HILADELPHIA - The ball was stuck in that nook between the rim and the backboard with 58 seconds left in UMass' season yesterday.
Monty Mack had rebounded his own miss and attempted to lay it back in. Instead, it got stuck. UMass coach Bruiser Flint nodded to himself at that moment.
Could anything in this season of oddities and bad chemistry have been more appropriate than a stuck ball?
``I just said to myself that was the kind of season it's been,'' he said after the Minutemen's 72-68 loss to Xavier in the second round of the Atlantic 10 tournament. ``Wedged against the basket . . . I've seen that a lot of times before, but always from a jump shot. I've never seen that happen with a layup before.''
But why not? The 14-16 Minutemen, an offensively challenged group right to the end, merely found another way to miss a shot.
Yesterday, however, they also signed off by making history as the first UMass team in 10 years to not participate in either the NCAA tournament or NIT.
``I'll be out recruiting,'' was Flint's response to where he will be Sunday, when the NCAA selection committee announces its at-large tournament bids.
Under Flint, the moment has always been celebrated in front of a wide screen television in a local Amherst restaurant. Back in John Calipari's day, they packed everyone - players, media and friends - into coach Cal's living room for the show.
Flint will instead hit the road this time around with a new sense of urgency. He was forced to play Jonathan DePina and Rafael Cruz at point guard yesterday when it became apparent that senior Charlton Clarke, suffering from a stress fracture in his right foot, could not play.
Though the Cruz-DePina axis did a credible job of taking care of the ball, Flint isn't shy about admitting that one of his most important needs for next year will be a point guard.
He also needs a scorer.
Though Mack and Chris Kirkland again did their part, Mack with 18 points and Kirkland with 20, it was nothing compared to the storm consuming the other end of the floor.
When Lenny Brown wasn't driving the UMass guards crazy with a wide variety of moves for his 31 points, forward James Posey was blowing past people with the sort of moves that have excited NBA scouts so often this year.
Yesterday, Posey was good for 17 points, 10 rebounds and three steals.
Lari Ketner has the same NBA aspirations as Posey, of course, and though the UMass center once again failed to take the game over offensively, he did finish with a strong 11-point, 15-rebound, two-block afternoon.
The main question, of course, is where Ketner's game was over the first half of the season, when the Minutemen started their dive that led to yesterday's forgettable ending.
HILADELPHIA - Charlton Clarke gave his sore foot a flex at halftime and told Bruiser Flint that he was ready to play.
``I told him that whenever he was ready, I was ready, but he just waved me off and walked away,'' said Clarke, who actually took this as a sign of love. ``It showed that he cared more about my health than putting me in the game. I've always thought of him as a father, and that moment just kind of proved it to me. It made me feel good.'' This is not to say that Clarke felt good before, during or after the Minutemen's season-ending 72-68 loss to Xavier yesterday. The senior sat out the last game of his college career because of the stress fracture in his right foot, and later had to be led to the locker room with a towel covering his head by teammate Anthony Oates. Indeed, Oates was a busy man yesterday. The game ended with Oates cradling a disconsolate Lari Ketner, who sobbed with his face buried in Oates' shoulder. Ketner, who has received an invitation to the NBA's Desert Classic tryout camp in Phoenix, also spent his last day in a UMass uniform yesterday. ``I realized after I got subbed for the last time that that might be it for me,'' said Ketner. ``I just wish I could have shared it with Charlton.'' Deep down, however, Clarke understood that his abbreviated 21-minute appearance against Duquesne on Wednesday was the end. ``(Yesterday) morning when I woke up, I couldn't even pick my foot up off the floor,'' said Clarke. ``But I still wanted to play, badly. (Flint) said, `You don't have to be a hero. We'll win without you today, and we'll play again tomorrow.' I kind of hung on those words.''
Mack makes his mark
Monty Mack shrugged off a 1-for-6, three-point first half to carry the offense with 15 points in the second half, and earned a new admirer in the process. ``I like playing against great players, and Monty Mack is going to be a great player,'' said Xavier guard Lenny Brown, who tortured the Minutemen with a 31-point performance. ``I find it easier to go up against a guy like that than someone who doesn't have that kind of talent, because it really gets you into the game much more.''
Get out the shovels
Considering the strength of Xavier's backcourt, the Minutemen couldn't help starting yesterday's game in a hole without Clarke, especially once the Musketeers started pressuring the UMass guards. ``Without their senior leader, their point guard - a guy I have great respect for, as my guys will attest, because I talk about him quite a bit - it had to be hard for them,'' said Xavier coach Skip Prosser. ``But I really think it was a tribute to Bruiser and his staff that they played as well as they did.''
HILADELPHIA - Next week, the NCAA and National Invitation tournaments begin and it will seem unusual not spotting the University of Massachusetts Minutemen in either one. For nine years, their presence in postseason play had become almost a given. You figured that no matter how poor they played or how many on-court or off-court problems they faced, their march toward postseason would not be disrupted.
Things have changed.
It took 10 seasons, but the Minutemen, who went from perennial laughingstocks during most of the 1980s to the Final Four in 1995-96, find themselves associated with two words few figured would be attached to the program this season.
Xavier ended UMass's season of unfulfilled expectations yesterday. The Musketeers jumped to a 17-point first-half lead then staved off a dramatic rally for a 72-68 victory in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals. The loss assured that the last UMass team of the 1990s would be the only one this decade to post a losing record and fail to reach a national postseason tournament.
Xavier guard Lenny Brown tied a season high with 31 points and teammates James Posey (17 points) and Gary Lumpkin (6) hit two free throws each over the last 58 seconds to save the Musketeers (21-9), who all but assured themselves an NCAA Tournament bid with the victory. Xavier meets Temple, a 64-51 winner over Virginia Tech, in today's semifinal round.
The Minutemen (14-16) played without starting senior point guard Charlton Clarke, who aggravated a stress fracture in his right foot in Wednesday's first-round victory over Duquesne. ''I made the decision not to play right before the game,'' said Clarke.
DePina couldn't have felt good on this one, getting steamrolled by three Musketeers.
''It felt good being out there,'' said DePina. ''I knew I was going to get a lot of playing time, so my confidence was up. I just went out there and tried my hardest.''
So did the rest of the Minutemen in a desperate attempt to keep the season going. Senior center Lari Ketner had 11 points and 15 rebounds in his last collegiate game, junior guard Monty Mack had 18 points and six rebounds, and junior forward Chris Kirkland had a team-high 22 points and 10 boards.
But UMass was done in by woes similar to those that have plagued them all season, namely a slow start and lapses in focus and composure. Ketner picked up a technical foul with 11:06 left in the first half and two subsequent free throws by Brown were part of a 10-0 run that gave Xavier a 19-10 lead. The Musketeers increased the lead to 41-24 with 1:37 left and led, 41-30, at halftime.
''We turned the ball over too much in the first half,'' said UMass coach Bruiser Flint. ''But in the second half we settled down, made some plays, and got back in the game.''
Led by Mack's 15 second-half points, the Minutemen slowly whittled away at Xavier's lead, which topped out at 16 after intermission. Still, they missed opportunities down the stretch to claim a dramatic upset. With 1:20 left, and UMass trailing, 67-64, Mack attempted a putback layup that got stuck between the rim and the backboard. The possession arrow gave the ball to Xavier.
''I said to myself that's just how the season has been, a wedge between the rim and the basket,'' said Flint.
Gary Lumpkin and Monty Mack gave it their best efforts.
Lumpkin sank two free throws with 26.9 seconds to go to put the lead back at 4. When Mack scored with 17.1 seconds left, cutting the lead to 2 again, Posey followed with two more free throws with 13.7 seconds to go for the final margin.
When it was over, both Ketner and Clarke walked to the locker room in tears. Ketner, who hurt his NBA draft chances with a subpar season, said he has been invited to the Desert Classic in Phoenix, an invitational for players seeking to improve their draft status.
''It was my last game, and I wish I could have shared it with Charlton,'' said Ketner. ''We didn't plan to go home today, but the guys played hard.''
As for Flint, he will spend the offseason trying to formulate a plan to make sure this season isn't duplicated.
HILADELPHIA - First the good news for UMass from The Spectrum and the Atlantic 10 tournament ...
OK, let's move in the other direction. A miserable season ended on a miserable note yesterday for the Minutemen. Oh, you can talk about the effort that UMass gave in coming back from 17 points down to within a bucket in the final minute before Xavier finally hung on for a 72-68 win, eliminating the Minutemen from postseason consideration for the first time since 1989.
He wasn't doing the YMCA, Bruiser was looking for help from the officials. He didn't get any.
But let's be realistic. UMass started the season out of synch and ended it the same way.
''We came in with high expectations,,'' Flint said, looking back on a 14-16 season that will have him recruiting on Sunday instead of watching the NCAA selection show for the first time in his career at UMass, which dates to the 1989-90 season, when he joined John Calipari's staff as an assistant. ''We didn't live up to those. It's a tough year.''
He was asked if it was his toughest. ''Sure you could say that,'' he said with a shake of his head. ''I don't like losing. Who does?''
There is losing and there is losing. At times this season, one wondered if the Minutemen were a basketball team or a case study of dysfunctional athletes.
Problems? Try the ups and downs of center Lari Ketner, whose next move is to head to Phoenix and the NBA tryouts in April to see if he can revive his reputation as an NBA lottery pick.
Or take the talented, but high maintenance Ajmal Basit, who needed more attention than Flint or anyone at UMass could give him before he was finally bounced from the team last month.
And then there was senior guard Charlton Clarke, who at times didn't play when he was hurt and didn't play when he was healthy. Yesterday, in the last game of his college career, Clarke didn't play because he was hurt, aggravating a stress fracture in his foot Tuesday. He ended his UMass career with a towel over his head, tears flowing from his eyes.
Who deserves the blame, and blame needs to be given because this was a Top 20, NCAA Tournament team loaded with veterans who had proven they could win.
Is Flint, who quietly was given a two-year contract extension last summer only to have it fly back in his face when the extension became public in December as the team was beginning a long winter of discontent, to blame?
To some extent, yes. It's his team, his responsibility. But numerous problems never let Bruiser see the big picture. He was too busy putting out brush fires when he was trying to get his team ready to win games.
The veteran players, especially the seniors, didn't provide the leadership needed in times of crisis, so they need to accept responsibility, too.
''We're going to sit down in a few weeks and assess everything,'' said athletic director Bob Marcum. ''Just how we do things. If we can do them better or differently.''
The results could be minimal, they could be significant, but any nonsensical notions of Flint being fired should disappear quickly. One losing season is cause for concern, not major change.
Two losing seasons? That might be a different story.
What was frustrating for everyone concerned is that this malaise came quickly, almost without warning.
''We didn't have good chemistry,'' Flint said, choosing his words carefully. ''And that kind of surprised me because we had been together for three years. It wasn't like we were putting something together from nothing.''
What the Minutemen got was close to that. This was a Top 20 team at the start of the season. At the end, it was barely a team at all.
Clarke and Ketner will be gone. Others may choose to move on as well. Who knows? But one thing is certain. Changes will be made. As for this season, good riddance. This team needs to be aired out figuratively if not literally.
And as for the good news? Try this. In less than 30 days, spring practice begins for UMass' national championship football team.
HILADELPHIA - Mother Nature provided March, and the Massachusetts men's basketball team brought all of the madness.
The only problem was that most of it came in the second half of yesterday's 72-68 loss at the hands of Xavier at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. Although the outcome of this game may have been decided long before it began, with senior Charlton Clarke absent from the lineup, the Minutemen managed to play an inspired game.
"You have got to go out and play," Massachusetts coach Bruiser Flint said. "I think we pretty much knew he wasn't going to play since last night. I told [Rafael Cruz] and [Jonathan DePina] to go out there and play."
Musketeer forward James Posey all but sealed the game with two clutch free throws with 13.7 seconds remaining to give Xavier a four-point lead.
The Minutemen bench prayed for a miracle.
The defeat marks the end of a roller coaster ride for the Minutemen, who were ousted in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament for the third straight season.
UMass mounted an extraordinary comeback in the second half to pull within two points, 70-68 with 20 seconds remaining.
The Minutemen had trailed by as many 16 points, 52-36, before their surge.
Part of the reason for the UMass run was junior guard Monty Mack, who erupted in the second half after only three points of production in the first frame.
The South Boston native finished with 18 points and six rebounds.
"I thought in the second half the guys settled down and made some plays," Flint said. "We got back in the game... [because] we only had four turnovers in the second half."
Chris Kirkland ended the season on a good note personally, averaging 19.5 points over the last six games.
"I wanted to try to be aggressive," Kirkland said. "I thought I had to pick it up a little bit with Clarke not playing."
A variety of costly turnovers hampered the Minutemen, but ultimately it was their inability to contain Musketeer guard Lenny Brown that led to their downfall.
The senior guard scored 19 of his game-high 31 points in the first half, helping his team advance to today's semifinal against Temple.
The Owls defeated Virginia Tech 64-51 in the first game of the afternoon.
"He had a great game," Flint said of Brown. "He had about 20 at the half. I thought we did a better job on him in the second half, [but] he hit big shots for them."
With his team trailing by four points with only one minute remaining, Mack grabbed a rebound off his own miss, and put back another shot. After the ball bounced off the rim four times, it became wedged between the basket and the backboard.
The resulting call was a jump ball with possession favoring Xavier.
"I said to myself right there, it's just the type of season it [has] been,'" Flint said. "We've just been wedged between the basket."
UMass senior Lari Ketner (11 points and 15 rebounds) played his final collegiate game but is looking forward to his upcoming NBA workout with the Phoenix Suns. His draft status remains uncertain at this point.
HILADELPHIA - Massachusetts senior point guard Charlton Clarke does not offer coach Bruiser Flint a lot on the scoreboard, averaging less then 10 points a game, and he does not overwhelm opponents with his 3.7 assists and 3 rebounds per contest. But against Xavier in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, it became crystal clear what he does offer... control.
A Clarke-less lineup couldn't help Bruiser get past the Musketeers.
"We pretty much did the same thing [that we are accustomed to]," Flint said. "We stayed with what we usually do. That was it. That was it right there. We did a good job with what we wanted to do, but we turned the ball over a little too much in the first half."
The UMass coach kept his defensive alignment so that his two best man-to-man defenders, Monty Mack and Mike Babul, would guard Xavier's two quickest offensive threats, Garry Lumkin and Lenny Brown. This assured that Clarke's young replacements, Rafael Cruz and Jonathan Depina, would not be forced to keep the Musketeers scoring in check.
As a result, only one Musketeer topped five points in the first half.
Flint also instructed his squad to be aggressive offensively, not only to get the ball in to scoring range through Xavier's ferocious full-court press, but also because pushing the Musketeers over the limit on fouls would force them to resort to a half-court defense - which is UMass' preferred style of play.
Xavier picked up its seventh team foul with 9:10 still to go in the first half.
Strategically, Flint had this game pretty well figured out. However, he didn't have Clarke to keep the team under control.
Having held at one time a 10-9 advantage, the Minutemen let Xavier slide ahead 15-10. The frustration of matching up with the talented Musketeers quickly took UMass over, and center Lari Ketner was called for a technical foul for spiking the basketball in protest of a traveling call by the officials.
"Coach [Skip Prosser] talks a lot about him because he is a great leader for that team," Brown said. "It's hard to go out and play without your starting point guard."
Normally consistent players became unreliable without Clarke to help weather the storm. Second team all- conference guard Monty Mack was scoreless until 46 seconds were left before half time.
Both Ketner and Babul picked up their third fouls within the opening period, seriously undermining Flint's defensive strategy.
Still, when the remaining Minutemen collected themselves and put together a run, cutting the once enormous 16 point deficit to only two, 70-68 with 17 seconds left in the game, and victory was still possible.
Without Clarke there was no one without the ice in his veins to bury that final three-pointer as the buzzer sounded, Xavier escaped with a 72-68 win, and UMass returned to Amherst.
|Two scoops for Monty Mack.|
hiladelphia's Lari Ketner played the last game of his college career in his hometown yesterday, finishing with a double-double.
But despite the play of the the 6-foot-10 senior center, Xavier edged Massachusetts, 72-68, yesterday in an Atlantic Ten quarterfinal at the First Union Spectrum.
A victory for UMass would have evened its season record, and given it a chance of being invited to the NIT, but the loss dropped the Minutemen to a 14-16 mark and concluded a disappointing season for coach Bruiser Flint and his team.
Xavier (21-9), the defending A-10 tournament champ, will meet Temple tonight in the semifinals.
While Ketner finished with 11 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocked shots, it was Wilmington native Lenny Brown of Xavier who had the biggest influence on the game.
Playing before a host of family and friends, the 6-2 guard scored 19 points in the first half on his way to a game high of 31. Forward James Posey was the only other Musketeer in double figures.
After falling behind by 11 at the half, UMass made it a contest at the end. Forward Chris Kirkland (22 points) and guard Monty Mack (18) led a rally that saw the Minutemen pull to 68-66 with 38 seconds showing on the clock, and 70-68 with 17.1 seconds left.
As the final 13 seconds of the game wound down, UMass had one three-shot possession but couldn't score.
The Minutemen were without senior point guard Charlton Clark, who was on the bench with a fractured foot.
"I really didn't think about it until I was taken out of the game," Ketner said of his college career being over. "I wanted to share this with Charlton. We had planned on winning and hoping he could play tomorrow."
On Feb. 20, the visiting Musketeers lost to the Minutemen, 78-77, in double overtime.
Xavier's defense yesterday was sagging and doubling on Ketner, who was usually guarded by either 6-8 freshman Kevin Frey or 6-6 freshman Aaron Turner.
Upset about the way he was being jostled and pushed while trying to set up in the low post, Ketner was hit with a technical foul early in the first half for slamming the ball down after being called for traveling.
Brown sank both free throws, and Xavier led by 19-10.
Then, a Ketner dunk, a jumper by Kirkland and and a layup by guard Rafael Cruz quickly pulled the Minutemen to 19-16.
It was 24-20 with 6:33 left, but behind Brown, who had five points during the last five minutes of the half, Xavier had built a 41-30 advantage by the time intermission arrived.
"We played tough against a good team," said Flint, a former star at St. Joseph's. "We fought to get back in it."
|Anthony Oates consoles Lari Ketner as time ran out on the Minutemen's season.|
HILADELPHIA -- Shortly after the game ended, reserve center Anthony Oates walked off the floor with his arms wrapped around a disconsolate and visibly distraught Charlton Clarke, who concealed his pain by covering his face with a towel.
The loss ended the Minutemen season with a 14-16 record, the first losing mark since the 1988-89 campaign (10-18). The defeat also ended a string of nine straight postseason appearances -- seven NCAAs and two NITs. For coach Bruiser Flint, the rebuilding will invariably begin this weekend when he begins recruiting new players -- preferably a shooting forward and a guard -- for the 1999-2000 season.
"This year has been tough on everybody, including me," said Flint. "I've never had a losing record in anything. "But we'll be back (in the NCAAs). No one wants to go to the tournament as badly as I do."
Without Clarke's ballhandling, the Minutemen started Jonathan DePina at point guard, and Flint played him a season-high 25 minutes (16 in the second half). As expected, Rafael Cruz (15 minutes) and Winston Smith (27 minutes) shared time in the backcourt -- a backcourt that Xavier feasted on in building a 41-30 halftime lead. Without Clarke to stabilize the team, Xavier mounted a 17-point first-half lead (41-24) before UMass scored the half's final six points.
Although DePina still made questionable decisions at key times and had four turnovers against the Musketeers, he was effective (4 points, 3 assists, 3 steals) and played aggressively. Coming into the tournament, the sophomore guard had logged only 13 minutes total in the previous three games.
"We found out in warmups that Clarke wasn't going to play," said Xavier's All-Atlantic 10 First-Team guard Lenny Brown. "He's a great leader for the UMass team. Our coach (Skip Prosser) said UMass always plays with heart and they did."
The Minutemen dug themselves into a deep hole by allowing Brown to torch them for 19 first half points on five field goals (two three-pointers) and seven of seven from the free throw line. Brown, who tied a career-high with 31 points, passed the baton over to fellow all-Atlantic 10 First Team selection James Posey (17 points, 10 rebounds) in the second half. It was Posey's eight points (six on three-pointers) in the first five minutes of the second half that spearheaded Xavier's 57-40 lead and forced an improbable UMass comeback.
And realistically, if UMass had plans to call it a season, Posey and Brown had given the Minutemen ample reason. Senior Lari Ketner, playing his final collegian game in his native Philadelphia, wasn't in the flow -- he only scored four of his 11 points in the second half -- and the Minutemen were desperately looking for scoring. The Minutemen weren't ready to quit, especially junior Monty Mack. The All-Conference guard, who only had one three-point basket in the first half, scored eight of the Minutemen's next ten points to cut the margin to 57-50.
"I have great respect for the way UMass played without its senior leader," said Xavier coach Skip Prosser: "It's a real tribute to Bruiser, his staff and his players."
To create the frenetic and dramatic final ten minutes, the Minutemen played terrific perimeter defense. With Ketner (15 rebounds), Kitwana Rhymer and rarely used Ronell Blizzard patrolling the interior, Xavier found inside passing lanes blocked. Unable to play its favored transition game, the Musketeers were forced to initiate their offense further from the basket. With it defense turned up a notch, UMass was able to ignite its own offense, particularly Mack and Chris Kirkland.
Kirkland, who evidently fed off Mack's energy, scored 12 of his team-high 22 points and grabbed eight of his 10 rebounds in the second half. Kirkland's follow-up basket with 2:08 remaining made the score 67-64.
With 1:17 to play, Mack stole a Lenny Brown pass, went coast-to-coast but missed the layup. Mack followed his miss and his second shot got wedged between the basket and backboard. Had it dropped, the lead would have been cut to one. It didn't. The improbable play in many ways characterized the year UMass has endured." It seems like we've been wedged all season," said an exasperated Flint. "It just goes to show you what kind of season we've had."
Xavier took possession and was able to maintain several two-point leads despite big baskets by Winston Smith (7 points) and Mack, narrowing the score to 68-66 and 70-68. At 68-66, UMass fouled Xavier's Gary Lumpkin, a 72 percent free throw shooter, who canned both with 27 seconds remaining. With just 14 seconds left and the score 70-68, Posey, an 81 percent shooter, ended any thoughts of a UMass comeback when he made both.
Xavier canned 25 of its 31 free throw attempts, but the Minutemen's 12 of 21 (44 percent) performance might have cost them the game. "We had our opportunities, but we couldn't make free throws," said Flint. "It's been biting us in the butt all season."
Xavier (21-9) faces Temple (20-8), an easy 64-51 winner over Virginia Tech, in Friday's semifinals at 7 p.m.
HILADELPHIA - For the two starting seniors on the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team, their final collegiate game couldn't have been more different.
Point guard Charlton Clarke was resigned to watch from the bench, and center Lari Ketner had to play through the frustrations of not getting the calls from the officials as the Minutemen fell 72-68 to Xavier in an Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinal at the Spectrum yesterday.
"I realized that after I was subbed out that it could be my last game," Ketner said. "I just hoped I could have shared it with Charlton. We didn't plan on losing today."
Ketner stayed on the floor for 33 minutes yesterday and played with high emotion the whole time. But the 6-foot-10, 270-pound center lost his cool in the first half when he was called for traveling after he felt he was fouled repeatedly by Xavier. Ketner slammed the ball on the court and was slapped with a technical foul.
"It's been frustrating all year," said Ketner who had 11 points and 15 rebounds, his 11th double-double in his final year. "I wasn't getting calls other people would get, while at the other end they'd call me for a foul."
It was not the kind of year Ketner envisioned for his senior season. The team finished 14-16 and out of the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight years. Problems with team chemistry were further compounded for Ketner when his mother, Asaya Wright, fell ill and was hospitalized.
"The season was tough," Ketner said. "I had some things off the court going on; my mother was sick."
Ketner kept his turmoil to himself while being criticized for his play and being blamed for some of the team's woes.
He finished his career as the third all-time shot blocker in UMass history with 204. Ketner was the 33rd UMass player to score more than 1,000 points.
"I have no regrets at all," Ketner added. "I had a nice career at UMass. No one ever heard of me until I got here."
UMass petitioned the NCAA in order to secure a fourth year for Ketner under Bylaw 13, Section 1 for partial qualifiers, but was turned down. And while UMass appears to be pursuing other courses of action, Ketner is ready to move on.
"Bruiser (Flint, UMass coach) is trying some legal things, but I don't want him to go through that," Ketner said. "They've got a nice team coming back."
For Ketner, life now means finishing college and spending time with his mother. He said he will work out and has been invited to the Phoenix Desert Classic for NBA prospects.
Clarke asked out of Wednesday's first-round game with Duquesne when he reinjured his right foot. Clarke had been playing for a month with a stress fracture in the foot. "This morning it was hard for me to pick my foot off the ground," Clarke said. "I tried to psyche myself up to play but I didn't want to hurt the team."
Clarke became only the third player at UMass to score 1,000 points and record 300 assists. He ranks seventh all-time in assists with 350 and ninth in 3-point field goals with 113 and was the 34th player to reach 1,000 points. He ended his career with 1,041 points.
HILADELPHIA - The University of Massachusetts tried everything to overcome the loss of Charlton Clarke and extend its season, but the Minutemen didn't have a miracle in their repertoire. Xavier eliminated them from the Atlantic 10 Tournament, 72-68, Thursday at the Philadelphia Spectrum.
Despite the loss, the game will go down as the Minutemen's gutsiest performance of the year. In their final game, they went down fighting.
"The guys shouldn't hang their heads," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "We were down 17 points against a very good team and we had a chance to win it at the end. That's all you can ask from the guys. I told them I was proud of them and to hold their heads up high because we never quit."
The Musketeers led 57-40 with 13:34 and looked to be in position for a rout. But UMass scratched, clawed and rebounded its way back into striking distance. After a first half in which he scored only three points, Monty Mack led the comeback with 15 second-half points.
Mack started UMass' run with a driving layup and followed a Lari Ketner basket inside with a pair of 3-pointers to bring the Minutemen within single digits, 57-50. The Musketeers pulled back ahead by 10, but UMass had momentum. Two free throws and a 3-point play by Chris Kirkland brought the Minutemen within five, 64-59, with 5:48 left.
The teams went back and forth until Winston Smith's baseline drive with 38 seconds rolled around the rim for a short eternity before dropping in to bring UMass within two, 68-66. The Minutemen were forced to foul and Gary Lumpkin made both ends of the one-and-one with 26.9 seconds left to raise the lead to two possessions, 70-66.
Mack scored in the lane with 17 seconds left, but James Posey made both free throws at the other end to seal it.
"From the second half on, guys settled down and made some plays and got back into the game," Flint said. "We did a better job handling the ball. I think we only turned the ball over four times in the second half."
In the midst of the Minutemen's late comeback run, Mack drove to the basket and tried to lay the ball in, but it got wedged between the rim and the backboard.
"I said to myself right there," Flint said, "that's just the type of season it's been. I've seen guys get the ball wedged taking a jumpshot, but that was a layup."
The Minutemen finished their season at 14-16. Xavier plays Temple tonight at 7 p.m.
Clarke dressed for the game, but didn't participate in warmups. He had been playing on a stress fracture in his right foot, which he suffered against Fordham on Jan. 7, but he aggravated it in Wednesday's game against Duquesne. Jonathan DePina started in his absence and he and Rafael Cruz played most of the minutes at point guard.
Monty Mack shows no mercy to Xavier's Lenny Brown.
"I was going out there and playing hard, not only for myself and my team, but for Charlton," Ketner said. "I wanted him to play in his last game."
Kirkland led the Minutemen with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Mack finished with 18 points, while Ketner added 11 points and 15 rebounds in his final game in a UMass uniform.
Lenny Brown and James Posey did most of the damage for the Musketeers. Brown scored 19 points in the first half to stake Xavier to its double-digit halftime lead and finished with 31. Posey picked up the slack in the second half with 12 of his 17 points.
UMass kept the deficit within single digits for most of the first half, but a late 17-4 run by the Musketeers put them ahead 41-24 with 1:37 left in the half. A fast-break layup by Ronell Blizzard, a free throw by Kirkland and a 3-pointer by Mack brought UMass within 11 at the break, 41-30. Foul trouble plagued UMass in the first half as Ketner picked up three, including a technical for slamming down the ball.
n the shooting department, Xavier forward Kevin Frey draws few comparisons to Indiana Pacers long-distance shooter, Reggie Miller. In fact, the 6-foot-8 tough guy prefers trading black-and-blues under the basket to floating in the outer zip codes.
So when Frey buried a 3-pointer with the shot clock running down to put the Musketeers up 57-40 over the University of Massachusetts with 13:34 to play, most of the 7,000 fans in the Philadelphia Spectrum already were penciling in Xavier to face Temple in the Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals.
With senior point guard Charlton Clarke out of the lineup and junior shooting guard Monty Mack out of his rhythm, any prospects of a Minutemen rally seemed grim.
Most people expected UMass to throw in the towel and lose by 30 points, but it didn't happen. Early in the season the Minutemen frustrated their fans as they seemed to give up in tight games.
But when dream after dream slipped out of reach as the season went along, UMass somehow got tougher, becoming a team that wouldn't concede defeat. The Minutemen put that trait on display one final time Thursday. Had the game lasted five more minutes, UMass might be busy preparing for Temple, but it couldn't make up enough ground to force overtime.
Still, the Minutemen had reason to walk away from their season with their heads high.
"If we don't give up, we know we can play with anyone," said junior Chris Kirkland. "When we do that, it shows. I think guys will be mentally ready for next year."
Senior center Lari Ketner's final collegiate season will be remembered as a disappointment, but even he finished strong. He has averaged more than 11 rebounds per game in his final six games and has scored in double figures in five of his last six games. "I had a lot of stuff going on and off the court," Ketner said. "I just wanted to go out and play hard. I'm proud of the way the team played today."
Bruiser tried everything he could to give the Minutemen the extra spark.
"Bruiser never gave us a chance to quit," said Clarke, who sat out with a foot injury. "He kept telling us, you've got to believe, and we did and played like we believed tonight."
Maybe the best answer to the people who have called for Flint's job is that his players haven't quit on him. No players are trashing him the way the some Patriots players ripped Pete Carroll. The Minutemen still believe in him, a trait that, if it carries over to next year, could put the Minutemen back on the right track.
"I want the players to take that we never quit," Flint said. "We stuck with it and we kept playing. That's the most important thing. Towards the end of the season, these guys really put in a great effort to try to turn this thing around. Guys finished the season out strong and I appreciate that."
HILADELPHIA - Lenny Brown said the final seconds seemed like they were lasting forever. He yearned for the sound of the final buzzer.
"I just wanted to get it over with," he said.
Xavier almost squandered a 17-point second-half lead over Massachusetts on Thursday but held on with key free throws in the final minute for a 72-68 victory in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.
The Musketeers (21-9) play Temple (20-8) at 7 p.m. today for the right to advance to Saturday's championship game.
Xavier hopes to have erased any doubts that it will be in the 64-team field for the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Skip Prosser: "I believe so. We have as many wins as we had last year. Our league record is better."
Senior Lenny Brown: "I don't think we'd have gotten in if we would've lost. I think we should be in there now."
Senior James Posey: "If it was up to me, we would've been in the tournament (before), no question. (Tonight) if we win, it gives us more cushion."
"If we win this whole tournament, we get an automatic bid and that's what we're striving for," sophomore Maurice McAfee said.
OK, back to the game.
Massachusetts trailed by 11 at halftime and spent almost all day playing catchup.
It got within two points twice in the last 38 seconds, but each time the Musketeers answered.
After a short, soft bank shot by Winston Smith pulled UMass within 68-66, XU senior Gary Lumpkin was fouled. He went to the line in a one-and-one situation and nailed both free throws.
A short jumper in the paint by guard Monty Mack cut it to 70-68, then Posey was fouled. It was another one-and-one situation, and he, too, made both free throws with 13.7 seconds left.
The Minutemen missed their final two shots. Their disappointing season ended at 14-16.
"I think it's good for our confidence more than anything," Brown said. "I knew we were going to make free throws down the stretch. As long as we had the lead, I felt good."
It was a frustrating, yet satisfying victory.
The Musketeers led 57-40 with 13:35 remaining after a three-pointer from freshman Kevin Frey. But UMass came back with 10 straight points, including back-to-back three-pointers by Mack that cut it to 57-50 with 11:16 to go.
Monty Mack strips the rock away from Lenny Brown.
"Basketball fundamentals, if you don't treat them with great respect, are going to come back and haunt you most of the time," Prosser said. "And we didn't show a great appreciation for time and score, for blocking out and taking care of the basketball, and it almost came back to haunt us."
Xavier's last field goal came with 4:29 left, and during a stretch of almost nine minutes, Brown was the only Musketeer to score.
He tied his career high with 31 points - 19 coming in the first half on 5-of-7 shooting.
"We watch games on TV and a lot of the seniors who lose and don't win their conference tournaments, we know they're going home, and I just don't want that feeling right now," Brown said. "I want to play as long as we can."
Posey pitched in with 17 points and 10 rebounds - his fifth straight double-double - despite being in foul trouble much of the game. Posey had just five points at halftime. He and Brown combined for all but seven of XU's second-half points.
"I want to play basketball here as long as possible with this group of guys," Posey said. "We share so much over the year. The only way we can keep sharing it is to keep winning. I enjoy being around these guys; I don't want it to come to and end yet."
UMass was hurt by the absence of senior guard Charlton Clarke, who aggravated a stress fracture in his right foot Wednesday night in a victory over Duquesne and did not play.
Mack missed his first five shots and had just three points at halftime. The No. 3 scorer in the Atlantic 10 Conference (17.8 ppg) finished with 18, including four three-pointers.
Chris Kirkland led UMass with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and in two games against XU has averaged 23.5 points and 11.5 rebounds.
"We felt like that should've been a 15 or 20-point game," Lumpkin said.
"We were trying to knock them out. There were times they came down and just hit some big shots. We stuck together. We didn't hang our heads when they went on a run. We've got players who have been through it before for the past four years. I think that showed today."
HILADELPHIA - Break out the popcorn. Ice down the drinks. The NCAA Tournament is now a relatively sure thing for the Xavier basketball team, so the Musketeers can stop making meals out of manicures.
They should be able to sit back, relax and enjoy Selection Sunday without feeling the need to gnaw on their fingernails. They have left the anxiety of college basketball's bubble assuming they have achieved the serenity of the bracket. They have traded tension for tranquility.
Lenny Brown was certainly celebrating after defeating the Minutemen.
(Almost) sure thing
Officially, all Thursday's 72-68 conquest of Massachusetts guaranteed the Muskies was a place in tonight's Atlantic 10 Conference tournament semifinal against Temple. Politically, though, it was more powerful than Monica Lewinsky. Xavier's 21st victory of the season should have removed any remaining doubt about the Muskies' claim to the NCAA field of 64. A bumpy ride, it turns out, can still lead to your desired destination.
"I thought we needed to win at least one (conference tournament) game to go," Xavier coach Skip Prosser said. "We did and we should."
Prosser does not have a vote, of course, and there were a few moments Thursday afternoon when conscience might have caused him to reconsider his case. Yet on the theory that all that matters in March are wins and losses, the Muskies plainly enhanced their profile. Despite some severe wobbling, Xavier failed to squander a 17-point lead, and survived a last-minute scare.
One of the advantages of competing in the A-10 instead of, say, the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, is that a worthy team can qualify for the NCAA Tournament without winning its conference title. The Big Dance card doesn't fill up quite as fast anymore.
Still, the Muskies understood that their whole season was at stake when the Minutemen made their move midway through the second half. They knew their record was not good enough to constitute a comfort zone, and that the Selection Committee might not look kindly on a team with six losses in its last 11 games. They came to see critical mass in UMass, a year's work boiled down to 40 minutes.
"A lot was going through my mind," Xavier forward James Posey acknowledged. "We had too much to lose."
"I was very aware of it," said Lenny Brown. "When we lost at Dayton, I was a little scared (about the NCAA Tournament). ... We've been in a lot of close games this year and sometimes we don't come out on the right end. We had to clamp down today and we had to attack."
Senior Brown takes lead
Brown made this point to his teammates in an impromptu huddle shortly before the start of the second half, and throughout the game with his determined, demonstrative play.
The senior guard scored 31 points, exhibiting his full range of skills. He scored 19 points in the game's first 17 minutes, mainly as a perimeter marksman, but later turned to penetration as his aim deteriorated. Brown was the only Muskie to make a field goal during the last nine minutes of the game, and the only one who appeared interested in touching the ball. He did what a senior is supposed to do.
"At times, it gets him into trouble," Prosser said. "Sometimes, Lenny takes ill-advised forays to the basket and ill-advised shots. But he's got the heart of a lion."
How far the Muskies advance in the NCAA Tournament will likely hinge on Brown's heart and ability to put the ball through the hoop. That is, assuming, the Muskies are in.
"I'm still nervous," James Posey said. "I won't stop being nervous until I see our name up there. I remember last year when Dayton was in the situation where the cameras were there (on Selection Sunday) and their bubble just popped."
The Muskies ought to be beyond the bubble by now. But it wouldn't hurt to keep winning.
|Massachusetts Minutemen (E3)||68|
|Xavier Musketeers (W2)||72|
|Atlantic-10 Tournament Quarter-Finals|
at the First Union Spectrum, Philadelphia PA
MASSACHUSETTS (68) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Kirkland 36 7-14 8-11 5-10 3 3 22 Babul 9 0-0 0-1 0-0 0 3 0 Ketner 33 5-11 1-3 5-15 0 4 11 M Mack 40 7-19 0-0 2-6 0 3 18 Depina 25 2-7 0-1 0-0 3 2 4 Cruz 15 1-4 0-0 0-2 6 4 2 Smith 27 2-3 3-4 0-1 2 1 7 Blizzard 9 2-3 0-0 1-1 0 1 4 Rhymer 6 0-0 0-1 0-1 0 1 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 26-61 12-21 13-36 14 22 68 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.426, FT-.571. 3-Point Goals: 4-18, .222 (Kirkland 0-1, M Mack 4-11, Depina 0-2, Cruz 0-3, Blizzard 0-1). Team rebounds: 6. Blocked shots: 3 (Ketner 2, Smith). Turnovers: 13 (Depina 4, Cruz 2, Kirkland 2, M Mack 2, Babul, Ketner, Smith). Steals: 10 (Kirkland 5, Depina 3, Cruz, Smith). XAVIER (72) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Frey 26 1-3 2-2 0-1 0 5 5 Posey 31 3-6 9-12 1-10 2 4 17 Turner 35 2-7 0-0 2-4 0 3 4 L Brown 36 9-18 10-12 2-5 3 2 31 Lumpkin 31 1-5 4-4 0-4 4 1 6 Mcafee 24 2-4 0-0 1-1 0 1 5 Harris 2 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Price 15 2-7 0-1 1-2 0 2 4 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 20-50 25-31 7-27 9 18 72 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.400, FT-.806. 3-Point Goals: 7-19, .368 (Frey 1-1, Posey 2-3, L Brown 3-10, Lumpkin 0-1, Mcafee 1-2, Price 0-2). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 2 (Posey, Price). Turnovers: 15 (L Brown 5, Posey 3, Frey 2, Mcafee 2, Harris, Lumpkin, Price). Steals: 8 (Posey 3, L Brown, Lumpkin, Mcafee, Price, Turner). __________________________________ Massachusetts 30 38 - 68 Xavier 41 31 - 72 __________________________________ Technical fouls: Massachusetts 1 (Ketner). A: 7,092. Officials: Joe Demayo, David Day, Ron Foxcroft.