OSTON -- Suddenly, possibility looms.
Yes, the University of Massachusetts is only 8-9. There is a long, long way to go. And very tough games are coming up. But after Saturday's stirring 90-78 victory over 19th-ranked Boston College at the FleetCenter, there is suddenly a chance to turn a painful struggle into a positive season.
"We needed this one -- bad," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint. "We've been waiting for this for a lo-oong time."
Using their new three-guard offense from wire to wire and playing with a fierce spirit from the opening tip, the Minutemen led the entire game. Senior point guard Edgar Padilla emerged from an injury-riddled and extremely frustrating first half of the year to shine as the best player on the court. He scored a career-high 24 points and controlled the tempo with seven assists (against just two turnovers). He sank dagger after dagger from 3-point land, hitting on six of eight attempts.
None were bigger than the one he hit with 3:33 left. BC had sliced a 16-point lead to eight in a span of just 1:12. UMass appeared to be withering from the game's frantic pace. Coming out of a timeout, Carmelo Travieso got trapped in the corner and just got the ball away to Tyrone Weeks on the wing. Weeks, in turn, was hounded by two BC defenders and barely managed to swing the ball to Padilla, who was perched beyond the arc, just right of the foul line. He calmly went up and drilled the shot. The Minutemen maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way.
"The bottom line is Edgar Padilla played well," said Flint. "When he plays that way, we're a different team."
"Padilla makes a tremendous difference," said BC coach Jim O'Brien.
Padilla had plenty of company. Charlton Clarke had his best game on the wing with 23 points, scoring from the perimeter (2-3 on 3-pointers) and on slashing drives. Weeks was limited to 23 minutes by foul trouble, but he made the most of them with 15 points, 8 rebounds and some strong defense against BC star Danya Abrams. Lari Ketner, also hindered by foul trouble, was magnificent: 10 points, five rebounds, four blocks, and notably, four assists -- unveiling some high-post passing that loosened the defense.
BC got 18 points from Scoonie Penn, 16 from Abrams, 15 from Antonio Granger and 12 from Keenan Jourdon.
In some ways it was a battle of attrition with UMass big men fighting hard to defend the burly Abrams. Weeks, Ketner and Inus Norville all fouled out. But the Minutemen continued to play good pressure defense throughout, and executed with crispness on the offensive end.
Now, the Minutemen look ahead to huge upcoming games against Rhode Island (7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Mullins Center), at Temple Jan. 25, at George Washington Jan. 30, and back home against Xavier at 2 p.m. Feb. 1.
"Hopefully this means the turnaround of the season for us," said Padilla. "There's a lot of work to be done. We understand how tough these games will be."
Mass, 90, BC, 78
The roles were reversed.
Unlike last year's pulsating Commonwealth Classic between Boston College and the University of Massachusetts, this time it was the 19th-ranked Eagles, projected as a surefire bet to make the NCAA Tournament, who were the heavy favorite.
The Minutemen, unranked and downtrodden after a rocky 7-9 start under first-year coach Bruiser Flint, were looked upon as an overwhelming underdog.
Problem was, somebody forgot to tell UMass.
Submitting a gritty effort that was reminiscent of its "Refuse to Lose" salad days - when suffocating defense, timely perimeter shooting and fierce rebounding were the norm - UMass rose up and pinned BC with its worst loss of the season, 90-78, yesterday at the FleetCenter before 15,215.
UMass senior guard Edgar Padilla, who had been hampered by a lower right leg contusion that he suffered against Drexel Dec. 12, poured in a career-high 24 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including six baskets from 3-point range (another career high). Junior guard Charlton Clarke added 23 points while Tyrone Weeks had 15 points and 8 rebounds before fouling out with 1:51 to go.
Scoonie Penn led the Eagles with 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting, but committed five turnovers. Senior power forward Danya Abrams struggled to get 16 points and nine rebounds while going up against a rotation of four UMass frontcourt players led by Weeks and Lari Ketner, who also fouled out after scoring 10 points, grabbing 5 rebounds and blocking 4 shots.
"We talked about making them play at our intensity level," said Flint, whose team recorded its first victory over a ranked opponent since beating No. 4 Georgetown in the finals of NCAA East Regional last March. "If we had to play at their intensity level, we'd get blown out today - bottom line. We had to make them play at our level and that was the key to the game."
That much was evident from the start when the Minutemen chased and got every loose ball, came up with every rebound, and seemed to impose their will on the listless Eagles, who were playing their third game in six days.
"We're obviously disappointed in the outcome, but we have to give credit where credit is due and certainly UMass deserves all the credit in the world," said BC coach Jim O'Brien, whose team dropped to 12-3 overall and will resume Big East play by hosting Pitt Tuesday night at Conte Forum. "Clearly they were the aggressors for most of the game and I thought the maturity and experience of their guards really paid dividends for them."
Padilla, Clarke and senior guard Carmelo Travieso (8 points) combined for 55 points (on 16-for-33 shooting, including 10 for 17 on 3-pointers), 11 rebounds and 13 assists.
"Every time we tried to come back on them, it seemed like one of those guys was always there to stop us," said Abrams.
The Eagles trailed by as many as 11, 28-17, in the first half when Clarke drilled a trey with 7:05 to go. But BC battled back thrice to cut the UMass lead to 3 (30-27, 32-29 and 34-31) before the Minutemen went on a 6-point tear in the final 1:14 to take a 40-31 lead at intermission.
After the Minutemen came out in the second half and surged to a 48-38 lead, BC twice came within 4 (48-44 and 50-46) before UMass got three treys in a row, two back-to-back from Padilla and another from Travieso, who gave his team a whopping 59-48 lead with his first basket of the game with 9:58 to go.
Travieso went on to give UMass a 16-point lead, 71-55, when he buried a pair of free throws, but BC got some inspired play off the bench from Keenan Jourdon, whose offensive tip-in cut it to 72-64. Padilla, however, quickly doused the BC flareup with another trey for a 75-64 lead with 3:27 to go.
BC cut it to 78-69 when Antonio Granger hit a pair of free throws with 1:51 to go, but that was as close as the Eagles got.
"We just couldn't get over the hump and I think right when we had opportunities maybe to get ourselves back in, it seemed they made those three consecutive 3-pointers that really hurt us,'' said O'Brien. ``And this from a team who, on the season, has struggled with their perimeter shooting. If you looked at the way they played today, you'd be hard-pressed to figure out why they were not shooting the ball very well. But when it counted, they stepped up and made the big shots and they were clearly the better team today."
In the end, that resulted in a stunning reversal of roles and fortune for the Minutemen.
urn back the clock to last Sunday afternoon. Members of the University of Massachusetts basketball team sat dejected in a postgame press conference following their second-worst defeat ever at the Mullins Center, one that dropped the once-mighty Minutemen to 6-9 overall.
There was talk that some players weren't hungry enough, that they were too selfish. Coach Bruiser Flint arrived 10 minutes later to say he had run out of speeches to inspire his team. Asked if any veteran showed signs of stepping forward to help salvage the season, Flint said flatly, "No."
Fast forward to yesterday afternoon. The same Minutemen team that looked pathetic against rebuilding Virginia Tech did its best job all season of playing like last year's NCAA Tournament Final Four squad. What followed was what few expected: The Minutemen, who last Sunday claimed they only played like a ranked team during practices, stunned 19th-ranked Boston College, 90-78, in the second Commonwealth Classic.
The win improved UMass to 8-9 overall, gave the Minutemen their first back-to-back victories all season (UMass beat St. Bonaventure Tuesday night) and made many wonder if it signaled a turnaround.
"Hopefully," said UMass point guard Edgar Padilla, who tallied a career-high 24 points (including a career-high six treys) and added 7 assists and 3 steals in his best performance of the season. "It was a big game for us. We knew that coming in that we needed a win. Hopefully we can keep it up and take it from here."
UMass guard Charlton Clarke had a career-high 23 points to key the Minutemen's new-look three-guard offense (guard Carmelo Travieso had 8 points, his first bucket on a trey with 7:38 left in the game).
Flint also rotated his front line well to offset foul trouble. It meant the team's offense finally played consistently enough for 40 minutes to complement its defense, which has been present all season.
"Edgar Padilla was the difference in the game. When he plays like that we're tough to beat because he makes everybody better," said Flint. "I think this win is something the guys can hold on to and see what happens when we go out and do what we're supposed to do.
"We did the same thing in the St. Bonaventure game. We came out and got off to a good start and played good defense. One thing I've said all season is that we play very good defense. If we ever got a lead it's tough to play from behind against us."
BC discovered that several times yesterday. UMass jumped out to its first double-digit lead at 28-17 with 6:54 left in the first half. BC cut the lead to 34-31 with 1:39 left, but UMass closed strongly with a 6-0 run for a 40-31 halftime advantage.
The trend continued in the second half. After BC cut an early 11-point lead to 50-46 with 13:55 left, UMass got three consecutive treys (two from Padilla, one from Travieso) to go ahead, 59-48, with 9:59 left.
UMass led, 71-55, with 5:29 to go when BC - led by a few brilliant plays by Keenan Jourdon - led a dramatic rally to cut the lead to 72-64 with 3:45 to play. Then Padilla drained a trey with 3:33 left and Clarke scored on a layup to put the Minutemen up, 77-64. BC never came closer than 9 after that.
"Clearly they were the aggressors for most of the game," said BC coach Jim O'Brien about UMass. "The maturity and experience of their three guards paid dividends for them.
"We dug ourselves in a couple of holes in that we got down by 9 or 10 and would cut it to 3. We got down by 8 or 9 and cut to 3. We got down by 16 and we cut it to . They missed a free throw and we didn't rebound it at the end.
"Right when we got opportunities to get ourselves back in they made three consecutive 3-pointers to hurt us. This from a team who on the season has struggled with their perimeter shooting."
Last season it was BC that got off to the fast start and sluggish UMass battled back to escape with a 65-57 win. "Last year we knew we were going to win anyway, no matter what happened," said Padilla. "This year we knew that we have to come out and play hard to win."
The road doesn't get any easier for the Minutemen this week. Tuesday they face Atlantic 10 East Division leader Rhode Island before heading to Temple and George Washington. But undoubtedly yesterday's win was a good step.
Asked if the triumph was the biggest in his short career, Flint said, "Well, I haven't had many [wins] and I've had some tough losses. So I'd have to say yes."
|Boston College Eagles (#19)||78|
|The NYNEX Commonwealth Classic|
at the Fleet Center, Boston MA
BOSTON COLLEGE (78) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Abrams 34 4-10 8-10 5-9 1 4 16 Granger 31 5-10 3-6 1-2 1 2 15 Curley 24 2-3 0-0 0-2 0 4 4 Penn 36 6-12 2-4 0-1 3 2 18 Woodward 30 2-9 0-0 2-3 7 4 5 Thomas 10 2-4 0-3 0-0 0 1 4 Bedard 12 1-4 0-0 1-2 1 3 2 Jourdon 18 4-8 3-5 6-9 0 1 12 Maglos 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Bosworth 1 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Fox 1 1-2 0-0 1-1 0 0 2 Foster 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Christianson 1 0-2 0-0 1-1 1 0 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 27-65 16-28 17-30 14 21 78 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.415, FT-.571. 3-Point Goals: 8-24, .333 (Granger 2-6, Penn 4-8, Woodward 1-5, Thomas 0-1, Bedard 0-1, Jourdon 1-2, Christianson 0-1). Team rebounds: 10. Blocked shots: None. Turnovers: 13 (Abrams 7, Penn 5, Bedard). Steals: 6 (Woodward 2, Bosworth, Curley, Jourdon, Penn). MASSACHUSETTS (90) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Weeks 23 6-9 3-4 5-8 1 5 15 Clarke 40 7-12 7-8 2-6 3 0 23 Ketner 27 4-8 2-2 2-5 4 5 10 Padilla 39 7-12 4-4 0-3 7 3 24 Travieso 39 2-9 2-4 0-2 3 1 8 Burns 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Maclay 1 0-0 0-0 1-1 0 0 0 Smith 1 0-0 1-2 0-0 0 0 1 Babul 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Basit 21 3-7 3-4 3-6 1 3 9 Norville 7 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 5 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 29-57 22-28 13-31 19 22 90 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.509, FT-.786. 3-Point Goals: 10-17, .588 (Clarke 2-3, Padilla 6-8, Travieso 2-6). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 9 (Ketner 4, Weeks 2, Travieso, Basit, Norville). Turnovers: 10 (Weeks 4, Padilla 2, Clarke, Ketner, Norville, Travieso). Steals: 6 (Basit 3, Padilla 3). __________________________________ Boston College 31 47 - 78 Massachusetts 40 50 - 90 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 15,215. Officials: Tim Higgins, Mike Kitts, William Bush.