ROVIDENCE - Suppose the cohesiveness and resilience had developed sooner and more players could have been counted on to step up in crucial situations before the New Year. Would the University of Massachusetts have five losses this early in the season, or would the same team that rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit to defeat North Carolina-Charlotte, 68-62, in overtime last night have enjoyed similar outcomes against Fresno State, Cincinnati, Purdue, and Connecticut, erasing those losses?
You can't blame UMass coach Bruiser Flint for wondering. The team he puts on the floor now is not the one which struggled through the pre-January slate. Though they still are occasionally hampered by sluggishness, the Minutemen are handling adversity much better. And Flint can now use various combinations in an eight-man rotation and not miss a beat.
Charlton Clarke dishes it off
Each of those players contributed to the win last night. Lari Ketner and Charlton Clarke scored 15 points each, Tyrone Weeks had 15 rebounds and 9 points, and Flint got quality minutes from much-improved Chris Kirkland (6 points), Mike Babul (9 boards), and Ajmal Basit (7 points, 4 boards) as UMass (10-5) won this Atlantic 10-Conference USA Challenge despite shooting 38 percent from the floor.
The pre-January Minutemen would have left the court losers after watching a 10-point lead turn into a 10-point deficit. Not last night. UMass, which jumped out to a 10-0 lead to start the game, were outplayed by the 49ers over the remainder of the first half, trailed by 4 at halftime, and were behind, 42-32, with 13:52 left in regulation.
But UMass whittled away and regained the lead, 50-48, on a baseline jumper by Clarke with 4:27 left. With the score tied, 52-52, UMass had the final shot of regulation, but guard Monty Mack misfired on a baseline jumper.
That set the stage for the second UMass overtime of the season, the first one being a 74-66 loss to Cincinnati in the final game of 1997, when the Minutemen blew a 6-point second-half lead and went into OT dejected and tentative. ''[Last night] I just told them, `We got into overtime, we didn't play well for 40 minutes, let's win the game in the last five,''' said Flint. ''They said, `OK, fine, let's go out and play, rebound, play defense.'
''It was a wholly different attitude. Some of the guys, after the Cincinnati game, looked at me and I knew it would take a miracle to win in overtime. I thought Lari was going to start crying, and I looked at Jonathan [DePina] and he was like, `Please don't foul me again.' Tonight they were like, `Let's finish this off.'''
This time UMass scored the first 4 points of overtime. Mack hit a layup while being fouled and missed the subsequent free throw, but Ketner tipped in the miss, giving UMass a 56-52 edge with 4:01 left. After Ketner blocked an attempt by guard Diego Guevara, UMass went ahead, 60-54, on a layup by Clarke. With 39 seconds left, Mack sank two free throws to give UMass a 64-56 advantage. UNCC cut the lead to 4 but couldn't come closer.
''We didn't want to come out like the Cincinnati game,'' said Ketner. ''This time guys looked serious. We said, `It's just another five minutes. Let's get it back.'''
Flint said UMass was able to win games like this because of the earlier losses. But he couldn't help but speculate about what would have happened had the revival come sooner. ''I don't like to say this, because I know [UConn coach] Jim Calhoun will get upset, but I thought if we were OK, we matched well against Connecticut,'' he said. ''But we were sluggish, and that's not the team to play that way.
''The Fresno game was culture shock for some of these guys because it got loud in there and they started jumping all over us. Monty Mack is a better player than the Purdue game. Ajmal and Lari are, too, but that's why you play those games. I just hope it helps down the stretch.''
ROVIDENCE, R.I. (JAN. 16) -With 8:40 remaining in regulation, University of Massachusetts guard Monty Mack was the furthest thing from a hero. He hadn't hit a shot all night and his second three-point try of that UMass possession backrimmed out, with the Minutemen trailing 45-38.
But Tyrone Weeks grabbed the rebound and UMass swung the ball to Mack again and this time he buried the three-pointer. The shot sparked the Minutemen, who despite trailing most of the game, took it to overtime and defeated UNC-Charlotte 68-62 in the Atlantic 10/Conference USA Challenge at the Providence Civic Center.
UMass had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Mack's tough angle shot missed. In the extra session, the Minutemen were efficient. Mack finished a fast break on a pass from Charlton Clarke to give UMass a 54-52 lead that it would never relinquish.
Jon DePina logged 27 minutes and dished out 4 assists
Mack finished with 12 points including seven in overtime. Lari Ketner and Charlton Clarke each had 15 points to lead the Minutemen (10-5, 3-0 in the Atlantic 10), while Tyrone Weeks finished with 15 rebounds.
Tyrone Weeks was a force under the basket
Kelvin Price led the 49ers (7-6) with 16 points and a career high 18 rebounds. UNCC forward DeMarco Johnson, who is projected as a first-round pick, finished with just 10 points and fouled out with 1:27 to play in regulation. Hetook the blame for the loss.
"I missed a lot of easy shots. If I had hit those, the game would have been different," Johnson said.
UMass looked as if it would run away with the game early as the Minutemen started with a 10-0 run, but the Minutemen fell apart after that. UNC-Charlotte responded with an 18-3 run and dominated the rest of an ugly first half which saw both teams play sloppily. The 49ers had the halftime lead, 32-28.
The teams reversed roles in the second half as UNCC started on a run, albeit a smaller one at 6-0. But UMass came to life after that. A Chris Kirkland driving lay-in cut the deficit to 38-32. The 49ers came up empty on their next possession but an errant UMass pass almost gave them the ball right back. With the ball loose, Kirkland dove and knocked it into the backcourt. Tyrone Weeks then dove to beat Price to the ball. From the floor, Weeks started a fast break feeding the ball to Mack, who hit Ajmal Basit for the easy lay in.
"That was the turning point of the game," Weeks said. "It gave us a spark."
The Minutemen return to action at 2 p.m. Saturday against Fordham in the Mullins Center.
ROVIDENCE, R.I. (Jan. 16)- As they stepped off the floor in Cleveland on Dec. 27, the Minutemen were dejected. After leading Cincinnati most of the game, UMass let the Bearcats battle back late and eventually win 74-66 in overtime.
The game was UMass' second straight loss and its lowest point of the season. But the Minutemen have learned from that game and have dealt with adversity better ever since.
"In Cincy we got down and never played the same. We learned from that," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint. "It was a whole different attitude that night. When I looked at them before the start of overtime, I thought it would take a miracle for us to win that game. Lari (Ketner) looked like he was about to cry.
"Tonight," Flint continued, "Guys came into the huddle and said 'Let's rebound and play defense these last five minutes and win this game.' "
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UMass has now won its last 77 straight games in which it has held a double-digit lead, but just barely. The Minutemen both led and trailed by 10 points against UNC-Charlotte. This marked the first time this season that UMass has rebounded from a double-digit deficit and the 11th time since the 1994-95 season. The Minutemen are now 9-0 when they score first.
Chris Kirkland matched his career high with six points. He had a chance to break the mark but missed two late free throws. Mike Babul (nine) and Jonathan DePina (eight) each set new career highs in rebounding.
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The chance to see two players that were projected as NBA first round draft picks was enough to bring the professional scouts out in large numbers as representitves from 18 different NBA teams were in attendance. Noteworthy among that bunch were Chicago Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause and Leo Papile of the Boston Celtics. Papile is also the coach of the BABC AAU team that once featured current Minutemen Jonathan DePina and Monty Mack.
|UNC Charlotte 49ers||62||OT|
|Atlantic-10/Conference USA Challenge|
at the Providence Civic Center
UNC CHARLOTTE (62) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Johnson 37 5-18 0-0 1-8 1 5 10 Shaw 26 2-2 0-0 0-4 0 2 4 Price 33 5-11 6-13 12-18 0 5 16 Colson 39 4-16 0-1 0-2 2 3 9 Young 25 0-5 4-4 0-1 1 3 4 Smith 5 1-1 0-0 1-1 0 2 2 Hill 24 1-3 0-0 0-2 2 1 2 Thomas 7 1-2 0-0 1-2 0 0 2 Guevara 29 4-11 3-3 0-0 2 0 13 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 225 23-69 13-21 15-38 8 21 62 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.333, FT-.619. 3-Point Goals: 3-10, .300 (Johnson 0-1, Colson 1-5, Hill 0-1, Guevara 2-3). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 1 (Johnson). Turnovers: 11 (Price 4, Colson 3, Hill, Johnson, Thomas, Young). Steals: 8 (Colson 2, Shaw 2, Guevara, Johnson, Price, Smith). MASSACHUSETTS (68) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Babul 16 1-3 0-0 4-9 1 3 2 Weeks 30 2-7 5-6 8-15 0 4 9 Ketner 35 7-13 1-1 3-9 0 3 15 Clarke 42 6-15 3-4 0-2 3 2 15 Mack 39 3-11 5-8 1-2 2 2 12 DePina 27 1-10 0-0 3-8 4 2 2 Kirkland 18 3-5 0-2 0-4 0 0 6 Basit 18 3-5 1-2 2-4 0 4 7 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 225 26-69 15-23 21-53 10 20 68 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.377, FT-.652. 3-Point Goals: 1-11, .091 (Babul 0-1, Clarke 0-4, Mack 1-5, DePina 0-1). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 9 (Ketner 4, Babul 2, Weeks, Mack, Basit). Turnovers: 16 (Clarke 4, Ketner 4, Mack 4, Babul, Basit, Kirkland, Weeks). Steals: 6 (Mack 3, Clarke, DePina, Ketner). _______________________________________ Nc Charlotte 32 20 10 - 62 Massachusetts 28 24 16 - 68 _______________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 3,925. Officials: Gene Monge, Tom Clark, Jim Jenkins.