MHERST, Mass. (AP) -- Massachusetts desperately wanted to turn around its season. A win over No. 15 Kansas wasn't a bad way to start.
"A week ago, we would have folded," said Massachusetts coach Bruiser Flint. "This time we didn't put our heads down. We went out and won the game."
After Kansas' Jeff Boschee tied it at 58 with a 3-pointer, Lari Ketner made two free throws, Chris Kirkland sank a jumper and the Minutemen pulled back ahead 62-58 with 2:33 left.
Massachusetts held Kansas scoreless for the final two minutes, and Charlton Clarke sealed the victory for Massachusetts (7-8) with two free throws with eight seconds left.
"That's what I wanted to do, because I didn't have a great offensive game up until then," Clarke said. He finished with nine points.
The loss ended Kansas' (12-4) four-game winning streak.
The Jayhawks were also stymied by 20 points from Monty Mack, 15 by Ketner, a pressure defense and strong rebounding. The Minutemen outrebounded Kansas 46-33 overall and 20-10 on offense.
Roy Williams screams in vain to his troops.
Kansas tried to strike back in the last 25 seconds, but freshman guard Boschee booted a dribble for a turnover and then missed a jumper from the top of the paint.
Boschee, who led the Jayhawks with 16 points, said he just "got careless with the ball" on the turnover.
"In the last few possessions, they played tough defense," Boschee said. "It was hard to get anything going."
Down 33-30 at the half, Massachusetts hit the offensive boards and streaked back to a 50-42 lead on a 20-9 run in the first nine minutes of the second half. Clarke scored seven of the points, and Ketner made six.
"It was tough to stop their penetration," said the Jayhawks' Ryan Robertson.
A 3-pointer by Mack and dunk by Mike Babul put Massachusetts up 58-52 with 5:50 left.
Boschee then came back for Kansas with two 3-pointers, but Ketner answered with a pair of free throws to put the Minutemen up 60-58 with 3:13 left.
Chris Kirkland added a field goal at 2:25 to lift Massachusetts to 62-58. Robertson pushed the Jayhawks back within 62-60 with his basket 15 seconds later, but Kansas never scored again.
"We just wanted to send a message that the season's not over for us," said Ketner.
MHERST - It was a return to the glory of the recent past, a reminder of the thrills and satisfaction the University of Massachusetts basketball program has provided. And the victory seemed even more glorious because most fans couldn't have seen it coming or expected it.
"They tied it when Jeff Boschee hit those two 3-pointers, and to be honest, and a week or two ago that might have been it,'' UMass coach Bruiser Flint after the Minutemen had stunned 15th-ranked Kansas 64-60 at Mullins Center. "But we kept playing, Lari (Ketner) hit a couple of big free throws, Mike (Babul) and Charlton (Clarke) made some big plays, and we won the basketball game.''
Babul, Kirkland & Basit discuss the strategy.
UMass (7-8) returns to the Atlantic 10 wars Wednesday at St. Joseph's. The Minutemen bring in a 3-1 league record, and perhaps a new lease on life in a season they feel may finally be turning around.
"We got down and dirty, we wanted it and we went out and took it,'' said point guard Charlton Clarke, whose two free throws with eight seconds left turned a shaky 62-60 lead into a far more comfortable four-point margin. "I tried to take the team on my back and be a leader, but tonight wasn't about me. It was about all these other guys.''
It was partly about Clarke, who scored seven of his nine points during a critical 12-0 UMass run that gave the Minutemen a 44-38 lead with 14:44 left. His other two came on the late free throws, and a senior hobbled lately by knee problems looked spry again, playing 39 minutes with seven rebounds and six assists.
Monty Mack gets close with the Jayhawks' Ryan Robertson.
And forwards Mike Babul and Chris Kirkland helped fuel a 46-33 UMass rebounding edge that was the most significant statistic of all. Babul grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds, nine in the second half, and Kirkland snared eight to go along with 10 points as UMass defeated Kansas for the first time ever, in four tries.
"They annihilated us on the backboard,'' Kansas coach Roy Williams said. "If they rebounded that well against all those other teams they played and lost, I don't want to have to play those teams.''
UMass grabbed 20 offensive rebounds, and claimed a 26-16 advantage on the boards in the second half. But the Minutemen still found themselves tied when Kansas freshman guard Boschee hit back-to-back 3-pointers, turning a six-point UMass lead into a 58-58 tie with 3:35 left.
Ketner's two free throws untied it, Kirkland followed with a short jumper, and Kansas didn't score in the final 2:12.
Trailing 62-60, the Jayhawks had a chance before Kirkland slapped the ball away from Boschee with 28 seconds left, and Babul picked up the turnover.
Clarke missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 19 seconds left, but Boschee was well off on a 3-point try and after Clarke was fouled, he didn't miss again.
"Charlton is one guy that when the game is on the line, I want him at the foul line,'' UMass coach Bruiser Flint said.
It was the first time in six games that UMass had trailed at halftime and won. Guard Ryan Robertson scored 13 points and 7-foot Eric Chenowith had 11 with 10 rebounds for Kansas, but Ketner held Chenowith to two points and three rebounds after halftime.
MHERST - They came to the University of Massachusetts as members of the same recruiting class in 1996, and to put it kindly, neither was an immediate hit.
Mike Babul was a player in search of an offensive game. Chris Kirkland was too raw to be of much immediate help, and they faced futures that appeared uncertain at the time.
Mike Babul grabs one of his 12 rebounds.
"We're getting better as a team because those two guys are getting better," Flint said. "Chris made some huge, huge baskets. I don't know if he could have done that in December."
Kirkland showed an expanding offensive game of jump-steps, jump shots and drives, some of which succeeded because of his unique ability to twist his body like a pretzel in mid-air - and score.
One such drive gave UMass a 50-42 lead with 11:46 left. That one seemed to convince the 9,493 fans, once and for all, that an upset might really happen.
Babul did his usual solid defensive job. Kansas forward Kenny Gregory, the MVP of the Tip-Off Classic against Nevada-Las Vegas in Springfield Nov. 27, managed only six points yesterday.
"At halftime, coach told me Gregory gets a lot of his points off the offensive glass," Babul said. Gregory wound up with no offensive rebounds yesterday.
Babul also wound up with the ball after Kirkland had tipped it away from Kansas guard Jeff Boschee with 28 seconds left and UMass clinging to a 62-60 lead.
Boschee had been the Jayhawks' hot hand, hitting consecutive 3-point shots for a 58-58 tie, and he was looking to snake through picks for another open look. That Kirkland wound up covering him looked like a mismatch in Kansas' favor, but Kirkland's ability to stay with the quick guard long enough for Babul to come for help - and force a turnover - showed how far he's come.
"I got careless with the ball, and he just slapped it away," Boschee said.
"He was just dribbling, so I tried to strip him," Kirkland said.
Babul noticed Kirkland's defense, too.
"Chris did a good job staying with him and driving the play toward me," said Babul, who has started every UMass game for the past two seasons, and is considered the team's best defender.
Chris Kirkland looks for a little screen help from Kit Rhymer.
It also gives Flint a three-deep rotation at center with Lari Ketner, Kitwana Rhymer and Basit, which is useful since all three are prone to foul trouble.
Babul played 39 minutes yesterday, taking himself out for only one minute to catch his breath in the second half, before returning for the final push.
He scored six points, including an alley-oop dunk that made it 58-52 with 5:56 left. Using their athleticism to make up for lack of size, Babul and Kirkland also helped UMass earn a 46-33 rebounding edge, and Ketner appreciated the help.
"I was tipping a lot of balls out because of (7-foot Kansas center Eric) Chenowith," Ketner said. "I was happy Mike and Chris were out there to get them."
Also helping out was Basit, who played only 10 minutes and shot 1 for 5, but grabbed seven rebounds - five off the offensive glass.
"In the first half, I could have killed him," Flint said. "But he kept battling, and he got us some big boards in the second half. My whole thing was to keep playing, keep fighting through it, and everybody did that today."
mherst, Mass. -- After flying and driving through wintry weather conditions just to reach Massachusetts, Kansas' men's basketball players looked like they were walking on ice Saturday afternoon ... in the paint.
Kansas was outrebounded, 46-33, outscored 42-2 down low, and generally outmuscled in a 64-60 nonconference loss to the Minutemen (7-8) at Mullins Center.
"They were vicious on the backboards," KU coach Roy Williams said after the Jayhawks fell to 12-4 overall. "They just annihilated us on the backboards in the second half.
"If they rebounded like they did today and have that record, I don't want to play any of the teams they lost to."
KU exerted more effort in reaching icy Amherst -- a five-hour bus ride from Philadelphia culminated a 13-hour travel day Friday -- than it did on the backboards Saturday.
Led by Mike Babul (12 rebounds) and Chris Kirkland (eight), UMass outrebounded KU just five days after the Jayhawks outboarded Missouri, 56-43 in a victory in Columbia, Mo.
UMass outrebounded Kansas, 26-16, the final half -- one in which the Minutemen outscored the Jayhawks, 34-27.
The Minutemen had five shots on one second-half possession, three on another.
"They came at us in waves. You get one offensive rebound and another and it becomes a frenzy," Williams said.
The Minutemen were outrebounded 33-31 in a victory over Duquesne on Wednesday.
"We've got to be more physical, have more want-to," said KU forward Nick Bradford, who managed to grab six boards. Eric Chenowith paced the Jayhawks inside with 10 rebounds in 28 minutes.
It was speculated by reporters that perhaps Friday's travel woes -- KU's players arrived at their Springfield, Mass., hotel at 11:30 p.m., after leaving Kansas City at 10 a.m. -- had something to do with the Jayhawks' travails against the sub-.500 Minutemen.
"The bus trip had nothing to do with our loss or our energy," Chenowith said. KU's connecting flight from Philadelphia to Hartford, Conn., was canceled, necessitating a long bus journey. "Sitting on the bus wasn't bad. We were able to get some rest.
"We played well enough to win. We shot well enough to win (52 percent first half, 42.1 for game to UMass' 40.9). We got outrebounded. They had five guys crashing."
Still, KU had a chance late. Freshman point guard Jeff Boschee, who scored a career-high 16 points, hit two three-pointers to erase a six-point KU deficit and tie the game, 58-58, at 3:35.
"I thought it'd get the momentum changed, but they were great down the stretch," Boschee said.
UMass' Lari Ketner hit two free throws, and following an Ashante Johnson inside miss -- yes, Johnson made his KU debut, playing five minutes in his return from right kneecap surgery -- Chris Kirkland hit a shot, giving UMass a 62-58 lead at 2:33.
Ryan Robertson (13 points, five boards) scored at 2:13 to trim the Minutemen's lead to two at 62-60.
After a Ketner miss, Bradford rebounded and dished to Boschee, who had an untimely turnover at :30 in front of the KU bench.
"I was coming off a pick looking for my shot. I got careless with the ball and he slapped it away from me," Boschee said, referring to Kirkland, who poked the ball loose and into the hands of Babul.
"Jeff feels awful about that. I told him it wasn't any bigger than the first play of the game," Williams said. Boschee had opened the game with a three-pointer.
Boschee -- he made six of 10 shots and four of eight treys -- missed a three with ten ticks remaining. Charlton Clarke (15 points) then iced the game for UMass with two free throws at :08.
"It's part of being a basketball player," Boschee said of his Saturday highs and lows. "There still were eight seconds left. Their guy went down and hit two free throws."
Williams sympathized with the freshman's late turnover and missed shot.
"It was a turnover, something you don't want to happen. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest who ever played the game, turned it over. It's one play," he said.
The Jayhawks, who haven't lost two straight since February of 1994, will meet Texas in an 8:35 p.m. tip on Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse. The Longhorns are just 9-8 overall but 5-0 in the Big 12 Conference. KU is 4-0 in league play.
-- Gary Bedore's phone number is 832-7186. His e-mail address is email@example.com
mherst, Mass. -- Those who came to bury UMass basketball can now put away their shovels.
Yes, the Minutemen were blown out at home by Iona. Yes, they were stung by St. Bonaventure in Olean, N.Y. And how about that overtime loss at home to Davidson?
"We've been in the position where people threw dirt on us," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said following Saturday's stunning 64-60 victory over No. 15-ranked Kansas, "so we've just got to climb out of the grave again."
With a 7-8 record, it's still going to be a long climb.
Flint showed his team the videotape of last year's 73-71 loss to the Jayhawks in Lawrence.
"I tried to go over how we played," Flint said. "We played good, but we made a lot of mistakes, missed a lot of shots. Today, every time we needed a shot we got it."
Admittedly, Flint was worried when KU's Jeff Boschee nailed a couple of three-pointers about 30 seconds apart that knotted the score at 58-58 with about 3 1/2 minutes remaining.
"When Boschee hit those two threes, to be honest with you, a week ago that might have been it for us," Flint said. "Today we didn't play flawless, but we didn't put our heads down after we missed a shot or made a turnover. We just kept playing."
UMass didn't shoot well, making 41 percent (27 of 66) and the Minutemen missed six of 13 free-throw attempts, but they murdered Kansas on the boards, 46-33.
"It feels good," said Lari Ketner, a 6-foot-10, 285-pound senior who had 15 points and six boards. "I guess a lot of guys were bitter from the outcome of last year's game. We wanted to come out and show it's not over yet. We wanted to send a message."
Ketner had been averaging 10 points a game and, noted Flint, hadn't been very offense-minded.
"I told him I didn't think (Eric) Chenowith could guard him," Flint said. "Tonight he wouldn't be denied. He said, 'Give me the ball.' I haven't heard that from him all year."
Two free throws by Ketner with 3:13 remaining broke the 58-58 tie and the Minutemen had an answer for every KU challenge the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, Flint noted his primary defensive concern was not Chenowith, who wound up with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
"I was really afraid of Lester Earl," Flint said. "I didn't think we had anybody who could guard him."
Not that it mattered. Earl, who missed at least three point-blank shots, finished with only two points -- both at the free-throw line.
Senior point guard Charlton Clarke clanked the front end of a bonus free-throw opportunity with :18.9 seconds left and the Minutemen clinging to a 62-60 lead, but Clarke was given another chance at :08 and this time he nailed the front end and the bonus for the clincher.
"It wasn't about me," Clarke said. "It was about the rest of the guys. I just did my job as the leader."
Clarke, who scored nine points -- all in the second half, collected a game-high 22 points when the Minutemen almost surprised the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse last year.
"These are the kind of games we live for," Clarke said. "We knew we could get blown out if we didn't play hard in front of our fans. Basically, we just got dirty. We got down and did it. Now we need to carry that same attitude on."
-- Chuck Woodling's phone message number is 832-7147. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
MHERST - With eight seconds left in the game and the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team leading No. 15 Kansas, 62-60, Charlton Clarke stepped to the free-throw line for a one-and-one.
The first one kissed the back rim and rolled in, to force overtime, at worst While his teammates celebrated on the bench, a stone-faced Clarke buried the second, finally smiling when it dropped through to clinch the 64-60 upset win in front of a sold-out Mullins Center.
"This is big because we never beat Kansas before," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint. "I'm one-up on Cal now. I'm going to call (former UMass coach John Calipari) tonight and say I got you, you couldn't beat Roy (Kansas coach Williams).
"Guys stepped up and played today," Flint continued more seriously. "We needed this as a momentum thing."
UMass led by six, 58-52, with just under six minutes to play, but Kansas freshman Jeff Boschee drained long 3-pointers on consecutive trips down the court to tie it, 58-58, with 3:35 left. Lari Ketner then tried to drive past Kansas center Eric Chenowith, but his short one-hander rolled off the side of the rim.
However, Chenowith was whistled for a foul. Entering the game shooting just 50 percent from the line, Ketner might have preferred a dentist's chair to the charity stripe at that point. But the senior center made both free throws, to the delight of a frenzied Mullins Center crowd.
Kansas couldn't convert at the other end, as a Mike Babul rebound led to a Chris Kirkland driving layup to put the Minutemen ahead, 62-58.
Ryan Robertson brought the Jayhawks within a basket with a pull-up jumper from the foul line. The Kansas defense tightened, forcing UMass' shot clock down almost to the buzzer before Ketner was forced to take - and missed - an awkward shot.
The Minutemen defense had their own answer, forcing Chenowith to take a tough shot, which Clarke rebounded. UMass called a timeout with 1:03 left, but again the Minutemen were forced into a low-percentage shot, giving the Jayhawks the ball with a chance to tie.
Boschee circled around a screen, but as he searched for room, Kirkland slapped the ball off Boschee's leg and it bounced to a waiting Mike Babul.
Boschee fouled Babul, giving UMass possession. Babul inbounded to Clarke, who was quickly fouled by Robertson. Clarke missed the front end of the one-and-one and Kansas recovered. with 18.9 ticks left.
With nine seconds left Boschee played for the win, but missed his 3-pointer and Clarke grabbed the rebound. Nick Bradford fouled him to set up his game-clinching free throws.
After watching a seven-point first-half lead evaporate, the Minutemen emerged from intermission trailing 33-30. A basket by Chenowith and a 3-pointer by Boschee sandwiched a hook shot by Ketner as the Jayhawks extended their lead to 38-32 less than a minute into the second half.
|Audio clip: Charlton Clarke provided the spark in the second half.|
The Minutemen won by dominating the game inside, outscoring Kansas 42-2 in the paint. They manhandled the Jayhawks on the boards, 46-33, including a 26-16 advantage in the second half. Babul had a game-high 12 rebounds. Kirkland added eight, while Clarke and Ajmal Basit had seven each.
"I always try to go to the offensive glass," said Babul, who also held Kansas forward Kenny Gregory to just six points. "But the balls kept coming my way and I kept bringing them in."
"They totally annihilated us on the back boards in the second half," said Kansas coach Roy Williams. "If UMass rebounded in their other games the way they did today, then I don't want to play those other teams."
The rebounding margin overcame UMass' 40 percent shooting and 12 turnovers.
"We didn't play flawless," Flint said. "We made some mistakes. We missed some easy baskets, things like that. But we kept playing. We never put our heads down. I'm trying to get them to realize, as long as we do that we'll beat anybody."
Mack led UMass (7-8, 3-1 Atlantic 10) with 20 points, while Ketner scored 15 and Kirkland added 10. Boschee was the Jayhawks' high-scorer with 16.
"I didn't think they could guard us in the paint and I told Lari that," Flint said. "Chenowith is a much better player than he was last year, but Lari just took it to him. Lari went out and said I want to play tonight. For him it's a mind-set and he wasn't going to be denied."
he collective soul of UMass fandom held a shovelful of dirt over the heads of University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Bruiser Flint and the Minutemen Saturday at the Mullins Center.
After stumbling to a 6-8 record, many fans were ready to bury the Minutemen if they lost again.
Losses to the likes of Marshall and the College of Charleston had broken the ground; then, even worse losses to Iona and Davidson had dug a grave few teams could ever climb from.
Enter No. 15 Kansas, a team UMass had never beaten.
It was, perhaps, the final chance for the Minutemen to prove - as much to themselves as to anyone else - that all the preseason hype wasn't just so much hot air and memories of glories past.
Like the fiery phoenix, the Minutemen rose from their own ashes against the Jayhawks.
"A lot of people have been pretty much throwing dirt on our graves, saying our season is over," said senior center Lari Ketner. "We just wanted to come out and show it's not over yet."
Ketner was a dominating presence in the paint, outmuscling and outdueling Kansas' 7-footer, Eric Chenowith.
One of the biggest differences in UMass' performance, however, was its mindset. Gone was the hesitance that hurt UMass so badly earlier this season. In its place was a confidence that bordered on defiance, and also a bit of something else.
"It's that fear to lose," said senior point guard Charlton Clarke. "If we can carry that same attitude on, I think we'll be all right for the rest of the year."
For one of the few times this season, UMass wasn't expected to win Saturday. In fact, without their best performance, the Minutemen easily could have been blown out of the Mullins Center.
"You have to (be motivated) or you're going to get embarrassed," said Flint. "My thing to the guys is we've got to carry it over now. I'm trying to get them to realize that as long as we do that, we'll beat anybody, whether it's the No. 14 team in the country or a team that's 8-30. It's all about how much confidence you go out and play with."
Before the game began, UMass football coach Mark Whipple set the tone. He accepted the Sears Trophy for the Division I-AA national championship as well as his national Coach of the Year award. After offering some quick comments about his own season, he urged the crowd to help the embattled UMass cagers.
"Let's get behind Bruiser and our basketball team," said Whipple into a microphone at center court. "And let's get ready to rumble today against Kansas."
The crowd needed little prompting - although coming from Whipple, the words had the effect of an eruption. The crowd roared to life at Whipple's beckoning, and would continue to make its presence felt all afternoon.
It was not an easy victory. UMass dodged a web of sticky situations - trouble that likely would have been too much for the team to overcome earlier this season. That trouble began when Ketner picked up his second foul midway through the first half.
"Here we go again," said Flint, describing his reaction to Ketner's second foul.
And when Kansas guard Jeff Boschee drained back-to-back 3-pointers late in the game to erase a six-point UMass lead and tie the game at 58-58.
"To be honest with you, a week ago, that might have been it for us," admitted Flint.
Lari Ketner, Ajmal Basit, the Minuteman and hundreds of fans celebrate UMass's biggest win so far this season.
Just 11 days ago in this same building, some fans sympathetically applauded after UMass' 19-point loss to Iona. Saturday, there was frenzied celebration. At least until the next game, UMass was back and that was reason enough to go wild.
"It's not like the season's over," said Flint. "We can turn it around. We've been in that position where people have thrown dirt on us. So we just rise out of the grave again. We've done it before."
Flint was talking about his first year as head coach, when UMass got off to a 6-9 start before finishing 19-14 and earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Clarke and Flint agreed that the real turning point came on the road, at Fordham. Since then, UMass has won three of its last four.
But Saturday's win was by far the one that validated the Minutemen. They may not be among the elite teams, but they proved that on any given night, they can beat any team in the country.
"We know they're a good basketball team, regardless of what they're record is," said Kansas coach Roy Williams. "If they rebounded like they did against us against those other teams and have that record, I don't want to face those other teams."
s he sat alone at his table at the annual University of Massachusetts men's basketball media day in October, Charlton Clarke talked at length about leadership.
He stressed the desire to finish his career with a special season and the importance of helping lead his team to that level.
So when the much-hyped Minutemen stumbled out of the gate, Clarke pointed the blame at the mirror.
"I'm the leader of this team," he said after UMass narrowly beat Fordham on Jan. 7. "If I had done a better job as the leader, we wouldn't be where we are."
Clarke is not a captain in name only. He truly wants to be a player his teammates can count on, one who can carry the team when the going gets rough.
At that same media day, UMass coach Bruiser Flint said Clarke's words were sound, but that he needed to back them up on the court.
On Saturday, with the Minutemen in a dogfight with Kansas that had the potential to sway their season, Clarke got his chance to do just that.
Clarke's eyes widen as a path to the hoop opens up.
"In the second half I just tried to take the team on my back," Clarke said.
He distributed the ball well, but didn't score again until the game's final minutes. With UMass ahead 62-60 with eight seconds left, the Jayhawks fouled the wrong guy.
"Of all the guys I would want on the line with the game on the line, he'd be the first guy I'd choose," Flint said. "The kid's got guts."
Clarke nailed both ends of the one-and-one to give UMass an insurmountable two-possession lead to clinch the win.
After the game Clarke shifted the ice from his veins to his tendinitis-plagued knees, but retained his grin for the postgame press conference.
Bruiser pushes Clarke to give 100% every time.
"But it wasn't about me tonight," he continued. "It was about the rest of the guys. "I got Lari (Ketner) going, I got Mike (Babul), going, I got Chris (Kirkland) going. I just did my job as a leader. I got my guys ready. I wanted to come through in the end for them."
Babul never doubted Clarke's free throws would fall.
"Charlton is the guy I look for when there is a minute left, because ever since I've been here, he's been great under pressure. He always hits big shots," Babul said. "When we come out of a huddle I always tell Charlton, 'Come get the ball,' because I know he hits big free throws like he did tonight."
Clarke's resume wasn't lacking for experience under pressure. Against Rhode Island last year, he made four 3-pointers and all eight free throws down the stretch, including a 3-pointer with three seconds left to force overtime.
Against St. Joseph's three days later, he nailed a 3-pointer with two seconds left to force overtime in a game UMass went on to win.
Even with Saturday's win, the Minutemen have a long road toward making this season "special." Clarke's two free throws gives them that chance.
MHERST - On the eve of yesterday's University of Massachusetts-Kansas game, Minuteman junior forward Chris Kirkland was asked if he was ready to face Jayhawks standout forward Kenny Gregory.
''Yes,'' Kirkland fired back. ''Is he ready for me?''
No, he wasn't. Neither were the other members of the 15th-ranked Jayhawks. They faced a Minutemen team that showed as much aggression and determination as it had all season. UMass made big shots when needed, came up with practically every loose ball, dominated the offensive glass, and played suffocating defense.
And when the final buzzer sounded, the same team that suffered lopsided defeats to Iona and Marshall this season had scored a 64-60 upset over the Jayhawks before a sellout crowd (9,493), some of whom stormed the court in celebration.
|Video clip: Monty Mack connects from long distance.|
''I got one up on Cal now,'' said UMass coach Bruiser Flint, referring to former head man John Calipari (now coach of the New Jersey Nets), whose teams reached the Elite Eight and Final Four of the NCAA Tournament but failed to beat Kansas.
''I'm calling him tonight. [Calipari] couldn't beat Roy [Williams, Kansas coach] and I got him. I'm calling him. He always gets on me about [Connecticut coach Jim] Calhoun: `You know if I was there, you know I'd beat Calhoun, right?' I got this one.''
If the Minutemen had given yesterday's effort all season, there is no telling what their record would be. Instead, it was their first consecutive wins of the season (UMass beat Duquesne Wednesday night). They also battled back from a 33-30 halftime deficit, marking their first win of the season when trailing at the break. It marks the closest UMass has been to .500 since it was 1-2.
''These are the type of games we live for. We know if we don't play in these type of games, we'll get blown out,'' said UMass guard Charlton Clarke (9 points, six assists), who, along with other players, said the team was primed to avenge last season's 73-71 loss at Allen Fieldhouse.
Ketner, the 6-foot 10-inch senior widebody, had arguably his best game of the season, leading a UMass attack that outscored Kansas 42-2 in the paint and outrebounded the Jayhawks, 46-33. Leading the way for UMass on the boards was junior forward Mike Babul, who finished with a career-high 12.
''I thought the difference in the game was that they annihilated us on the boards in the second half, and when we got good shots, we couldn't convert,'' said Williams.
Lari Ketner stuffs Eric Chenowith.
Despite its sluggish play, Kansas battled back several times from as many as 8 points down in the second half. Trailing, 58-52, with 5:56 left, Boschee hit consecutive treys to tie it at 58 with 3:35 to go.
''A month ago,'' said Flint, ''it would have been through for us.''
But UMass held, getting two free throws by Ketner and a basket by Kirkland to take a 62-58 lead with 2:33 left.
Robertson cut the lead to 62-60 on a jumper with 2:12 left, and UMass failed to convert with a minute to go, but Boschee, dribbling in the backcourt, had the ball batted off his foot by Kirkland and Babul came up with it.
With 18.9 seconds left, Clarke missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Boschee misfired on a trey attempt as Ketner ran out on the wing to alter the shot. Clarke rebounded, was fouled, and sank two free throws with eight seconds left for the final margin.
That gave the Minutemen the signature win they had looked for much of the season, but neither they nor Flint were surprised.
''I thought we have been playing better since last week,'' said Flint. ''We made mistakes against them like we did last year, but the thing we did tonight, the thing we haven't done all season, is that we played through it.''
MHERST - It was probably the most significant win of Bruiser Flint's short head coaching career, and no one understood better that it may not have been possible a week ago.
Foremost in the UMass coach's mind after yesterday's 64-60 win over No. 15 Kansas were the two most deadly shots his Minutemen were able to survive.
Jeff Boschee, Kansas' marvelous freshman guard, came down the floor to bury a pair of 3-point daggers - the second from somewhere out on Route 9 - for a 58-58 tie with 3:35 left.
``Boschee hits two 3's. A week ago, that might have been it for us,'' said Flint. ``That's the thing. I want these guys to understand that as long as we keep playing, we'll be fine.''
Yesterday, all of those damning characteristics from the Minutemen of November and December didn't come into play.
No hanging heads, or long faces. No sense of resignation.
Instead, when Boschee returned, this time with 21 seconds on the clock and UMass back on top by a 62-60 score, the Minutemen took the ball away.
Chris Kirkland reached in to strip the ball, Mike Babul scooped it up, and suddenly this didn't look like a team that hadn't been able to string together two straight wins all season.
Indeed, yesterday's win marked the first time all season that the 7-8 Minutemen won back-to-back games.
``These are the type of games that we live for,'' said Charlton Clarke, whose bullish penetration in the second half kicked off an 18-4 UMass run that made the last five minutes possible.
``We didn't want to be blown out in front of the home fans. This is always big. Just because you're the (No. 15) team in the country doesn't mean that you're going to come in here and do that to us.''
But the Minutemen wouldn't have reached this point without another emerging trait - balance.
Monty Mack again led the offensive attack with 20 points.
But the most damaging play, from Kansas' perspective, may have come from Babul and Kirkland. Babul had 12 rebounds and a defensive effort that limited Kenny Gregory to six points on 3-of-7 shooting. Kirkland added eight boards and 10 points, including a mid-air drive that gave the Minutemen a 62-58 lead with 2:33 left.
Kirkland's hoop followed a pair of Ketner free throws that broke the 58-58 tie.
At that point, the lead was UMass' to protect. Ryan Robertson answered Kirkland with a drive of his own, but the Jayhawks didn't get that close again.
Preservation was left to Clarke, who missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 19 seconds left and angrily sprinted down the other end in time to snatch the rebound off Boschee's missed 3-pointer.
Clarke, who was fouled with eight seconds left, didn't miss again, merely turning between free throws to blow a kiss to the cheering fans in the far end zone.
MHERST - UMass point guard Charlton Clarke took pride in the fact that he was able to give his teammates a jump-start in yesterday's 64-60 victory over No. 15 Kansas.
Mack and Ketner give Clarke his props.
With eight seconds left and UMass holding a two-point lead, 62-60, Clarke was on the free throw line for a 1-and-1. He missed the front end of a 1-and-1 10 seconds earlier with the same score, but Kansas' Jeff Boschee missed a 3-pointer and Clarke snared the rebound and was fouled again.
This time, Clarke drilled both shots, effectively putting the game out of the Jayhawks' reach.
``That's where I wanted to be,'' said Clarke, who had nine points, seven rebounds, six assists and just two turnovers in 39 minutes. ``I wanted to be there at the end, to seal the game.''
The rest of the Minutemen also voiced confidence in having Clarke be the one to step forward in crunch time.
``Charlton's the first guy I look for when there's under a minute left, because ever since I've been here, he's been great under pressure,'' said UMass forward Mike Babul. ``He always hits the big shots.
``When we come out of a huddle, I always tell Charlton, `Come get the ball,' because I know he'll go to the line and hit the big free throws like he did tonight.''
Said UMass coach Bruiser Flint: ``Of all the guys I would want to see on the line when the game's on the line, he'd be the first guy I'd choose. The kid's got guts.''
Before his heroics at the charity stripe, Clarke provided the Minutemen with a lift by creating some offense with powerful drives to the basket early in the second half. The Minutemen trailed, 38-32, two minutes into the period when the 6-foot-3 senior took over.
First, Clarke fed center Lari Ketner inside, and Ketner delivered with a basket. Then Clarke drove past Boschee for a runner. Next, he drove, drew the defense in, and kicked the ball out to teammate Monty Mack, who fired in a 3-pointer. Clarke then drove on UMass' next three possessions, scoring on a runner, drawing a foul (but missing both free throws) the next time, and completing a three-point play on the following possession.
The Clarke-fueled 12-0 run gave UMass a 44-38 advantage. The Minutemen never trailed again.
According to Clarke, the impressive stretch was simply him doing his job. Finally.
``I was a little frustrated, I can't lie,'' Clarke said. ``In the first half, I was getting the same looks, but they weren't dropping. Usually that floater drops for me. In the second half, we were down three and I just tried to take the team on my back.
``I was trying to get the shots I normally get and it was working to my advantage, so I kept milking the cow.''
Said Kansas coach Roy Williams, ``Charlton is very strong. As he starts penetrating down the lane, it's hard to stop him when he does get in there.''
Added Jayhawks guard Ryan Robertson, ``It was difficult for us to stop him. It was something we tried to adjust at halftime; we tried to adjust early in the second half - and yet they were still getting into the middle.
``It was something we should have stopped. It hurt us.''
MHERST - Mike Babul more than lived up to his reputation as a defensive stopper.
Yesterday, the 6-foot-6 junior forward from North Attleboro helped hold Kansas forward Kenny Gregory to six points, seven below his average, in UMass' 64-60 upset of the 15th-ranked Jayhawks.
|Audio clip: Babul on his way to a career day in rebounding.|
He also made the highlight reel by finishing off an alley-oop pass with a resounding dunk to give UMass a 58-50 lead with 5:53 left.
Even more impressive, he was the one who called the play.
Kansas had just switched back to a 2-3 zone, something the Jayhawks used sparingly. UMass coach Bruiser Flint was going to run a play with the intention of getting Monty Mack an open 3-pointer. Babul, however, had another idea.
|Video clip: Charlton Clarke to Mike Babul for the jam.|
Courtesey: ESPN / ABC Sports
Babul snuck behind the defense, leaped over Kansas 7-footer Eric Chenowith, and dunked the pass from Charlton Clarke.
``I saw we were struggling to get good shots, so I told coach, `Let's run (the lob),' '' said Babul. ``We can usually get a team on that one time.''
Babul, who grabbed two key rebounds of missed UMass foul shots in the second half, returned to the defensive spotlight down the stretch.
With 27 seconds left and UMass leading, 62-60, Kansas sharpshooter Jeff Boschee (16 points) had the ball, and Babul drew the assignment.
As Boschee came off a pick, UMass forward Larry Kirkland was able to knock the ball off Boschee's leg. It went right to Babul.
``He was going to try to go to the basket,'' said Babul. ``It went off his leg and I was just there to pick it up.''
Said Kirkland, ``Watching tape, I could see that he liked to cross over and pull up for the shot, so I tried to prepare for that, and I just got a piece of the ball.''
|Audio clip: Analysis of Mike Babul.|
``(Coach Flint) said, `Everyone go to the boards,' '' Babul said. ``And he told me personally that Kenny Gregory gets a lot of his points off the offensive glass, so try to box him out, no rebounds.''
Gregory ended up with just two boards while Babul outrebounded a handful of much taller players.
``One of the reasons I think we're getting better is because of (Babul and Kirkland),'' said Flint. ``They've been playing great.''
MHERST -- This was the UMass basketball team everyone expected to see all season.
The Minutemen put their winter of discontent on hold for at least one day yesterday by upsetting No. 15 Kansas, 64-60, in front of an ABC network audience and a sellout crowd at the Mullins Center.
Monty Mack scored 20 points and Lari Ketner had 15 as the Minutemen improved to 7-8 by winning back-to-back games for the first time this season. The Jayhawks fell to 12-4.
"A lot of people said the season was over for us," Ketner said. "We wanted to prove it wasn't over. We wanted to send a message."
"These are the types of games we live for," senior guard Charlton Clarke said. "We know if we don't play as hard as we can, we'll get blown out in front of our home fans. We want to play the same way against everybody."
The victory couldn't have come at a better time for UMass. Not only was it the Minutemen's first win over a ranked opponent this season, but it should provide them with a boost of confidence as they prepare to play four of their next five games on the road, starting with a visit to St. Joseph's Wednesday.
Continuing their improved play under the boards, the Minutemen outrebounded Kansas, 46-33. They were so dominant in the paint, outscoring the Jayhawks, 42-2, that Kansas coach Roy Williams refused to believe the scoresheet.
"I know we scored more than that," Williams said.
The Minutemen failed to outrebound an opponent in any of their losses while stumbling to a 4-7 start. But now they've outrebounded their foes in four consecutive games. It's no wonder they've won three of them.
"If they rebounded in their other games like they did today and still had their record, I don't want to play those other teams," Williams said.
|Video clip: Chris Kirkland's effort shines as he scores 2 on the putback.|
"Watching tapes, I saw he likes to cross over and pull up for his shot," Kirkland said. "I waited for that and went for the ball."
Babul picked up the loose ball and got it to Clarke. He missed the front end of a one-and-one with 18.9 seconds left, but got a chance to redeem himself at the line with eight seconds left after Boschee missed an off-balance 3-pointer. Clarke hit both foul shots to clinch it.
"That's where I wanted to be," Clarke said, "at the line to seal the game at the end."
Boschee led Kansas with 16 points, including four 3-pointers. Ryan Robertson had 13 points and Eric Chenowith had 11 to go with 10 rebounds.
UMass led by seven on four separate occasions in the early going, but scored only four points in the final 6:23 of the first half to fall behind, 33-30.
Ketner scored 11 points in the second half -- three more than he scored in his previous two games combined -- to pace the UMass comeback.
"For Lari, tonight was just a mindset," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "He said, 'Give me the ball, I'm open in the post.' I haven't heard that all year."
Going up against Chenowith, the 7-footer for Kansas, provided the 6-10 Ketner with the motivation he frequently lacks.
"I told Lari I didn't think Chenowith could guard him," Flint said.
A Boschee trey in the opening minute of the second half gave Kansas its largest lead, 38-32, but the Minutemen answered with a 12-0 run to go out on top. Clark keyed the surge by driving the lane for three baskets, the last of which he followed with a free throw for a three-point play.
"In the first half I was getting the same looks, but they weren't dropping," Clarke said. "I just wanted to take the team on my back."
"He's so strong," Williams said. "The two kids we had on him aren't going to win muscle beach. When he starts penetrating, it's hard to stop him."
Kirkland's jumper gave UMass its largest lead, 50-42, with 11:44 left, but Kansas had one last rally to make. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Boschee pulled the Jayhawks even, 58-58, with 3:35 left.
"A week ago that might have been it for us," Flint said, "but tonight we just played through it."
Ketner gave UMass the lead for good with two free throws with 3:13 left and Kirkland's drive gave the Minutemen some breathing room with 2:33 remaining. Robertson's jumper that inched Kansas within 62-60 with 2:12 to go accounted for the Jayhawks' only points in the final 3:35.
"I don't think we underestimated them," said Williams, who pointed out that UMass returned players who scored 63 of their points in a 73-71 loss at Kansas last season. "Our kids aren't stupid."
Kansas hadn't lost in Massachusetts since Dec. 20, 1949, when Holy Cross beat the Jayhawks, 57-53, in Boston.
hen a team comes into a season with promising expectations prompting rankings in most polls and has to wait until the middle of January for its first two-game winning streak there's probably going to be some dissension.
"A lot of people have been throwing dirt on our graves saying the season's over," said UMass center Lari Ketner underscoring the fact that UMass' horrendous offensive performance has turned headlines highlighting their intimidating front line into ones calling them the gang that couldn't shoot straight.
But now after their upset victory over 16th-ranked Kansas at the Mullins Center, the sky looks a little brighter.
When he was asked to put a value on the importance of the victory Ketner gave an understated assessment, "It felt good due to the fact that we haven't had a great season."
|Audio clip: Chris Kirkland drives in for the deuce.|
Head coach James "Bruiser" Flint often states his faith and belief in his team. Few, however, believed him. He said the win over Kansas is going to give everyone much-needed confidence.
But even Flint started to wonder if his team could overcome this hurdle. He said he worried after Kansas' Jeff Bochee tied the game at 58 with consecutive three-point buckets but said his players would not falter.
"A week ago that might have been it for us," said Flint. "Tonight, Lari wasn't going to be denied."
Flint pointed out that he finally heard his big man take charge. "He was open in the low post and was calling for the ball. I haven't heard that all year."
As an aside, Flint said the victory also gave him something special. "I got one up on Cal now," he said referring to former UMass coach John Calipari. The win was UMass' first against Kansas in four games. Flint said he speaks with his mentor on almost a daily basis.
It's true that the non-conference win over the Jayhawks will go a long way towards elevating the Minutemen in the eyes of the NCAA tournament committee but UMass is going to need all that and more as four of their next five games are away from home including games at St. Joseph's, Temple, Dayton and Texas on Super Bowl Sunday.
Undaunted, Flint and his players march forward. "We'll just rise up out of the grave again. We've done it before," Flint said.
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|Kansas Jayhawks (#15)||60|
|at the Mullins Center|
KANSAS (60) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Gregory 23 3-7 0-1 0-2 0 1 6 Bradford 26 2-6 1-2 2-6 1 2 5 Chenowith 28 5-13 1-2 2-10 0 3 11 Robertson 38 5-8 1-1 1-5 4 3 13 Boschee 30 6-10 0-0 0-1 4 2 16 Earl 14 0-5 2-2 3-6 0 2 2 London 24 2-4 1-2 1-1 1 1 5 Johnson 5 1-3 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 Pugh 12 0-1 0-1 0-0 1 1 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 24-57 6-11 9-31 12 16 60 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.421, FT-.545. 3-Point Goals: 6-10, .600 (Robertson 2-2, Boschee 4-8). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 3 (Chenowith, Robertson, Johnson). Turnovers: 12 (Boschee 3, London 2, Robertson 2, Bradford, Chenowith, Earl, Gregory, Pugh). Steals: 5 (Boschee 2, Robertson 2, Chenowith). MASSACHUSETTS (64) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Kirkland 34 5-12 0-0 5-8 0 2 10 Babul 39 3-5 0-0 5-12 3 1 6 Ketner 30 6-12 3-4 2-6 0 2 15 Clarke 39 3-11 3-6 2-7 6 0 9 M Mack 40 8-20 1-1 0-3 0 4 20 Depina 2 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 1 0 Smith 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Rhymer 5 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 4 2 Basit 10 1-5 0-2 5-7 0 2 2 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 27-66 7-13 19-43 10 16 64 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.409, FT-.538. 3-Point Goals: 3-12, .250 (Clarke 0-2, M Mack 3-10). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 5 (Ketner 3, Babul 2). Turnovers: 12 (M Mack 4, Babul 2, Clarke 2, Kirkland 2, Depina, Ketner). Steals: 6 (Kirkland 3, Babul, Clarke, M Mack). __________________________________ Kansas 33 27 - 60 Massachusetts 30 34 - 64 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 9,493. Officials: Larry Lembo, John Moreau, Donnie Gray.