HILADELPHIA -- For one half, the echoes were ominous.
The University of Massachusetts Minutemen were letting an inferior team stay close. Just as they had done in the debacle at Dayton in late February, UMass was giving a weak squad reason to believe. The 32-28 lead over La Salle in Wednesday night's preliminary-round Atlantic 10 Tournament game was far too close for comfort.
"We knew we had to put them away," said Tyrone Weeks. "We're a better team, and we can't let teams like that hang around."
They didn't hang for long. UMass burst out of the locker room with the resolve of a team playing for its season, and put together one of its best stretches of the season. Weeks scored the first six points of the half, then grabbed a one-handed rebound, wheeled and fired a strike to Edgar Padilla for a layup. Through a mixture of hermetic defense on one end and unselfish, attack-the-basket offense on the other, UMass put together a 15-0 run.
And when La Salle finally scored a hoop, the Minutemen answered in resounding fashion. Charlton Clarke missed a jumper, and Weeks -- who had dunked a ball for the first time as a collegian in UMass' previous game -- soared high to slam the ball home with one hand. Good night.
The final damage was 64-49. It was exactly the sort of decisive victory UMass was looking for in a first-round game. At 19-12, the Minutemen are now awfully close to clinching an NCAA Tournament bid, if they haven't done so already. More immediately, they take on George Washington in Thursday night's quarterfinals (game time between 9 and 9:30) with their sights set on winning the A-10 Tournament for a sixth consecutive year.
"We came here to win four games," said Carmelo Travieso. "We want to win a championship. That's what we're used to doing at UMass."
Travieso absolutely manhandled Donnie Carr, the league's top scorer (24.5 ppg.) and Rookie of the Year. Placed at first in neutral, and then in reverse, Carr scored a season-low 10 points on 3-18 shooting. In two games against Travieso, Carr shot a woeful 9-46.
"He's really tough to shake," Carr admitted. "He gets under me on my 3-pointers, yet he's far enough back that he's hard to get by."
"I think we have the best defensive player in the league, if not the country," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint. "This league has some of the best guards you'll see, and Carmelo guards them every night."
The Minutemen also got it done on the offensive end. They shot a season-high 56.5 percent from the field. Weeks led all scorers with 21 points (and all rebounders with 11). Charlton Clarke tossed in 13 points, and Travieso had 11.
La Salle, which closes at 10-17, was paced by Carr and Shawn Smith with 10 points apiece. The Explorers shot just 28.8 percent from the field, a marginal improvement over their Atlantic 10 all-time record low of 19.3 percent in the first meeting between the teams. They began firing more and more distant 3-pointers as the night unfolded (hitting 7-29). Even an uncontested dunk by Travar Johnson caromed far off the back rim and into press row.
"UMass just took us out of anything we were trying to do," said La Salle coach Speedy Morris. "We were just outworked, outplayed and certainly outcoached."
HILADELPHIA - Last night's game was the equivalent of boxing's first round, auto racing's opening lap. The University of Massachusetts met upset-minded La Salle in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament and shook off early sluggishness for a convincing 64-49 victory. But that was expected.
Now the suspense begins.
UMass outdueled La Salle at both ends of the floor over the first 10 minutes of the second half to survive the preliminary. Now the Minutemen (19-12) will face their first serious challenge in their quest for a record sixth straight tournament title - and another NCAA tournament bid. UMass, the third seed from the East Division, meets George Washington, the second seed from the West, in an ESPN2-televised game tonight at 9.
The Minutemen edged George Washington, 68-63, Jan. 30. But the Colonials have been UMass's stiffest competition in the A-10 over the last five seasons, winning five of 10 meetings. All the other veteran league teams have losing records against the Minutemen in the last five years.
It wasn't surprising the Minutemen couldn't help looking ahead to tonight. Last night's contest was hardly intriguing.
The Minutemen failed to blow the game open in the first half due in part to sloppy play and defensive breakdowns against La Salle's dribble penetration. They jumped out to a 9-point first-half lead, then allowed La Salle to cut the margin to 1. UMass led at halftime, 32-28.
But UMass outscored La Salle, 15-0, over the first 5:40 of the second half to take a 47-28 lead with 14:20 left in the game. La Salle, which turned the ball over on four of its first seven possessions, finally got on the board on a jumper by Donnie Carr with 14:02 left, but UMass scored the next four buckets to take a 51-30 lead with 12:31 left.
``We felt we had a chance to put them away early, but then we allowed them to get some uncontested 3-point shots and they were hitting them,'' said UMass guard Charlton Clarke (13 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists). ``Coach [Bruiser] Flint told us to step out further in the second half, and we were able to shut them down.''
Yet La Salle (10-17) didn't go without a fight. After their inept performance over the first 12 minutes of the second half, the Explorers rallied within 13 (60-47) with 3:25 left.
But the Minutemen regrouped to hold La Salle at bay. Tyrone Weeks had 21 points, 11 rebounds and 2 steals to lead the Minutemen, who shot a season-high 57 percent from the floor and limited A-10 scoring leader Carr to a season-low 10 points - 14.5 below his average.
Flint praised the defense of guard Carmelo Travieso, who held Carr to a season-low three field goals. ``I've been saying all year that he's not only the best defensive player in our league, but in the country,'' said Flint.
It marked the 16th consecutive A-10 tournament victory for the Minutemen. The last time they lost a tournament game was in the quarterfinals of 1991, when George Washington took an 84-83 overtime thriller. That loss sent UMass to the National Invitation Tournament. The next season began a string of five consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament.
Tonight UMass must go through GWU again if it is to keep its NCAA hopes alive. Yet the Minutemen acknowledge that they already are considering a possible matchup against East Division champ St. Joseph's - the only team to beat UMass twice this season - in the semifinals. St. Joe's, ranked 19th nationally, meets St. Bonaventure today.
``It will be difficult'' looking past GWU ``for a minute, because I know everyone will be thinking about it,'' said Clarke. ``But if we think about the next game, there probably won't be a next game. Our concentration has to be on George Washington, because they're capable of beating us.''
a Salle played 12 games on the CoreStates Spectrum floor in the regular season, won seven and competed well in others. But last night, the friendly confines turned decidedly unfriendly.
The Explorers couldn't buy, borrow or steal a basket in the first round of the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament. Their shooting was particularly horrendous in the first eight minutes of the second half, and Massachusetts happily capitalized for a 64-49 victory. So much for the homecourt advantage.
Shooting 28.8 percent for the game, and 25 percent in the second half, the Explorers (10-17) would have had trouble defeating any Division I basketball team, much less the experienced Minutemen (19-12), who probably cemented their invitation to the NCAA tournament no matter what happens next in their quest for their sixth straight A-10 championship.
The struggle was particularly baffling for Donnie Carr, the A-10 rookie of the year, who was coming off a week in which he scored 71 points in two games. Carr managed just a season-low 10 points, making three baskets on 18 shots from the field.
``I wasn't really comfortable out there,'' said Carr, who was guarded for most of the game by Carmelo Travieso. ``The way their team is set up, you can't dribble too far because of those trees they have down there. Carmelo does a good job forcing you into their team defense.''
Eliminated from the first round of a conference tournament for the fifth consecutive year, La Salle got off to slow starts in each of the two halves.
Though the Explorers fought back from nine points down to trail by just 32-28 at halftime, they were absolutely punchless in the second half. With Tyrone Weeks (21 points, 11 rebounds, 8-for-11 shooting from the field) dominating on the inside, the Minutemen, the No. 3 seed from the East, scored the first 15 points of the second half to take a commanding 19-point lead.
Weeks, the 6-7 senior from Franklin Learning Center, deposited a hook, a turnaround, two free throws and another turnaround basket during the opening spurt.
During this time, the Explorers (West No. 6 seed) missed their first nine shots from the field and turned the ball over three times. Carr finally converted his team's first bucket on a followup shot in the lane with 14 minutes, 2 seconds to play.
``They pretty much asserted themselves right away,'' said Carr, who went just 1-for-9 from the field in the second half. ``We made some mistakes and they capitalized on them. They got a couple of baskets down low and took control of the game.'' How bad was it for the Explorers? They didn't reach double figures for the half until 5:39 remained in the game, and they trailed, 58-37. They got 10 points in a row from two of their deep reserves -- Mike Melchionni and Matt Comey, seniors playing in their last game.
This wasn't as awful as on Jan. 8, when the Explorers shot 19 percent for the game and made just four baskets in the second half of a 56-50 loss to the Minutemen. But it was close.
``There's not much you can say after that showing in the second half,'' La Salle coach Speedy Morris said. ``You've got to give UMass all the credit. They did everything that they wanted to do. They took us out of everything we wanted to do.'' La Salle's perimeter players, the key to any chance the Explorers had of springing an upset, did not play well. Mike Gizzi made only 3 of 15 shots from the field and totaled seven points. Shawn Smith had six assists and six steals, but managed only three of his 10 points in the second half.
``They didn't do anything different,'' Smith said. ``We had a couple of key turnovers in the second half that turned the game around. They play pretty good man-to-man defense, probably the best we've seen all year.''
Charlton Clarke added 13 for the Minutemen and Travieso chipped in with 11. UMass shot 59 percent in the second half and 56.5 percent for the game.
``Three guys take a majority of the shots for them, and we should never be surprised where they're shooting from,'' UMass coach James ``Bruiser'' Flint said. ``At halftime, we just told them we wanted a hand in their face as soon as they crossed half-court. I thought the first five minutes would tell the tale, and we played well in that first five minutes.'' That they did. The Minutemen continue their bid for the NCAAs tonight against George Washington. When asked about the postseason, Flint said: ``We want to win the tournament and take it out of the selection committee's hand.''
The Explorers can only watch.
|La Salle Explorers (W6)||49|
|Massachusetts Minutemen (E3)||64|
|Atlantic-10 Tournament First Round|
at CoreStates Spectrum, Philadelphia PA
LA SALLE fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Gizzi 31 3-15 0-0 1-2 0 1 7 Catlin 26 1-2 0-0 1-4 0 2 2 Johnson 33 2-5 2-2 3-7 1 2 6 Carr 35 3-18 2-2 1-2 2 2 10 Smith 34 4-10 1-2 2-3 6 3 10 Landgren 9 0-1 2-2 0-1 0 4 2 Fromal 5 0-1 0-2 0-0 0 0 0 Comey 6 1-3 0-0 0-1 0 0 3 Flickinger 1 0-0 0-0 1-1 0 0 0 Melchionni 12 3-4 1-2 0-2 0 0 9 Van Teeseling 8 0-0 0-0 1-2 0 2 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 17-59 8-12 10-25 9 16 49 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.288, FT-.667. 3-Point Goals: 7-29, .241 (Gizzi 1-9, Carr 2-11, Smith 1-3, Landgren 0-1, Fromal 0-1, Comey 1-2, Melchionni 2-2). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: None. Turnovers: 10 (Catlin 3, Carr 2, Gizzi 2, Smith 2, Johnson). Steals: 8 (Smith 6, Carr, Johnson). MASSACHUSETTS fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Clarke 37 6-9 0-3 1-6 4 1 13 Weeks 31 8-11 5-5 2-11 2 1 21 Ketner 24 3-4 1-4 2-5 0 1 7 Padilla 26 1-3 0-0 0-2 5 4 2 Travieso 38 4-12 0-0 0-3 3 1 11 Smith 15 1-1 0-0 1-2 1 2 2 Babul 4 0-0 0-2 1-1 0 0 0 Basit 9 1-3 0-0 1-3 0 1 2 Norville 16 2-3 2-4 1-2 1 2 6 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 26-46 8-18 9-35 16 13 64 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.565, FT-.444. 3-Point Goals: 4-10, .400 (Clarke 1-2, Padilla 0-1, Travieso 3-7). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 2 (Weeks, Travieso). Turnovers: 18 (Padilla 5, Weeks 4, Ketner 3, Smith 2, Travieso 2, Clarke, Norville). Steals: 5 (Weeks 2, Ketner, Norville, Smith). __________________________________ Lasalle 28 21 - 49 Massachusetts 32 32 - 64 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. Officials: Phil Bova, Rich San Fillipo, Jim Jenkins.