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Minutemen can't dig out of hole
Slow start too much for UMass to overcome
By Joe Burris, The Boston Globe Staff, 2/18/1999

WASHINGTON - The University of Massachusetts basketball season took another step backward last night. And with their 78-72 Atlantic 10 defeat to George Washington, the Minutemen must win their last three contests to avoid becoming the only UMass team in the 1990s with a losing regular-season record.

Chris Kirkland and Monty Mack came to play, scoring almost 70% of the Minutemen's points, but a two-man game couldn't beat GW.
Mike King scored 22 points and Yegor Mescheriakov added 20 for GW (17-6, 11-2), which jumped on the Minutemen early, then held off several second-half UMass rallies.

Chris Kirkland had 26 points and 12 rebounds and Monty Mack had 24 points for UMass (11-14, 7-6), which finishes its regular season against Xavier (Saturday), La Salle, and Temple.

The Minutemen played much of the second half without starters Charlton Clarke, Lari Ketner, and Mike Babul, all of whom were benched by coach Bruiser Flint.

GW led, 36-22 at halftime and 41-26 with 16:54 left in the game, before UMass made its biggest charge. The Minutemen outscored GW, 15-5, over the next 5:52 to pull within 46-41 with 11:03 left. GW regrouped and built another 10-point lead, 53-43, with 9:51 left.

With 1:47 left, Mack sank a free throw to pull UMass to 71-66. But six seconds later, Mack committed his fifth foul and was done for the game. The Colonials sank free throws down the stretch to secure the win.

The Minutemen, accustomed to slow starts all season, had one of their worst openings last night. Seven seconds into the contest, Ketner was called for a foul on Pat Ngongba, who sank two free throws for the first points of the game. After a turnover by Clarke, King made it 4-0 on a pullup jumper at the top of the key.

The Minutemen failed to score on six of their next seven possessions, turning the ball over three times. George Washington took advantage, with 5 points by Shawnta Rogers, two free throws by King, and an alley-oop dunk by forward Mescheriakov to give the Colonials a 15-2 lead.

A pullup bucket by guard Dorien Brown gave GW a 19-3 advantage. And the Colonials kept scoring at will; a pullup trey by King with 12:17 left gave GW a 24-5 lead.

Then Mescheriakov and King went to the bench, and the Minutemen made a run. Led by Clarke's trey and 3-point play, UMass scored 8 unanswered points to pull to 24-13 with 9:35 left, prompting GW coach Tom Penders to reinsert his two starters.

The Colonials outscored UMass, 4-1, over the next three minutes for a 28-14 lead. A trey by King with 5:11 left in the half made it 31-15, and Mescheriakov added a fadeaway bucket with 4:30 left. UMass cut the lead to 15 with 3:57 left by scoring 5 unanswered points, but the Minutemen scored just 2 points on free throws the remainder of the half and trailed, 36-22, at the half.

Colonials Fend Off U-Mass.
By Shawn Cox, Special to The Washington Post, 2/18/1999

The George Washington men's baskeball team held off a second-half rally from Massachusetts and got a team-high 22 points from Mike King to take a 78-72 win last night at Smith Center for their 13th win in their past 15 games.

GW's Antxon Iturbe barrels over Kit Rhymer.
Shawnta Rogers (15 points) picked up his fourth foul with 4 minutes. 21 seconds remaining but avoided picking up his fifth. The Colonials, who have won all 10 of their home games this season, improved to 17-6, 11-2 in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Yegor Mescheriakov finished with 20 points and six blocks.

More importantly, the Colonials kept pace with Xavier (19-7, 11-2) atop the conference's West Division as they seek one of the first-round byes in the upcoming Atlantic 10 tournament, which are awarded to the top two teams in each division. The tournament will be held March 3-6 in Philadelphia.

George Washington will next travel to East Division leader Temple (17-8, 11-2) for a showdown Saturday, its final road game of the regular season. The Colonials will close out their schedule with home games next week against Virginia Tech and the Muskateers, the teams responsible for GW's two conference setbacks.

After trailing at halftime, 36-22, the Minutemen (11-14, 7-6) used a relentless effort on the backboards to get themselves back in the game. After a short King banker gave the Colonials a 45-31 lead a little more than five minutes into the second half, Massachusetts went on a 10-1 run to close within five points, 46-41. Chris Kirkland fueled the spurt with six of the points on his way to 23 points for the game.

George Washington, which had scored on one of its previous six possessions, then scored on its next three, with Rogers and Mescheriakov hitting two free throws apiece and Andry Sola hitting an open three-pointer to restore the Colonials' double-digit lead, 53-43.

The Minutemen went to Mack, their leading scorer, for another charge. The junior guard - who picked up his fourth fouls with just under 13 minutes remaining in the game - scored on a drive then added his second three-pointer of the game to cut Massachusetts' gap to 56-50.

But the Colonials again had an answer. King spun down the middle of the lane for a layup, before Patrick Ngongba rebounded a missed three-point attempt by Mack and sent a high outlet pass sailing to Mescheriakov, who caught it and dunked it for a 60-50 advantage.

Ngongba and King made a free throw apiece on GW's next two possessions, and King added two layups the next two times down as the Colonials enjoyed a 66-65 lead.

The Colonials connected on eight of their first 10 shots and jumped to a 19-3 lead while holding the Minutemen, who missed eight of their first 10 shots, scoreless on their first five possessions.

George Washington took a 12-2 lead when Mescheriakov blocked a shot by Mike Babul, raced down the court and took a long alley-oop pass from Rogers for a two-handed dunk that prompted a 20-second Massachusetts timeout a little more than four minutes into the game.

Massachusetts broke a scoring drought of almost four minutes on a goaltending call against GW, which cut the lead to 19-5, but the Colonials responded with a short jumper in transition by Rogers and a King three-pointer to claim their largest advantage of the half - 24-5 with about 12 minutes remaining.

Charlton Clarke swats it away from GW's Roey Eyal.
Massachusetts then made a 7-2 run sparked by a driving layup from guard Monty Mack (17.8 points per game, third-best in the Atlantic 10), who is one of the top three-point shooters in the conference. Mack missed his other seven attempts in the first half, however, including all four of his three-point tries.

Senior guard Charlton Clarke scored six consecutive points to cut the Minutemen's deficit to 24-13 before Rogers made two free throws and an acrobatic driving bank shot - the Colonials' first field goal in more than 51/2 minutes - to push the lead back to 28-14 with just under seven minutes remaining in the half.

George Washington led by the same margin at the half, 36-22, with all but five of its points provided by Rogers, Mescheriakov and King, each of whom were in double figures. The Colonials shot 44.4 percent in the half and made 9 of 10 free throws, while the Minutemen struggled, shooting 26.9 percent (1 of 6 three-pointers) and missing more than half (8) of their 15 free throws.

Slow start buries UMass
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 2/18/1999

WASHINGTON, D.C. - If the first eight minutes of last night's Atlantic 10 men's basketball game between the University of Massachusetts and George Washington had resembled the final 32, the Minutemen would have left the District of Columbia with a victory.

But Colonials opened the game on a 24-5 run and held on for a 78-72 victory despite being outscored 66-54 in the final 32 minutes.

"The first eight minutes of the game killed us," said junior guard Monty Mack. "From that point on, we out-battled them."

Audio clip: Listen to some of Bruiser's post-game comments.
62k WAV
Courtesey: WHMP
"I thought we came out and played tentative," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "That's what I was surprised about."

Leading 36-22 at halftime, George Washington extended their lead to 45-31 early in the second half, before the Minutemen responded. After Flint benched seniors Charlton Clarke and Lari Ketner - who finished with two points and five rebounds - and took out junior Mike Babul for more offense, UMass went to work. A 12-3 run brought the visitors within five at 48-43.

The Colonials extended their lead back to a dozen at 67-55 with 4:26 left, but the Minutemen still wouldn't roll over.

A 10-4 run brought UMass within six at 71-65 with 2:23 left. Mack had a chance to cut the lead to four when he was fouled driving to the basket with 1:47 left. But he hit only the second free throw and six seconds later he fouled out, effectively ending the Minutemen's comeback bid.

Chris Kirkland led UMass with 26 points and 12 rebounds, both career and game highs, while Mack added 24. Yegor Mescheriakov paced the Colonials with 20 points, 12 boards and six blocked shots, while Mike King (22) Shawnta Rogers (15) and Patrick Ngongba (12) all reached double-figures.

The game started off poorly for the Minutemen and got worse. Ketner picked up his first foul just seven seconds into the game and shortly after the Minutemen already trailed 12-2 in a half that saw them shoot 26.9 percent.

"We can't let that happen," Kirkland said after the game. "We have to play hard the full 40 minutes. We have to play hard in the first half. Once Lari got his foul, it started escalating from there. The crowd started getting into it and we lost our composure."

Neither team shot free throws well in a game that featured 59 fouls. UMass made 24-of-41 (58 percent) while GW was slightly better hitting 29-of-45 (64 percent).

"It was a great win," said GW coach Tom Penders. "UMass is a tough team. Nobody runs away from them. They are a fighting, scrapping ballclub."

Bench shines in UM loss
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 2/18/1999

WASHINGTON, D.C. - With his team trailing 45-31 with just under 15 minutes left, University of Massachusetts coach Bruiser Flint had seen enough and went to his bench.

Junior forward Mike Babul came out for offensive purposes and would eventually return, but when Flint benched seniors Lari Ketner and Charlton Clarke he was frustrated and never looked to them again.

At the time, Ketner had just two points and five rebounds (all defensive), while Clarke had six points and three turnovers.

In their place were sophomores Winston Smith, Kitwana Rhymer and Rafael Cruz. Their play made Flint's move pay off.

"I just went with guys that were getting it done out there," Flint said. "(Ketner and Clarke) weren't getting it done so I just went with the guys I thought would get it done. You have to give Raffy, Kit and Winston credit. They came in and played hard."

Entering the game, the trio had averaged a combined 22.3 minutes per game and while Rhymer (22 minutes) and Smith (28) each played their longest stints of the season and Cruz (17) was close to his, they played more like veterans than the veterans did. Their play was reflected by the scoreboard. After Ketner and Clarke exited, UMass outscored the Colonials 41-35.

"We kept them out on the floor and they helped us cut the lead down," Flint said.

With the 1998-99 season all but through, the second half was a glimpse of the way things might be during the 1999-2000 campaign as all those players will be back next year.

Smith eventually fouled out, but while he was in the game, he was masterful defensively. Atlantic 10 leading scorer Shawnta Rogers had a below average night with 15 points, but he was shutout after Smith switched to him full time, in the second half.

"Winston is doing the things that he can do," Flint said. "His game is energy and he did a real good job on Shawnta Rogers."

The knocks on Rafael Cruz are that he struggles to guard anybody and turns the ball over too much. But last night, his defense was adequate and he was impressive with the ball, finishing with a career-high five assists with just one turnover.

Cruz made five of six free throws and grabbed three boards before he, too, fouled out.

Rhymer struggled a bit offensively but was solid on the glass grabbing seven boards to go with his two points.

"Bruiser put some guys in the game that played hard," Kirkland said. "Rafael came in and played hard. Winston played hard."

GW coach feels for Flint
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 2/18/1999

WASHINGTON, D.C. - George Washington coach Tom Penders has been around the block a few times in 27 years of coaching.

So he can sympathize with Minuteman coach Bruiser Flint, who has struggled in his third season as a head coach.

"I know it's been a tough, tough season for him and he's learning things that I learned when I was his age," Penders said. "Bruiser Flint gets his kids to play awfully hard. I know they had a couple early on, Iona or something, but that's a long time ago. They go to war every night. They're not going to quit. It's so much tougher to keep a team playing hard and he deserves so much credit for keeping his team playing hard."

Penders had some advice for Flint.

"Everybody loves you when your winning, but when you're losing everybody is jumping on your case," Penders said. "If you listen to the fans, you end up sitting with them and you can never take the media criticism personally.

"You have seasons like this," Penders added. "Louisville last year was 12-20. Same personnel. Same exact team, but look where they are this year (15-7). At Texas last year we came off Sweet Sixteen season. We lost Kris Clack for a month and we went 14-17. You go through it. The easiest thing for that team to do would be to give up. But they don't give up and that's a credit to Bruiser Flint."

* * *

In less than two weeks, when the Atlantic 10 bestows its annual postseason awards, George Washington guard Shawnta Rogers is a near lock to take home the Player of the Year honors as he leads the conference in scoring, assists and steals.

Last night, however, the Minutemen were able to contain the speedy 5-foot-4 guard, who scored just 15 points. Monty Mack and Winston Smith fared well as both spent time guarding him.

Mack and Rogers shared the conference's Player of the Week award last week, but the Minuteman guard won the head-to-head battle with 24 points.

"Monty is an outstanding basketball player," Penders said. "He's the type of player who you know is going to get his points."

* * *

Jonathan DePina, who had played well recently, struggled badly in three minutes of action, turning the ball over four times.

* * *

Senior walk-on Ross Burns saw his first action of the season in the game. The Greenfield native picked up an assist and a foul and missed two free throws in one minute of action.

Every player on the UMass roster except walk-ons Andy Maclay and Darryl Denson saw action in the game. Ronell Blizzard and Anthony Oates each played a minute.

Oates tied an unbreakable NCAA record for the quickest foul ever upon entering a game. After checking in he was whistled for an infraction before the ball was even inbounded.

* * *

While it wasn't promoted as such, last night featured a pair of games between teams from the Baystate and the Capitol District. The Washington teams won both games as Georgetown defeated Boston College, 57-54, across town at US Air Arena.

Flint learning facts of coaching life
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News Staff Writer, 2/19/1999

For what it's worth during these troubled times, Bruiser Flint has an ally in Tom Penders, the men's basketball coach at George Washington University.

Having handed Flint's Massachusetts team a 78-72 setback Wednesday night at Washington, D.C., Penders said he feels for Flint, who is enduring what appears destined to be his first losing season since entering coaching as an assistant at Coppin State in 1987.

"Bruiser is learning things that I learned when I was his age," said Penders, who came from Texas to George Washington this season, and has the Colonials knocking on the NCAA tournament door with a 17-6 record. "He's learning that when you win, everybody loves you, But when you lose, everybody's on your case."

UMass is 11-14, and Wednesday's loss at Smith Center left the Minutemen just about out of any NIT consideration. To reach the .500 level required to qualify, UMass would have to win four straight games, sweeping its remaining regular-season games against Xavier (tomorrow at Mullins Center), La Salle and Temple, and winning at least one Atlantic 10 tournament contest.

Flint was not talking about that Wednesday night, nor was he speculating about winning the A-10 tournament and grabbing the automatic NCAA tournament berth. He'd watched his team come out of the locker room in apparently good spirits, then fall into a 24-5 deficit that was narrowed only after he'd benched Lari Ketner and Charlton Clarke in favor of players such as Winston Smith, Rafael Cruz and Kitwana Rhymer, who gave him the effort he says is all he seeks.

"I was surprised that our guys came out and played tentatively," Flint said of the terrible first eight minutes.

But Penders said he sees UMass as a team that hasn't lost its heart, and he said Flint should get some credit for that.

"They're still playing hard," Penders said. "They don't give up, and that's a credit to Bruiser Flint. This season has been like Murphy's Law to them, but they still haven't quit."

Penders also said seasons like this can happen whether a team is talented and well-coached or not.

"You'll have years like this," Penders said. "Look at Louisville. They were 12-20 last year.

"And I was at Texas, and we were coming off an NCAA Sweet 16 season, and then we lost (forward) Kris Clack for a month. And we wound up 14-17."

Shooting guard Monty Mack was at a loss to explain why UMass came out flat Wednesday. He also can't explain why UMass, which shot 24 of 41 from the foul line, can't improve at the foul line - a flaw which doesn't explain its entire season, but in some ways symbolizes the frustration of it.

"I don't know," Mack said. "Everybody has to shoot 50 free throws before leaving practice. It's probably the game situation, but I couldn't tell you for sure."

Flint resorted to using his bench more than usual, rather than relying any longer on Ketner and Clarke. Even when Mack fouled out with 1:41 left and UMass trailing 71-66, he declined bringing either senior starter back, and they each sat for 15 minutes in the second half.

It has reached the point where the outcome matters less than the effort, at least according to Flint.

"I'm just telling the guys to play as hard as they possibly can," Flint said. "If they do that, I can live with their mistakes."

Massachusetts Minutemen 72
George Washington Colonials 78
at George Washington

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Kirkland        33  8-19  9-13  6-12  1  3   26
Babul           18   2-5   0-0   1-3  0  4    4
Ketner          19   1-3   0-3   0-5  0  1    2
Clarke          24   2-2   1-1   0-1  1  1    6
M Mack          34  9-21   4-6   1-4  1  5   24
Oates            1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  1    0
Depina           2   0-1   0-0   0-0  0  1    0
Burns            1   0-0   0-2   0-0  1  1    0
Cruz            17   0-3   5-6   2-3  5  5    5
Smith           28   0-2   3-4   2-4  1  5    3
Blizzard         1   0-0   0-0   0-1  0  0    0
Rhymer          22   0-1   2-6   3-7  0  4    2
TOTALS         200 22-57 24-41 15-40 10 31   72

Percentages: FG-.386, FT-.585. 3-Point Goals:
4-16, .250 (Kirkland 1-2, Clarke 1-1, M Mack
2-10, Depina 0-1, Cruz 0-2). Team rebounds: 5.
Blocked shots: 3 (Babul, M Mack, Rhymer).
Turnovers: 18 (Depina 4, Kirkland 4, M Mack 3,
Babul 2, Clarke 2, Cruz, Rhymer, Smith). Steals:
6 (Kirkland 2, Babul, Cruz, Rhymer, Smith).

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Iturbe          15   0-0   0-0   2-2  0  4    0
Mescheriakov    34  6-11  8-11  3-12  2  5   20
Ngongba         37   1-4 10-14  1-12  0  3   12
King            34  8-12  4-10   1-4  3  3   22
Rogers          40  4-16   6-6   1-1  6  4   15
Roma             2   0-0   0-0   0-1  0  1    0
Eyal            13   0-2   1-2   0-0  0  3    1
Sola             8   1-3   0-2   0-1  0  0    3
Brown            9   1-1   0-0   0-0  0  1    2
Camara           8   1-2   0-0   0-0  0  4    3
TOTALS         200 22-51 29-45  8-33 11 28   78

Percentages: FG-.431, FT-.644. 3-Point Goals:
5-16, .313 (King 2-4, Rogers 1-6, Eyal 0-1, Sola
1-3, Camara 1-2). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked
shots: 1 (Mescheriakov). Turnovers: 16 (Rogers 5,
Mescheriakov 4, King 3, Ngongba 2, Iturbe, Sola).
Steals: 10 (Rogers 5, Iturbe 2, King,
Mescheriakov, Sola).
Massachusetts      22   50  -   72
Geo Washington     36   42  -   78
Technical fouls: None.  A: 5,292. Officials: Fran
Connolly, Joe Mingle, Rich Sanfillipo.

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