HILADELPHIA - No one doubted the University of Massachusetts would be ready to face 15th-ranked Kansas last Saturday. No one doubts the Minutemen will play with the same intensity against archrival Temple this Saturday. Such opponents always bring out the best in UMass; it's the meek and lowly that tend to make the Minutemen's biorhythms drop.
That is why coach Bruiser Flint must have been concerned entering last night's contest against Atlantic 10 foe St. Joseph's. For all intents and purposes, it could have been ITT Tech the Minutemen were facing; coming off one of the biggest wins in the program's history, anticipating the renewal of what has become one of college basketball's most intense rivalries, they had little reason to be motivated.
Except one: The Minutemen entered the contest with a 7-8 record and need as many wins as they can get. They played as if Flint hammered that point home in his pregame talk.
UMass offset first-half sluggishness by holding the Hawks to 21 percent shooting from the floor, led by 7 at halftime, jumped out to a 15-point second-half lead, then staved off a late rally for a 63-55 victory before 3,200 fans at the St. Joseph's Fieldhouse.
Senior guard Charlton Clarke had a season-high 19 points, including 17 in the first half, and shot 5 for 5 on 3-pointers to lead UMass to its third straight win, a season high. In building its league record to 4-1, UMass finished with a season-high 18 team assists and outrebounded St. Joseph's, 42-41, in an exceptional battle of the boards.
It was arguably the second-biggest win of the season for UMass, coming off the emotional 64-60 decision over the Jayhawks. Since a 3 1/2-hour team meeting following their humiliating home loss to Iona, the Minutemen are 4-1, have outrebounded their opponents in four of those games, and are now winning games they should win.
''We can't overlook anybody; we're just 8-8,'' said Flint, whose team is .500 for the first time since it began the season 1-1. ''I told the players I don't think we've arrived yet. They've left the light on for us, like they do at Motel 6, but I don't think we've arrived.''
But they are headed in the right direction. Once again, the Minutemen fared well against the 2-3 zone that used to create problems. Last night the main reason was Clarke, who had his best collegiate 3-point shooting performance, surpassing his 5-for-6 output against Kansas last season.
''We made the extra pass; that helped me get wide open, and I stepped up and made shots,'' said Clarke, who also had nine assists and six rebounds. Asked why he scored just 2 points in the second half, Clarke said, ''I just stopped shooting.''
He picked up five assists after the break, choosing to get his teammates involved. Guard Monty Mack had 15 points, and forward Chris Kirkland, playing with the flu, had 9 points and 9 boards.
Still, St. Joseph's (9-9, 3-3) played a big part in the Minutemen's success. So miserable was the Hawks' shooting that with 18 minutes left in the game they had connected on just 18 percent. Their defense kept them in the game in the first half, but early in the second, UMass began to pull away.
Ajmal Basit and Mack led an 11-2 run to give the Minutemen a 47-32 lead with 13:03 to go. Then the Hawks made their best run of the game, cutting the lead to 54-47 with 2:57 left. But UMass got buckets from Lari Ketner and Kirkland, then sank five of nine free throws down the stretch.
''This is a big one; this is the one we wanted first,'' said Clarke about the opener to the two-game Philadelphia trip. ''Now it's time to prepare for Temple.''
HILADELPHIA - Bruiser Flint could see the worst coming last night.
He could see the post-Kansas swagger, the big-man-on-campus contentment settling in on his Minutemen on the eve of the first big trip to Philadelphia.
Flint wanted to make certain they didn't forget.
``We can't overlook anyone,'' said Flint. ``We're 8-8. Every game is critical. Don't go walking around, having a good time, just because we beat Kansas. To be honest with you, I felt we should have beat Kansas. This week, right now, is big.''
The best part of last night's win over the young Hawks was what it did for the Minutemen in the Atlantic 10 Eastern Division standings. Temple, UMass' opponent on Saturday at The Apollo, leads the division with a 6-0 record. UMass is second at 4-1 and now has a cushion over the Hawks (9-9, 3-3).
Little things like that are important because, as Flint wistfully noted, ``I'm nervous every game with these cats.''
But the craziness is working in the coach's favor, for a change. Charlton Clarke tied a career high by hitting five straight 3-pointers in the first half on his way to totaling 19 points (6-for-10), six rebounds, nine assists and two steals.
The senior guard scored 17 points in the first half, then essentially stopped looking for his shot in the second half - not because he was told to stop but because the floor was suddenly spread wide.
The Minutemen made room for themselves with a 15-5 run early in the second half that included six points from Ajmal Basit, four from Lari Ketner and five from Monty Mack.
Mike Babul later drained an open 15-footer to stop a 6-2 Hawks run, and Chris Kirkland dunked off the baseline with the sort of authority few thought they would ever see in the junior forward.
``The guys are being aggressive,'' Clarke said, ``and that takes the pressure off of guys like Monty and Lari.''
Ketner finished with nine points, five rebounds, four blocks and just enough of a presence to make plays when he was needed.
Mack totaled 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting, and the production ran even deeper.
Kirkland had another impressive game with nine points, nine rebounds and two blocks, to go along with fellow starter Babul's six boards and five assists. And then there was the foul-plagued Basit, with eight points on 4-of-4 shooting.
``The difference is that we're executing,'' said Flint. ``We just have to get up for every game, now. The guys knew that this would be a big conference win.''
hots by the St. Joseph's Hawks clanked off every inch of both rims in varied ways. There were blown layups, squandered putbacks, wayward jumpers -- you name it.
As the misses added up -- nine in a row here, six in a row there -- you could almost see the strain, the doubt, on the faces of these young players, who seemed to hit a wall after early-season indications that they might perform beyond their inexperience.
With such cold shooting and fading confidence, the Hawks lost to Massachusetts, 63-55, last night in an Atlantic Ten Conference game at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
The loss was the third in the last four games for the Hawks (9-9, 3-3), who shot 30.6 percent after missing 40 of their first 49 attempts. It was also their first defeat on Hawk Hill after six straight wins.
"I have to admit, our confidence is a little low right now," said junior forward Andre Howard, who topped St. Joe's with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Howard, a transfer from Pitt, and senior Rob Haskins are the only two Hawks with significant experience; they combined to shoot 9 for 34. In Monday's loss to Penn, they also struggled, combining to shoot 6 for 33.
"Our leaders aren't producing lately," Howard said.
Despite their problems finding the basket, the Hawks seemed to have designs on a victory after shaving a 47-32 UMass lead down to 58-51 on a dunk by Damian Reid with 1 minute, 43 seconds left.
But on their next possession, after the Minutemen's Charlton Clarke missed the first of a one-and-one from the free-throw line, guard Tim Brown threw a pass out of bounds, and St. Joe's was unable to come any closer.
"I thought we were able to fight hard," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. "To be honest, the difference is just the gap between the two teams. The missed free throws and missed layups, it's like taking a bat in the stomach. I feel our confidence is teetering. I think we've kind of hit a bottom."
Clarke did little wrong aside from missing that free throw. The brawny 6-foot-3 senior guard was pretty much the whole offensive show in the first half, when he tied a career high with five three-point baskets, hitting his first four attempts to give the Minutemen (8-8, 4-1) a 21-13 lead, and scoring 17 of his 19 points.
With four first-half assists, Clarke had a hand in 25 points as the Minutemen took a 32-25 lead into halftime. In the second half, Clarke let some of his teammates share in the fun, finishing with nine assists. Monty Mack added 15 points.
Explaining the open looks he got at the basket in the first half, Clarke said, "They were double-teaming the low post. We just penetrated and kicked the ball out, and I was wide open. In the second half, I just stopped shooting and went back to the point-guard role."
Clarke's six first-half baskets matched the team total by the Hawks, who opened the game by missing their first nine shots and didn't get their first field goal until a basket by Howard 6:12 into the game.
"Charlton Clarke goes 5 for 5 [ actually 5 for 6 ] with threes. Do you expect it?" Martelli said with a shrug.
If the Hawks are going to turn their season around, they'll have to stop stuffing themselves in a hole at the outset of each half. In the last two games, they've begun each half shooting 2 for 13, 2 for 13, 3 for 13 and 3 for 13.
As poorly as they shot against the Minutemen, the Hawks seemed capable of winning when Howard's jumper from the corner pulled them within 34-29 early in the second half. Then UMass began pounding the ball inside to its big men, and went on a 13-2 run as 6-9 Ajmal Basit came off the bench to hit three quick baskets, and 6-10 senior Lari Ketner, a graduate of Roman Catholic High, dropped in a pair of baseline jumpers.
The Hawks had to get back in contention without sophomore guard N'aim Crenshaw for a long stretch. Crenshaw, the team's second-leading scorer, sprained an ankle in the first half. His playing time was reduced to 25 minutes, and he finished with a season-low four points, all from the free-throw line.
"We're still at a point that when things don't go well, some feelings get hurt," Martelli said.
For UMass, the win was the third straight, including Saturday's upset over then-No. 15 Kansas, and could signal another step toward overcoming a disappointing start. The Minutemen, second in the A-10 East, will remain in Philadelphia to play division-leader Temple on Saturday.
"We just wanted to get this one so we could cut the lead and try to get into first place," Clarke said.
he effort, St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said, was there. The results were not.
The effort, unlike Monday when the Hawks were outhustled in losing to Penn, was unquestioned last night against Massachusetts. The bottom line was the same.
UMass, which hadn't won two straight games all season until it upset Kansas Saturday, appeared at the Fieldhouse with game. And the experienced Minutemen controlled this game. After beating the Hawks, 63-55, UMass has won three straight and fought back to .500.
St. Joe's also has found .500, but its direction is decidedly down. Martelli, however, refused to be down. It was not unexpected that his young team, playing an NBA-like schedule lately, was going to hit a miniwall at some point.
Effort is a lovely thing. Making shots helps, too.
St. Joe's (9-9, 3-3 Atlantic 10) didn't make many. For a while, it looked as if the Hawks might not make any. They missed their first nine and 28 of their first 34. That computes to a sizzzling 17.6 percent.
The Hawks missed hard shots. They missed easy shots. They missed contested shots. They missed gimmes. They just missed.
The Hawks stayed within range because they were getting to the foul line. They stayed out of close range because they kept missing their free throws.
"I think missed free throws and missed layups are like taking a bat in the stomach," Martelli said. "Takes your breath away. I felt the confidence of this group teetering a little bit. I told them [ Tuesday ] that my greatest concern was in their eyes and their bodies. They looked tired. They looked disappointed."
UMass (8-8, 4-1) could have been described that way not too long ago. No more. After a team meeting, following a 19-point home loss to Iona on Jan. 5, the outlook has changed.
The Minutemen always seemed to have some control against St. Joe's because point guard Charlton Clarke was on their side. The Hawks could do nothing as he rained in five treys in the first half. In the second half, he stopped shooting but never stopped playing. He finished with 19 points, nine assists (one more than the St. Joe's team), six rebounds, two steals and no turnovers.
"We just made the extra pass," Clarke said. "Penetrated and kicked. And we were wide open. The extra pass killed [ the St. Joe's defense ] ."
Where the Hawks were scrambling on offense, UMass was, for the most part, smooth, hitting 20 of its first 36 shots. Its shooters kept emerging behind solid baseline screens for great looks. They ran their halfcourt sets so well that they had 18 assists on their 23 field goals. They missed some easy ones, but they made enough.
Once St. Joe's began to miss early, every shot was an adventure. Down by as many as 15, the Hawks got to within seven points five times in the last three mintues. They got no closer.
It's hard to win when your starting forwards (Andre Howard and Rob Haskins) combine to shoot 9-for-34. (They shot 6-for-33 against Penn.) It's also difficult to win when your starting guards (N'aim Crenshaw and Larry Jennings) don't make a field goal in just three attempts and get outscored by Clarke and running mate Monty Mack, 34-8. And it didn't help that several times when a St. Joe's player did get loose going to the rim, Lari Ketner (nine points, four blocks, several alterations) was there to discourage things.
St. Joe's did get 19 points from its bench. It did hold its own on the boards. It did enough good things to have a chance. That the Hawks lost by only eight spoke to that. But nobody wins when shooting 30.6 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from the line.
"I thought we were able to fight hard," Martelli said. "I just said to the team, being real honest, that's just the gap in the teams right now."
Bruiser looks to the ref for a little help.
"We were 7-8 and I kept reminding them of that," Flint said.
Suddenly, UMass is factor in the A-10, a league it owned for a time. Since the giddy 1996 Final Four, the league has caught up.
St. Joe's, meanwhile, is just trying to find its way.
"We missed a lot of easy shots," said Howard who had team-highs of 13 points and 12 rebounds. "It took away a lot of our confidence, especially when our leaders aren't producing."
Howard struggled with his shot. Haskins just struggled. He tries so hard it's painful.
"He's just too fast," Martelli said of Haskins. "Everybody else is playing 45 rpms. He's playing at 78. You can't play like that. This is a game for the quick, the quick-moving and the quick-thinking, not the fast."
UMass was quicker -- moving and thinking. St. Joe's was just fast.
Basketball, however, is no race. It's a subtle game in which effort counts. And the bottom line never changes.
HILADELPHIA - The St. Joseph's fans were begging.
"Somebody guard Clarke!" one shouted.
"Don't let Clarke shoot!" followed another.
The Hawks tried to be accommodating, but University of Massachusetts guard Charlton Clarke couldn't seem to miss. He sank five 3-pointers in the first half to jump-start the Minutemen, who beat Atlantic 10 Conference rival St. Joseph's (9-9, 3-3 A-10), 63-55, Wednesday night at Alumni Fieldhouse.
St. Joe's Robert Haskins successfully fakes out Mike Babul.
"This was big because it was a league game," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint. "We've lost some games, but we're still 4-1 in the league."
"We just wanted to come in here, play as hard as we can," Clarke said. "We're starting to make our little run now. We're not worrying about our record. We're just trying to win games. Our focus is to win the Atlantic 10. We have Temple on Saturday. It's going to be a big game for us."
Clarke led UMass with an all-around brilliant game. In addition to being the game's leading scorer with 19 points, he delivered nine assists with no turnovers, grabbed six rebounds and made four steals.
"I was just roaming around," Clarke said. "They were double-teaming in the post, so we penetrated and kicked (the ball outside) and I was wide open. I just took my time and made shots."
Monty Mack added 15 points, while Lari Ketner and Chris Kirkland had nine each. Despite battling the flu, Kirkland led UMass with nine rebounds.
"Chris has been probably our most productive guy in the last five games," Flint said. "Now, if you double-team Lari, he (Kirkland) makes you pay for it."
Clarke's shooting highlighted the first half. With the game tied 9-9, Mike Babul drove into the lane and kicked it out to a wide-open Clarke, who drained the 3-pointer.
Back on defense, Ketner swatted the first of four shots he would reject in the game. After an official timeout, Jonathan DePina found Clarke in almost the same spot, with the same result.
N'aim Crenshaw's two free throws made the score 18-11 with 10:37 left in the half, but Clarke's gun was still loaded. Babul and Ketner took turns kicking the ball out to him as Clarke finished a 12-point tally in a 3:34 stretch.
The Minutemen led 32-25 at halftime and built that lead to 47-32. UMass held a double-digit lead through most of the second half, until an Andre Howard free throw with 3:03 left made it 54-45. The Minutemen, however, made enough free throws down the stretch to hold on.
Foul trouble caused Flint to go deep into his bench, as 11 Minutemen played in the first half. Ajmal Basit was the only non-starter to score, getting eight points and three boards in a foul-plagued nine minutes. But despite their lack of numbers, Flint was pleased with his bench's performance.
"Anthony Oates played pretty well. Ajmal gave us some quality minutes," Flint said. "Everybody who stepped into the game came in and gave us quality minutes. Jonathan played pretty well."
HILADELPHIA - While the St. Joseph's athletic department wasn't too pleased with Wednesday night's 63-55 loss to the University of Massachusetts, the school's alumni fund-raising staff could rest easy.
"Well, I'm going to donate my money to the school," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint after the game. Flint, a 1987 graduate of St. Joe's, had jokingly threatened earlier in the week to yank his contributions if the Hawks beat the Minutemen.
"I'm going to get air conditioning in the media room and some new visitors locker rooms. That's where my donation is going," Flint said.
Flint is a member of the St. Joseph's Athletic Hall of Fame and is sixth on the Hawks' all-time assist list with 402.
* * *
Since the 1955-56 season, the Big 5 has been a Philadelphia institution: Temple, St. Joseph's, La Salle, Penn and Villanova have played each other nearly every year for bragging rights.
As a player, Flint was part of that tradition as a point guard for St. Joe's. As an assistant coach and a head coach at UMass, Flint may feel like he's never left.
Wednesday night's win marked the second of four Big 5 opponents UMass plays this year. In fact, the Minutemen play more Big 5 opponents than Villanova, 5-2, and more Big 5 games than the Wildcats, 6-2.
In Flint's assistant- and head-coaching career at UMass, the Minutemen are 37-15. UMass is: 17-4 against Flint's Alma Mater; 13-10 vs. Temple; 6-0 vs. La Salle; 1-0 vs. Penn; and 0-1 vs. Villanova during that period.
* * *
MORE PHILLY PHACTS... Since taking over as UMass' head coach, Flint is 3-2 against the school for which he once starred.
Fellow Philadelphian Lari Ketner has played 11 collegiate games in the City of Brotherly Love. UMass is 6-5 over that stretch.
|St. Joseph's Hawks||55|
|at St. Joseph's|
MASSACHUSETTS (63) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Babul 40 1-6 1-2 1-6 5 2 3 Kirkland 27 3-8 3-6 1-9 1 1 9 Ketner 25 4-7 1-2 1-5 1 4 9 Clarke 39 6-10 2-5 1-6 9 1 19 M Mack 37 5-13 3-4 2-4 1 2 15 Oates 6 0-0 0-0 0-2 0 1 0 Depina 5 0-1 0-0 0-0 1 1 0 Cruz 1 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Smith 2 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Rhymer 9 0-1 0-0 0-2 0 3 0 Basit 9 4-4 0-0 1-3 0 4 8 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 23-51 10-19 7-37 18 19 63 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.451, FT-.526. 3-Point Goals: 7-14, .500 (Clarke 5-6, M Mack 2-7, Cruz 0-1). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 10 (Ketner 4, Kirkland 2, Babul 2, Rhymer, Basit). Turnovers: 13 (Ketner 4, M Mack 3, Rhymer 2, Babul, Basit, Oates). Steals: 5 (Clarke 2, Depina 2, M Mack). ST JOSEPHS PA (55) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Haskins 25 3-17 1-2 4-7 0 4 8 Howard 36 6-17 1-3 2-12 0 3 13 Reid 24 3-6 1-4 4-6 1 3 7 Jennings 27 0-1 4-4 0-0 5 4 4 Crenshaw 25 0-2 4-6 0-2 1 1 4 Brown 28 3-9 1-2 0-1 1 3 8 Wilkins 18 2-5 2-2 3-4 0 1 7 Woods 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Ikenokwalu 4 0-0 0-0 0-2 0 0 0 Sazanov 12 2-5 0-1 0-3 0 1 4 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 19-62 14-24 13-37 8 20 55 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.306, FT-.583. 3-Point Goals: 3-11, .273 (Haskins 1-4, Jennings 0-1, Brown 1-4, Wilkins 1-2). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 2 (Wilkins, Ikenokwalu). Turnovers: 10 (Crenshaw 2, Haskins 2, Howard 2, Brown, Ikenokwalu, Sazanov, Wilkins). Steals: 4 (Howard 2, Crenshaw, Jennings). __________________________________ Massachusetts 32 31 - 63 St Josephs Pa 25 30 - 55 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 3,200. Officials: Jody Silvester, David Day, Brian Kurtz.