Coverage from:
The Boston Globe
The Boston Globe -- Tyrone Weeks focus
The Worcester Telegram & Gazette
The Daily Hampshire Gazette
The Daily Hampshire Gazette -- column
The Daily Hampshire Gazette -- St. Louis focus
The Daily Hampshire Gazette -- Ketner to return
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

UMass misfires
Minutemen shoot 29 percent as they exit quickly again
By Joe Burris, The Boston Globe Staff, 3/14/98

ATLANTA - For weeks, they talked about ways to halt the slump that threatened to tarnish an otherwise successful season. From the talk emerged possible solutions. Play harder. Focus more. Be more aggressive. Take a little time off.

Charlton Clarke had fire in his eyes but his shot was off the mark, finishing 3-11 from the floor.
Nothing worked.

And now they've run out of alternatives. And games.

Opening-round victories in the NCAA tournament are no longer a guarantee for the University of Massachusetts Minutemen. In fact, next season that will be a primary goal.

The team that advanced to the second round during its first five trips this decade failed to do so yesterday for the second consecutive season. The seventh-seeded Minutemen shot 29 percent from the floor, a season low, and saw a solid defensive effort thwarted by Saint Louis freshman sensation Larry Hughes, who hit several key shots over the last five minutes to lead the 10th-seeded Billikens to a 51-46 South Regional victory.

Saint Louis (22-10) will meet second-seeded Kentucky, an 82-67 winner over 15th-seeded South Carolina State, in tomorrow's second round. UMass (21-11) saw its season end with its fifth loss in seven games and will spend the offseason knowing that being more prepared to play in the tournament this year wasn't enough to ward off a repeat of last year's hasty exit.

''When you shoot 29 percent, you're not going to beat many teams,'' said coach Bruiser Flint, whose team turned in one of its worst shooting performances of the season, totaling just five assists. ''We just couldn't put the ball in the basket. That was the bottom line. It was frustrating because we got the ball where we wanted to get it. We just couldn't put it in the hole.''

UMass senior forward Tyrone Weeks tied a career high with 16 rebounds but shot 0 for 7. Guard Monty Mack was 5 for 19. Guard Charlton Clarke was 3 for 11, including a pull-up 3-pointer at the buzzer in the first half that rattled in and out. Center Lari Ketner was 2 for 7 and hampered by foul trouble.

''With 10 minutes left in the second half, you can tell they were getting frustrated, especially at times when they got good looks and they weren't falling,'' said Saint Louis forward Ryan Luechtefeld. ''Any time that happens, you get frustrated.''

That lack of accuracy wasted an effort of solid hustle and rendered a few turnovers and breakdowns even more costly. ''They hit some big shots at the end,'' said Clarke, ''and we couldn't hit any shots.''

But most important, it undermined the defensive effort by forwards Mike Babul and Chris Kirkland against Hughes, who finished with 18 points on 6-for-17 shooting but came up big when it appeared the Minutemen, who trailed for most of the game, had swung the momentum in their favor.

Kirkland gave the Minutemen a 43-42 lead with 6:44 to go when he scored on a pull-up in the paint. After Ajmal Basit rejected Saint Louis's Matt Baniak, Weeks sank a free throw to put the Minutemen ahead, 44-42. UMass had an opportunity to pad its lead when it regained possession after Luechtefeld misfired.

Instead, the Minutemen self-destructed. Basit was called for traveling in the paint. Hughes then drained his only trey in four attempts to give the Billikens a 45-44 lead. Then Clarke was hit with a five-seconds call and had the ball deflected by Jamall Walker. The latter turnover resulted in a fast-break dunk by Hughes, putting the Billikens up, 47-44, with 3:45 left.

Mike Babul tries to stop Larry Hughes to no avail.
''I just kept taking shots,'' said Hughes. ''I wasn't hitting earlier, but if I had said, `I can't hit shots because I missed earlier,' we probably wouldn't be in this position now.''

Despite Hughes's late surge, the Minutemen had a chance. Clarke hit a bucket from the key with 2:53 left to cut the lead to 1. But UMass did not score again. Hughes, on the other hand, added a spin move and layup with 1:32 left, then a fadeaway jumper with 52.7 seconds to go for the game's final tally.

''We get a little momentum and we get a five-second call and then Hughes hit the three,'' said Flint. ''That was tough for us. We never recovered from that point.''

And the season that showed so much promise in mid-January ended with disappointment and uncertainty. Asked what he wanted the team to take from this into next season, Flint said, ''I have to think about that for a little bit. I know it leaves a bad taste in your mouth because you lost.

''That's two years in a row we went out in the first round. So we just have to work. Just say, `We're not going to get to this point next year. We're coming in winning basketball games.'''

Flint salutes 'inspiration'
Weeks lauded by UMass coach
Compiled By Joe Burris In Atlanta, Bob Ryan In Hartford, and Mark Blaudschun In Washington, The Boston Globe Staff, 3/14/98

Surely, Bruiser Flint didn't want the farewell to come this soon. Yet after the University of Massachusetts lost to Saint Louis, 51-46, yesterday in the first round of the South Regional, the second-year coach rendered an emotional thank you to fifth-year senior forward Tyrone Weeks.

Tyrone Weeks had a career day in rebounding, but was shut down offensively.
''I want to thank Tyrone Weeks, who has been an inspiration,'' said Flint, who fought back tears as he spoke. ''He's what coaching is all about. Coaching is not about wins and losses. Coaching is about watching young men develop. I just wish we could have played a few more games for him, because he has meant a lot to me as a person. It has been great to see him go from a mad man to a special young man.''

Weeks, who has overcome many personal problems - both before and since arriving at UMass, earned a bachelor's degree in education after sitting out his freshman year for failing to meet eligibility requirements. He is currently working on a degree in African-American studies.

''I want to say thanks to Coach Flint ... for being the father figure in my life that I needed,'' said Weeks, who tied a career high with 16 rebounds in his UMass finale.

Asked what he will tell his teammates to carry over into next season, Weeks said, ''Just believe in yourself. It's a situation where you have to come out and play hard every night out. There has been a lot of success when UMass team has come hard to play every night out. Look at the Final Four team. The Elite Eight team. If you come together as a team and you want it more than the other team, you'll be successful.''

UMass bows out weakly
Billikens' Hughes breaks out at end
By Sandy Burgin, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette Staff, 3/14/98

ATLANTA -- The University of Massachusetts basketball team put on its own Friday the 13th horror show yesterday as it fell victim to St. Louis, 51-46, in an ugly first-round NCAA South subregional game before 17,474 fans at the Georgia Dome.

Don't feed Bruiser excuses for 29% shooting.
How ugly was it?

The Minutemen shot a woeful 29.3 percent from the field with a 17-for-58 display that included a totally imperfect 0 for 11 from trey land. They turned the ball over 14 times. And while they outrebounded the Billikens, 45-32, many of those caroms came off their own missed shots.

Yet, incredibly, all the ugliness aside, when UMass forward Chris Kirkland hit a jumper in the lane, the Minutemen had a 43-42 lead with 6:45 left.

Tyrone Weeks, who had 16 rebounds but was 0 for 7 from the field playing on a tender ankle, hit one of two free throws as UMass took a 44-42 lead with 5:55 remaining.

But it all went downhill after that.

Twice the Minutemen got the ball back after missed shots by St. Louis. But on successive possessions, Ajmal Basit was called for traveling and Charlton Clarke for a five-second violation.

It was after Clarke's miscue that St. Louis freshman sensation Larry Hughes, who had been bottled up all game by the inspired defensive play of Mike Babul, drained a jackknife 3-pointer with Babul in his face. That put the Billikens up 45-44 with 4:44 left.

The next time down the court, St. Louis' Jamall Walker stole the ball from Clarke, sent Hughes in on a slam dunk, and suddenly it was 47-44 St. Louis.

Hughes, who had just four points at halftime and only nine through the first 35 minutes, added a spin move bucket in the lane and 16-foot fall-away jumper, giving him 18 hard-earned points on the day and putting the capper on the game and UMass' season.

The Minutemen, who were ousted from the first round of the NCAA for the second year in a row, finished the year at 21-11.

The Billikens, 22-10, will take on second-seeded Kentucky (30-4) at approximately 2:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Georgia Dome with the winner heading on to the Sweet 16.

There certainly was nothing sweet about yesterday's game.

"It wasn't the most thrilling game for people to watch," understated St. Louis coach Charlie Spoonhour. "It was ugly, but that was the the type of game we needed to have to win.

"The shooting wasn't good for either side (St. Louis shot 39 percent from the floor), but that's the type of game it was. (UMass coach) Bruiser's (Flint) kids played awful hard. They had a day where the ball just wouldn't go down. Like at the end of the half, they had the ball all around the rim of the bucket and it just didn't go down."

Lari Ketner, UMass' 6-foot-10 junior center, who delivered just eight points and four rebounds, saw Clarke's shot that rimmed in and out at the buzzer as a bad omen.

"I think that shot typified what kind of game we were having," said Ketner, who picked up his third and fourth fouls seconds apart midway through the second half.

Moments before Clarke's in-and-outer, St. Louis' Virgel Cobbin had banked home a jumper with seven seconds left, giving St. Louis a 27-25 edge which it took to the locker room.

Cobbin hit three of four 3-pointers and had 11 points, joining Hughes and freshman forward Matt Baniak, who had 12, in double figures.

Mike Babul gets mugged and loses the ball.
"The game was ugly," Flint said. "St. Louis made it ugly, and that's the way it was called. We just couldn't make any shots. You shoot 29 percent and still only lose by five. I thought we gave a great effort, we just couldn't put the ball in the basket. It was an ugly game, and it went their way. But we played ugly also. We just couldn't put the ball in the basket, that was the bottom line."

Flint gave Hughes his due. "He made big plays for them when they needed it, but he's been doing that all year," Flint said. "But other than the breakaway dunk, we had guys in his face all day. I thought we did a great job on the kid.

"But I tell you he's cool. I give him that, he's cool-headed," added Flint. "A lot of young kids might get frustrated, (Hughes was 2 for 13 before hitting his last four shots), but he didn't. My kids were frustrated."

UMass' guards Monty Mack and Clarke shot a collective 8 for 30, with Clarke going 3 for 11 and Mack 5 for 19, including 0 for 6 from 3-point range.

Hughes talked about dealing with his own struggles. "It's happened before, so that's why I did not get too frustrated with it," he said. "I shot the ball well sometimes and bad sometimes, so I just take it in stride. I knew that my teammates would be there whenever I needed them."

Hughes had particular praise for forwards Baniak and Chris Heinrich, who did a solid job for the Billikens in challenging the Minutemen inside.

Baniak, who had seven rebounds along with his 12 points, pointed to the play of the guards.

"I think our guards played a good game today," Banial said. "Virgel (Cobbin) hit some big shots in the first half and Larry (Hughes) stepped up for us in the end and hit some tough shots, but everyone on the team is playing well. The whole team had a great game."

Babul, who was tireless in his pursuit of Hughes, summed up the game, the season and the future of UMass basketball: "I felt we played as hard as we could. He (Hughes) hit the big shots at the end and pulled out a victory. It was a pretty good season, and we'll be starting to prepare for next year. It could be a special season next year for us.

"Coach told us not to hang our heads," Babul said. "He congratulated Ty (Weeks) on a great career and told us to start thinking about next year. We have everyone back except Ty, so we have a lot to look forward to."

Two years ago UMass left the Georgia Dome victorious on the way to the Final Four.

Yesterday, the Minutemen just left the Georgia Dome on their way home ... with memories of a frightful Friday the 13th and hopes for next year.

One and done for cold UMass
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/14/98

ATLANTA - Saint Louis freshman Larry Hughes scored his team's last nine points, and the University of Massachusetts couldn't escape its 29 percent shooting as the No. 10 seeded Billikens upset the No. 7 Minutemen 51-46 Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Georgia Dome.

Saint Louis was supposed to be the perfect first-round opponent for UMass. While the Billikens feature star freshman Larry Hughes, they appeared small and soft on the front line, which was supposed to produce a comfortable victory for the Minutemen.

But as shot after shot from both in close and from the perimeter continually bounced off the rim for UMass, those expectations were replaced first by anxiety, and ultimately, despair.

"The game was ugly," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint. "Saint Louis made it ugly and that was how the game was called. We shot just 29 percent and lost by just five points. We just could not put the ball in the basket. I thought we played hard. The effort was there. We just couldn't get balls to drop."

Friday the 13th was a nightmare for Bruiser Flint.
The 46 points was by far the team's lowest output of the year.

The Billikens advance to face second-seeded Kentucky at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Saint Louis led by as many as seven points in the second half, taking a 38-31 advantage with 12:43 remaining, but the Minutemen mounted a 13-4 run to pull ahead 44-42 with 5:55 left. Then Hughes took over.

Hughes nailed his only 3-pointer of the game to pull the Billikens back ahead, 45-44, and followed with a fast-break dunk.

Charlton Clarke stepped in and hit a long two-point shot to cut the lead to 47-46 with 2:55 left, but that was the last basket UMass would make this season.

Hughes hit two more shots to seal the win, as UMass' desperation shots were well off the mark.

Hughes finished with a game-high 18 points, but he had only four in the first half, thanks to tough coverage by Mike Babul and Chris Kirkland. Hughes' play all season is the reason the Billikens made the tournament, and his play at the end of Friday's game is the reason his team is still in it.

UMass finished the season 21-11 after getting bounced from the NCAA Tournament in the first round for the second straight season.

Flint saluted his only departing senior after the game.

"Tyrone Weeks has been an inspiration to me," Flint said. "I would like to take the time to thank him personally because he is what coaching is all about. Coaching isn't about wins and losses. Coaching is about watching kids develop. I just wish he could have played a few more games."

Despite fighting pain brought on by a lingering injury to his left knee and ankle, Weeks tied his single-game career high in rebounds, with 16, but like everyone else, he struggled from the floor, shooting 0 for 7.

Bruiser barks out instructions.
UMass' numbers after the game told the story. The Minutemen's miserable 17-for-58 shooting included 0 for 11 from behind the three-point arc.

"Looking at the stats," Flint said, "I'm surprised we were even in the game, shooting 29 percent."

Their inside play was just as bad. The expected big-man advantage didn't happen as Weeks and Lari Ketner combined to shoot 2-for-14 from the field. Ketner was plagued by foul trouble in the second half.

"I wanted to go to the basket, but every time I went to the basket, they called a charge," Ketner said. "I had to go to other options. It was frustrating. We just weren't able to capitalize close to the basket."

Even UMass' 45-32 rebounding advantage was misleading because so many of the Minutemen's extra chances just led to more missed shots.

Monty Mack was the only player in double figures for UMass with 10.

Same ending for Minutemen
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/14/98

ATLANTA - The scene in the University of Massachusetts locker room was a familiar one. After the No. 7 seed Minutemen were upset, 51-46, by No. 10 Saint Louis in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday, the players sat silently looking off into space, wondering what went wrong and how their five-month basketball odyssey had come to such an abrupt end.

It was the same dreary atmosphere that hung over the UMass locker room a year ago, when the Minutemen fell to Louisville in the first round, 65-57.

The similarity between the end of this season and last left many onlookers wondering just how far the Minutemen actually had come in a year's time.

For most of the season, the high points outweighed the low ones. UMass returned to the national rankings, where it peaked at No. 18. Lari Ketner, Charlton Clarke and Monty Mack all stepped forward and showed that they could play at the national level.

But while the Minutemen didn't suffer through the early-season problems that last year's bunch did, they still wore out at the end of the season.

Practice didn't make perfect against the Billikens.
"This one was worse," said sophomore forward Ajmal Basit. "We didn't look past Saint Louis, but we expected to beat them. Last year we were just happy to get in. It really hurts to end the season, knowing that we're such a good team and this is it right now."

The similarities between the two seasons stretch far beyond the final game.

Last season, after winning six in a row to catapult themselves into position to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, the Minutemen stumbled down the stretch and lost four of their last six games in the regular season. They fell in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Then they were booted in the first round of the NCAAs.

This year UMass won 13 of 14 games from New Year's to Valentine's Day, but unraveled again. The Minutemen dropped five of their final seven and exited in the same rounds of the two tourneys, in the process watching their NCAA seed drop to a No. 7.

Fair or not, the monkey will be on coach Bruiser Flint's back. He has yet to win an NCAA game, a fact that critics are bound to harp on.

Still there is reason for hope. Only Tyrone Weeks departs from a team that went 21-11. Junior Lari Ketner already has promised that whatever professional career is in his future will wait at least one more year. The team's young guards all will have another year of experience under their belts. Redshirts Winston Smith and Ronell Blizzard will be in the mix, along with Kitwana Rhymer, who sat out this season due to Proposition 48 regulations.

While his academic eligibility is still in question, UMass also hopes to have sharpshooting Scott Clark next season. He signed a letter of intent to play with UMass.

"The best thing about next year is that while Ty is a big loss, we have everybody back," Flint said. "We just need to set our sights on having a better season next year."

Basit agreed.

Ross Burns and Ajmal Basit could only watch the 97-98 season slip away to St. Louis.
"Next year's not going to end like this," Basit said. "Not only is everybody coming back, but everybody will be experienced. This year we lacked experience and I think that's why we struggled at the end of the season."

While optimism for the 1998-99 season will increase down the road, the taste of the present is still sour, especially for Weeks, who played his final game in maroon and white.

"This wasn't how I wanted to finish," Weeks said, "But I just have to move on."

And so do the Minutemen.

Hughes saves his best for last
By Casey Kane, For The Daily Hampshire Gazette, 3/14/98

ATLANTA - Larry Hughes was used to the position he was in. He had heard the call to step up from his coach before. He had seen the look from his teammates - silently asking, willing him to take over.

Friday afternoon against the University of Massachusetts, the Saint Louis freshman answered the call, the looks and the challenge by leading his No. 10 seed Billikens over the No. 7 Minutemen, 51-46, at the Georgia Dome.

Saint Louis will face Kentucky in the second round. The No. 2 Wildcats handed South Carolina State a 82-67 loss in the day's first game.

With the Minutemen up two and just under six minutes remaining in the game, Hughes connected on a 3-pointer from the right side that pushed the Billikens to a lead they would never relinquish.

"He's been making shots like that all year," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "We did a great job on the kid, but he kept his cool."

Unfortunately for UMass, it was only for those final five minutes that Hughes was dominant. The sophomore small-forward tandem of Mike Babul and Chris Kirkland held the Conference USA Freshman of the Year in check all afternoon, forcing him to pass rather than shoot, and shoot difficult shots rather than gimmes. In fact, Hughes had only four points at halftime.

"It's happened before," Hughes said. "That's why I didn't get frustrated with it. They play good defense, and even though I was getting good looks, I wasn't knocking them down."

Still, the Billikens recognize the go-to magic Hughes possesses. Over the course of the season Hughes led Saint Louis in scoring 24 times. But it is not only scoring, but crunch-time point production Hughes is familiar with.

In the team's second game of the season, Hughes pocketed 16 of his 18 points in the second half to lead a comeback effort over East Carolina. In January against Valparaiso - which advanced to the second round in the Midwest region by beating Mississippi, he ignited a 12-4 run to close the door on the Crusaders, scoring 17 of his 20 after intermission.

However, Hughes also knows scoring droughts. Several times during the season opposing defenses keyed on the guard, who holds a spot on nine of Saint Louis' 10 freshman record lists, limiting his offensive output.

Regardless of what Hughes does during the heart of the game, few of the things he does at the end now surprise his coach, Charlie Spoonhour.

"He gets a new energy at the end of a game," Spoonhour said. "He's done this is so many games. He's obviously the reason we are here."


Spoonhour almost wasn't there for the second half of his team's game. After missing a courtside interview with CBS, the coach was accidently locked into his locker room.

"I had a really bad halftime, if you want me to explain it to you," Spoonhour said. "I thought I was going to get interviewed, but I couldn't find Michelle (Tafoya of CBS)."

Little did Spoonhour know things would get worse from there.

"I go in, wash my face, walk out, the team's already gone, and I'm locked in. I'm beating on the door like Thumper the Rabbit. I pounded on the door and howled like a wolf. I thought the team had done it."

Spoonhour eventually was rescued by the Georgia Dome attendant assigned to his locker room.

"That gal let me out," he said referring to the attendant. "I just hope they don't give guns to them. If she'll lock you in a locker room, Lord knows what she'll do with a gun."

Ketner will return next year
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/14/98

Ketner doesn't want to go out like this.
ATLANTA - Lari Ketner put to rest any speculation about his future shortly after Friday's loss to Saint Louis, as the 6-foot-10 junior center promised to be back for his senior season.

"I'll be back," he said. "I made it clear that I'd be back at the beginning of the season and nothing has changed."

Ketner is projected to be an NBA draft pick, but after a season in which he averaged 15.1 points per game, jumping to the big-time now wouldn't guarantee him riches. According to some draft experts, Ketner would be a borderline first-round pick and still far from being a lottery pick.

After the game he talked about his goals for next season.

"I need to work on the mental aspect of my game," Ketner said. "I want to become a leader because we have a lot of young guys."

Hughes struggles, but teammates come through as SLU tops UMass
The Billikens will face Kentucky on Sunday after their 51-46 win over the Minutemen.
By Mike Eisenbath, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3/14/98

ATLANTA - Larry Hughes assumed human form for 35 minutes of a basketball game Friday afternoon. "That's happened before," Hughes said.

St. Louis forward Larry Hughes passes over Lari Ketner and Mike Babul.
Hughes, the country's best freshman player, had trouble scoring. His shots were short, flat. From the game's beginning, he said, he didn't have his legs. Massachusetts probably thought it had him and the Billikens in a most compromising position. And in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, of all places.

"Someone told me that UMass had been saying if they stopped me, they'd win the game," Hughes said. "But they forgot about Virgel Cobbin hitting 3s. They forgot about Matt Baniak and Chris Heinrich banging in there with their big guys. They forgot about Jamall Walker competing so hard and Ryan Luechtefeld competing so hard."

St. Louis University showed Massachusetts, and a rapt college basketball world, that the entire team isn't so bad, as the Billikens turned in a 51-46 upset victory in the South Regional at the Georgia Dome.

It was only the third NCAA tourney victory for SLU, seeded 10th in the South. The Bills (22-10) will face second-seeded Kentucky (30-4) in a second-round game at 1:30 p.m. (St. Louis time) Sunday.

"It's going to be a tough game," said Baniak, also a freshman.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Luechtefeld, a junior.

Hughes, destined for a pro basketball future, faces a future filled with games as big as Sunday's. For the other Billikens, many of whom came into this season bearing the wounds of last year's 11-18 record, Friday's victory was one to savor giddily and Sunday's game one to anticipate with a smile.

"We already knew we had a good team and not just a great player," said Cobbin, a junior. "But when I looked up at the scoreboard at the end of the game and saw St. Louis against UMass, and I saw St. Louis was the winning team on there, I realized it for sure that we actually are a pretty good team.

"Everyone else has to realize that, too."

Not just a great player. Hughes had only one basket in the first half. He often looked tired.

"I'd like to thank my teammates for being there for me and keeping us in the game," Hughes said.

Cobbin scored 11 points in the first half. Luechtefeld scored only three points, but he took three charges, had six rebounds and joined freshmen big men Baniak and Heinrich in playing excellent defensively against UMass behemoths Tyrone Weeks and Lari Ketner. Walker, a point guard, scored only two points, but he contributed some of the biggest plays - including back-to-back game-making defensive stops down the stretch - and had five assists with only one turnover.

They've played in Hughes' shadow all season. And rightly so, of course.

"We don't ever get jealous of Larry," Luechtefeld said. "Not ever. Not from the first day. I don't really know why that is."

Maybe because all the other Billikens gave SLU a chance to win Friday. But Hughes put them over the top with a closing five-minute flourish that left the seventh-seeded Minutemen awestruck. He scored nine of his 18 points in those final minutes, the only SLU points after UMass had taken a 44-42 lead.

Hughes hit a 3-pointer over defender Chris Kirkland. After a steal by Walker, Hughes ran upcourt with him, took a pass from Walker and capped the dash with a dunk that broke Anthony Bonner's school record of 654 points in a single season.

Charlton Clarke easily dribbled around Hughes for a 16-footer that showed how tired Hughes was. "I should have taken him out earlier," SLU coach Charlie Spoonhour said. Hughes went to the bench for 22 seconds of game time and two timeouts. Apparently refreshed when he returned, Hughes hit a short jumper for a 49-46 lead with 1 1/2 minutes remaining and made jaws drop with a fadeaway 12-footer that made defender Mike Babul look useless.

"I wasn't really looking to take over," Hughes said. "I just got the ball in my hands and got great looks."

Spoonhour knew Hughes was tired. Still, he essentially told the other Billikens thanks for the effort but it was time to clear some room for "The Legend."

"He gets a new energy at the end of games like that," Spoonhour said. "He's done it in so many games and in practices."

Hughes said he simply was doing his part for a team that had done all the little things to cover for his struggles all afternoon. SLU held the Minutemen to 29 percent shooting success from the field and forced 14 turnovers. The Bills battled the bigger Minutemen into submission. UMass bonked one poor long-range shot after another in increasing frustration in the face of relentless SLU energy.

In the end, Hughes wasn't carried off the court atop everyone else's shoulders. They all leaped and laughed together.

Spoonhour broke into his sly grin and said: "I guess this messes up a lot of people's pools, though, doesn't it?"

Hughes finds legs, heart for last-minute heroics
By Bernie Miklasz, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3/14/98

ATLANTA -- Larry Hughes was showing why he is not quite ready for the prime-time lights of the NBA. His shot dented the rims. He couldn't shake a defender. He was tired, his left foot hurt. He got burned on defense. He looked grumpy. Up in the stands, Larry's little brother, Justin, dozed off. It was that bad.

In his first NCAA Tournament game, Larry Hughes was flopping, missing 10 of his first 12 shots as UMass took a 44-42 lead over Saint Louis U with 5 minutes 55 seconds remaining at the Georgia Dome. Skeptical associates in the national media where stopping by a Post-Dispatch seat along press row for counsel.

This is the guy everyone raves about?

Larry the Legend, where are you?

On the bench, exhausted. Out of breath, seemingly out of magic.

"I was tired in the second half," Hughes said. "I was tired in the first half. I was tired during warmups. I don't know why. I just didn't have my legs."

Hughes without legs. This is like Monet without a paint brush, Schwarzkopf without a tank, Gibson without a fastball, Sinatra without a microphone.

"Anybody who heard me talk about Larry yesterday probably thought I was lying," teammate Ryan Luechtefeld said, smiling. "Until the end, when he stepped up when we needed him."

It was under five minutes to go now, and Hughes reinvented himself. UMass had no warning.Time for Larry Hughes to give the nation a dazzling sampler of his Baby Jordan game.

* With 4:59 left, Hughes stroked a 3-point shot to give SLU a 45-44 lead.

* With 3:48 left, Hughes finished a fast break with a kangaroo leap and a slam-dunk.

* With 1:34 left, Hughes twirled through the lane and kissed home a 12-footer.

* With 50 seconds left, Hughes sent UMass home to rest with a preposterous, remarkable, unbelievable, you-gotta-be-kidding fadeaway jumper that clinched SLU's 51-46 victory.

And as he ran to the other end of the floor, Hughes looked up into the stands and located Justin, 12, who was wide awake now. On his feet, pumping a triumphant fist at big brother. Larry pointed to Justin, the proudest kid in Georgia.

"You know, Justin gets mad when I don't make shots," Larry said, with a soft laugh. "I always tell him to be quiet, because I don't want to hear it."

By the end of the game, Justin had no complaints. He would be spending the weekend in Atlanta now. "I knew Larry would do it," Justin said.

The brothers are so close, they could share a heartbeat. And the heart of this family is as strong as ever. Justin is doing fine after receiving a new heart in December 1996. And he is never far from Larry's reach, Larry's heart. That's why, when the other Billikens were dancing about after the game, Larry made it a point to pause and wave at Justin and their mother, Vanessa.

"I was thinking about my little brother," Larry said. "I looked over there and I saw him cheering. You know, it's all for them, my brother and mother. I play for them. As long as they're cheering and having fun, I'm having fun. This is for my team and my family. This is for St. Louis basketball, and St. Louis city. It's fun to make people happy."

Larry Hughes does that, and then some. He's the gift that keeps on giving. Through the first 35 minutes, he probably played as poorly as he had all season but never lost nerve.

"No, I didn't lose confidence," Hughes said. "I've been playing for a while. It's too late for that. If you're scared, there's no point in being here."

Hughes saved 14 of his 18 points for the second half. Luechtefeld was asked what it's like to watch Hughes grab a game by the neck and take control.

"It's relaxing," Luechtefeld said.

UMass coach Bruiser Flint saw it another way. "I don't know what we're supposed to do," he said. "We played great defense on Hughes. We tired him out. We couldn't have played him any tougher than we did, and he still beat us. That's why the kid is a great player."

Everyone in the Georgia Dome knew the game would come down to this: the ball in Larry's hands. a predator's gleam in his eyes. UMass trying desperately to suppress him. And the UMass still couldn't stop him. UMass...No mas.

So comfortable in the final five minutes, after being so uncomfortable for the first 35. He is exhausted, then he's all energy. He has no shot, then he can't miss. He has no game, and then he is the game.

The Legend continues.

St. Louis Billikens (10) 51
Massachusetts Minutemen (7) 46
NCAA Tournament South Region First Round
at the Georgia Dome, Atlanta GA

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Cobbin          34   4-5   0-1   0-3  2  2   11
Luechtefeld     30   1-6   0-1   1-6  3  2    3
Baniak          32  6-13   0-0   4-7  1  3   12
Walker          30   1-2   0-0   0-0  5  2    2
Hughes          33  6-17   5-8   1-4  0  0   18
Redden           9   0-1   1-2   0-1  1  1    1
Heinrich        15   2-4   0-0   0-1  1  0    4
Frazier          8   0-2   0-0   0-2  1  0    0
Robertson        9   0-1   0-0   0-1  1  2    0
TOTALS         200 20-51  6-12  6-25 15 12   51

Percentages: FG-.392, FT-.500. 3-Point Goals:
5-14, .357 (Cobbin 3-4, Luechtefeld 1-4, Walker
0-1, Hughes 1-4, Frazier 0-1). Team rebounds: 7.
Blocked shots: 4 (Baniak 2, Hughes, Heinrich).
Turnovers: 10 (Heinrich 2, Hughes 2, Baniak,
Cobbin, Luechtefeld, Robertson, Walker). Steals:
8 (Walker 3, Hughes 2, Cobbin, Heinrich,

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Babul           22   1-4   0-0   2-3  1  3    2
Weeks           33   0-7   6-8 11-16  0  1    6
Ketner          31   2-7   4-4   0-4  0  4    8
Clarke          36  3-11   0-0   1-7  2  1    6
Mack            40  5-19   0-0   2-6  2  1   10
Kirkland        21   3-6   2-2   1-1  0  2    8
Basit           13   2-3   0-1   0-1  0  2    4
Depina           4   1-1   0-0   0-1  0  0    2
TOTALS         200 17-58 12-15 17-39  5 14   46

Percentages: FG-.293, FT-.800. 3-Point Goals:
0-11, .000 (Clarke 0-4, Mack 0-6, Kirkland 0-1).
Team rebounds: 6. Blocked shots: 8 (Ketner 4,
Weeks 2, Kirkland, Basit). Turnovers: 14 (Ketner
4, Depina 3, Clarke 2, Mack 2, Basit, Kirkland).
Steals: 4 (Mack 3, Clarke).
St Louis           27   24  -   51
Massachusetts      25   21  -   46
Technical fouls: None.  A: 17,474. Officials:
Dick Cartmell, Andy Rios, Sid Rodeheffer.

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