial free throw earlier, canned the three pointer at the buzzer to force OT.
Julia Martinez MOP, Saint Louis – A 17 point, 13 rebound, 12 assist triple-double in the championship. Martinez was constantly in passing lanes and on offense, found back door cutters with pin point passes.
Kyla McMakin, Saint Louis – A game-high 27 points including some clutch shooting (7-8) from the charity stripe.
Brooke Flowers, Saint Louis – Turned in a 13 point, 7 rebound effort. Flowers, the A10 Co-Defensive POY, guarded A10 POY Sam Breen. The UMass standout scored 17 points on 6 of 17 from the floor. Flowers’ defense forced Breen to work exceedingly hard for anything she got, rarely getting an open look.
Ber’Nyah Mayo, UMass- Scored 14 in the finals after a 13 point outing in the semifinal win over Richmond.
Addie Budnick, Richmond- 25 points in the semifinal loss to UMass.
For Saint Louis, this has been a remarkable turnaround. A year ago the Billikens finished 9-18. Enter Rebecca Tillett who took over after winning the Big South championship at Longwood. Coaching legend Pete Newell often said ‘basketball is over coached and under taught’. Tillett coached, no doubt. She was, however, primarily a teacher. In post game interviews following the championship game, she explained how her team came to practice each day as students eager to learn. Tillett and her staff were teachers imparting lessons on the practice floor. The lessons were learned.
Saint Louis started 2-8. In conference play they began 2-5. They continued to work, believe and learn. From late January to the start of the A10 Tournament they won 8 of 9 with the lone blemish a loss at Richmond. Saint Louis defeated Saint Joseph’s and Rhode Island prior to defeating UMass in the tournament final.
A remarkable run that is not yet finished as Saint Louis awaits the opponent in their first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history. .
UMass made its third consecutive trip to the A10 championship game. They were defeated by Dayton two years ago and claimed last year’s title with a win over Dayton, avenging the prior setback. The Minutewomen could be an at large selection in the NCAA Tournament. At very least, a WNIT appearance is assured. What Tory Verdi has done at Amherst since being hired in 2016, has been phenomenal.
“When you’re working with a team, you’re striving to hit that mark of playing at our absolute best for a long period of time. With this team that message keeps resonating with us.” – Saint Louis coach RebeccaTillett
“I am super proud of our fight and effort. It’s really hard to win championships and while we’re not leaving as A10 champions, being champions in the regular season is something we’re proud of.” – UMass coach Tory Verdi