MHERST -- The University of Massachusetts basketball team has become well acquainted with overcoming adversity. In the next couple of weeks, that trait may come in handy.
No. 1-ranked UMass ran the nation's longest winning streak to 16 games last night, defeating Atlantic 10 foe St. Joseph's, 74-62, at the Mullins Center. Starting forward Lou Roe had a game-high 19 points as the Minutemen improved to 17-1 overall, 8-0 in the A-10, and extended the nation's longest on-campus winning streak to 41.
But the win was overshadowed by a loss: Center Marcus Camby suffered a left hamstring strain with 8:56 left in the first half while running up the court and will be out at least 2-3 weeks and possibly for the rest of the season.
"It may be worse if the hamstring is pulled from the bone, and they won't know until X-rays are taken today," said coach John Calipari. "I would say we will be playing without Marcus for a while."
The question is whether backups Jeff Meyer and Inus Norville fill the void until the sophomore from Hartford returns -- if indeed he does return this season. Last night both stepped in admirably, particularly Meyer, who has seen much of his action after the outcome has been decided.
Entering the game with just 42 minutes and 17 shots, Meyer totaled 6 points, 3 blocks, 2 steals and 5 rebounds. Norville contributed 4 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks.
The two complemented the post play of starters Roe (9-for-10 shooting from the floor) and Dana Dingle (14 points, 8 boards), who also were casualties, though not nearly as serious. Roe didn't play the last five minutes because of a cramp and Dingle injured two fingers on his right hand with 7:19 left, though he did return. Norville and Meyer held the St. Joe's offense at bay during the stretch.
"The job of Inus and I is not post-up offense," said Meyer. "It is to defend, rebound and clog up the middle. We're trying to make the opposing offense's job harder by making our job easier."
Calipari surprisingly sent in Meyer instead of Norville for Camby, a reward for Meyer's hard work in practice. The coach was duly impressed.
"How about Jeff Meyer?" he said. "You talk about a guy ready for his opportunity. Then when Marcus goes down, he played more than we wanted."
Meyer and Norville weren't the only players who stepped up for the Minutemen. Reserve guard Carmelo Travieso, who in recent weeks has seen more time because of the season-ending injury to guard Andre Burks, started and played much of the second half in place of guard Mike Williams, who was benched.
Initially, Travieso struggled from the floor, yet Calipari told him to keep shooting, and with 10:40 left, he hit back-to-back 3-pointers to key a 19-6 UMass run, turning a 43-40 Minutemen lead into a 62-46 cushion.
The Hawks (11-7, 4-4) led by as many as 6 in the fist half and were up, 33-32, at the break. Then St. Joe's fell victim to poor shooting from the floor (29 percent) and the free throw line (43 percent) in the second half and could not mount a rally after the Travieso-led run.
"I was taking good shots but they just kept coming in and out," said Travieso, a former standout at Thayer Academy. "Fortunately for me, I kept shooting."
"What I want guys to understand is my job is to figure out who deserves to play, and a lot of that is day to day," said Calipari. "Someone who doesn't show up to play can't play. Someone else plays.
"Hopefully, we learned a lesson in this game. One is that we can win with five guys who really want to play, whoever those guys are."
This won't be the first time UMass has faced life without Camby. "Marcus was out last year suffering an ankle injury against North Carolina, and I had to pick up the slack," said Roe.
Yet Calipari realizes the next stretch, which begins at George Washington Saturday, won't be easy without Camby in the middle.
"But the great thing with this team is when they're cornered, when there is adversity, they figure out a way," he said. "They don't have to step up a lot. Just a little. We'll hold the fort down until Camby comes back."
MHERST -- For an instant, the voice in John Calipari's head screamed at him. "Please don't be a knee. Please don't be a knee."
It was a natural reaction for the University of Massachusetts coach, who saw his franchise player and best hope for NCAA tournament success, center Marcus Camby, drop on the court, almost directly in front of him.
It was not a knee injury. That was the good news for Camby. The bad news, which could get worse after X-rays this morning, is that Camby suffered a pulled left hamstring muscle.
"At the very least, he will be out two to three weeks," said Calipari after the top-ranked Minutemen's 74-62 victory over St. Joseph's last night at the Mullins Center. "If it's worse than that, if it's a tear, well, then he's probably out for the season."
Even with the most optimistic prognosis, the Minutemen will be without their 6-foot-11-inch anchor for what amounts to the remainder of the regular season. Two to three weeks wipes out most of February for Camby.
The injury occurred suddenly as Camby went down the floor with 8:58 remaining in the first half and UMass leading, 16-14. As he went past the UMass bench, Camby started to slow down, and as he reached half-court, he fell to the floor, grabbing the back of his left leg.
It was eerily similar to a year ago in Cincinnati when guard Mike Williams collapsed for no apparent reason. Williams spent the next few weeks in and out of the hospital being tested for heart ailments.
Camby's injury was much more explainable, but his loss is even more devastating to the Minutemen.
"It's going to be very hard to win without him at George Washington Saturday," said Calipari. "In fact, if we do win without him, it will be an upset."
The Minutemen have played without Camby at various times during his two- year career, most notably in a game at Saint Louis this season which he missed because of a death in the family. UMass won, 80-74.
But now there is real uncertainty about the timetable for Camby's return. The initial reaction of his teammates was philosophical. "It's a circle-the- wagons mentality," said backup center Jeff Meyer, who contributed 6 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocked shots coming off the bench. "When someone goes down, everybody else has to step up and work a little harder. The whole team has to work a little harder."
The Minutmen had to work especially hard against the pesky Hawks. Not only did Camby go down, but Lou Roe and Dana Dingle had quick visits with the trainers. Fortunately for UMass, Roe (cramps) and Dingle (jammed finger) were not seriously hurt and will be available Saturday.
Truth be told, the Minutemen can survive, even at places like George Washington and Rutgers, without Camby. They have a mind-set, as Meyer says, to draw closer, summon their skills and play harder with greater concentration.
They can even afford to a lose a game or two in the Atlantic 10 race. No losses now are fatal for Calipari's team, which is really playing the rest of the regular season for seeding position in the NCAA tournament.
But Caliapri, like everyone else at UMass, knows that when the ides of March roll around, the season turns into a single-elimination affair, and the Minutemen will need Marcus Camby.
They will need him 100 percent healthy. "He's a future lottery pick in the NBA," said Calipari. "Sure, we're going to miss him. It's going to be a tough road without him."
|St. Joseph's Hawks||62|
|Massachusetts Minutemen (#1)||74|
|at the Mullins Center|
MASSACHUSETTS (74) -- Dana Dingle 4-8 5-9 14, Donta Bright 3-10 4-8 11, Mike Williams 0-4 0-0 0, Edgar Padilla 2-3 0-0 5, Derek Kellogg 0-5 5-6 5, Louis Roe 9-10 1-4 19, Marcus Camby 0-2 2-2 2, Carmelo Travieso 3-8 0-1 8, Jeff Meyer 2-3 2-4 6, Rigoberto Nunez 0-1 0-0 0, Inus Norville 2-4 0-0 4. TOTALS: 25-58 (43.1%) 19-34 (55.9%) 74.
HALFTIME: St. Joseph's 33, Massachusetts 32. 3-POINTERS: Massachusetts 5-18 (Travieso 2-6, Dingle 1-2, Padilla 1-2, Bright 1-3, Williams 0-2, Kellogg 0-3), St. Joseph's 3-13 (Bass 2-4, Bey 1-2, Myers 0-1, Warley 0-1, Blunt 0-2, Domani 0-3). REBOUNDS: Massachusetts 48 (Dingle 8), St. Joseph's 46 (Warley 17). ASSISTS: Massachusetts 16 (Kellogg 4), St. Joseph's 9 (Bass 4). FOULED OUT: None. TOTAL FOULS: Massachusetts 18, St. Joseph's 24. ATTENDANCE: 9,493. RECORDS: Massachusetts 9-0/17-1, St. Joseph's 4-4/11-7.
St. Joseph's 33 29 -- 62 Massachusetts 32 42 -- 74