MHERST - It was the worst loss in University of Massachusetts men's basketball since that Lowell game back in 1989. Maybe, in some respects, even worse than that one.
Lari Ketner was again stifled by double-teams.
There was Monty Mack, a jump-shooting machine with 20 first-half points but a man unable to get free in the second half. Then when times were desperate, Mack tried to rediscover his touch, but missed three jumpers in overtime.
And most of all, there was the sinking feeling that this season might not get better after all, that all the talk of time off and home games and beatable non-conference opponents can't mask the flaws of a team that is now 3-6 and takes two steps backward whenever it seems poised to take one step forward.
"I told the guys that after we'd lost at Marshall (88-66 on Dec. 5), they'd fooled me into thinking they cared,'' said UMass coach Bruiser Flint, who was disgusted with his own team - as were many of the 6,506 fans, who let loose with a symphony of boos and catcalls at the end. "The guys got scared to make a mistake, and then they started throwing the ball away.
"You miss, they score and then the bubble gets tight,'' Flint lamented. "Throw the ball away, turn it over. What do you do?''
UMass opens its Atlantic 10 Conference season Saturday afternoon at home against Virginia Tech. The Minutemen are not ready, not after losing to Davidson (5-5), a pretty good Southern Conference team but a double-digit loser to UMass in each of the past two seasons.
This game was lost largely at the foul line, and Ketner was the prime culprit. He was 6 for 15, including 3 for 9 in the second half, and the Minutemen were 17 for 33 overall.
In the overtime, Ketner was nearly invisible, and before long the Minutemen had to think about 3-point shots, anyway.
"When you go 6 for 15 from the line,'' Flint said, "the last thing you want is the ball.''
Mack finished with 24 points and extended his free-throw streak, which began last year, to 27 straight. But he only went to the line four times, and that wasn't UMass' only problem, anyway.
After shooting 59.3 percent in the first half, the Minutemen missed 23 of its 29 field goal attempts afterward, including all nine in overtime. Defense kept UMass ahead for awhile but that ultimately caved in, too, with Davidson forward Ben Ebong leading a balanced attack with 17 points.
It was Ebong's reverse layup and foul shot that tied the game 62-62 with 1:45 left. Davidson guard Ali Ton stole a Mack pass and scored a layup to give the Wildcats their first lead since the opening basket, but Mack's two free throws with 56 seconds in regulation tied it at 64.
In overtime, though, Davidson scored eight straight points for a 72-65 lead that was more than enough.
The Minutemen, who entered the game with a 62.6 percent foul-shooting percentage, were 10 for 21 from the line in the second half, when they missed 10 of their first 12. That was critical as Davidson chipped away.
Ton, who had only two first-half points, sparked the comeback and finished with 14 points and seven assists. Ketner scored 14 points with 11 rebounds, and Charlton Clarke had 12 points with six assists for UMass.
MHERST - University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Bruiser Flint says there are disturbing differences between this season's team and the 1996-97 club that reached the NCAA tournament despite a 6-9 start.
"I knew that team was going to be OK, because of the guys we had out there,'' Flint said after last night's 75-66 overtime loss to Davidson at Mullins Center. "Guys were working hard, making plays. But there's no leadership on this team. It's not too early to worry.''
In 11 seasons as an assistant or head coach, Flint has never had a losing season, and UMass has reached the NCAA tournament seven years in a row - the last five under John Calipari, and two with Flint. But at 3-6 entering Saturday's Atlantic 10 Conference opener at home against Virginia Tech, there's an urgency to this season that began in the preseason Top 25 and now threatens to turn into a nightmare.
Asked if this was the worst loss since he became coach in 1996, Flint didn't hesitate.
"I think so,'' he said. "We took some beatings my first year, but we got afraid tonight. You could see it.''
LINEUP CHANGE: Nothing else worked last night, so why should a lineup change? "Ajmal told me he thought he played better off the bench, and I'd been thinking about that, too,'' Flint said of Ajmal Basit, who was removed from the starting lineup last night. "He said he'd be more focussed. But you saw how focussed he was in this game.''
Basit, a 6-foot-9 junior forward, played only seven minutes with two points and no rebounds. He played only two minutes after halftime.
His spot in the starting lineup was taken by 6-6 Chris Kirkland, who played 40 minutes with nine points, six rebounds and four turnovers. The other starting forward, Mike Babul, injured his right hand in the second half and had to leave the game, but returned and Flint said the injury was not serious.
Until this season, Basit was a reserve and last year was considered one of the best sixth men in the Atlantic 10. But he always indicated that the stature brought by a starting spot was important to him, before having a change of heart after playing 28 minutes without taking a shot in UMass' 59-46 win over Detroit Dec. 19.
CRUZ MISSING: Sophomore guard Rafael Cruz didn't play until the overtime, when he was brought in for his scoring touch with UMass trailing. Cruz tried two 3-pointers and missed both.
STOPPED SHORT: Monty Mack's 20 first-half points were one short of Marcus Camby's Mullins Center record for a half. But after hitting 7 of 8 before the break, Mack went 1 for 10 afterward and finished with 24.
"I don't even want to talk about how Monty played in the second half,'' Flint said.
EXTRA WORK: Davidson has won its last six overtime games. Meanwhile, after winning 88 straight games in which it had led by at least 10 points, UMass has lost two of its last three under those conditions. Last night's outcome was determined partly by rebounding. Davidson owned the boards 45-38, a stark reversal of last year's game when UMass won a 48-26 rebounding war in an 82-66 win at Davidson.
ET CETERA: UMass walk-on guard Ross Burns, sidelined all season with a foot fracture, has begun practicing. Another walk-on guard, football punter Andy Maclay, rejoined the team last night. He averaged 42.8 yards per punt for the national I-AA champion football team.
MHERST - There was a nice flow to their game in the first half, and that's why the University of Massachusetts Minutemen were up, 42-27, on Davidson. But then the visitors made a fierce comeback in the second half, taking the confidence out of the Minutemen and making the basket look a whole lot smaller.
Davidson outscored UMass, 48-24 in the second half and 11-2 in overtime, to post a major upset, 75-66, before 6,506 at the Mullins Center. As the clock was winding down in regulation as well as in overtime, the UMass players were looking around for someone to take the shot.
Davidson improved to 5-5, but its other wins came against Bowdoin, Elon, Southwest Texas State, and Washington College.
The Wildcats outrebounded the Minutemen, 45-38, scored 52 points in the paint, and had 16 off second chances. UMass, which fell to 3-6, was a mere 6 of 20 from the field in the second half, and did not score a field goal in overtime.
Monty Mack had 24 points for UMass, 20 in the first half. Ben Ebong flipped in 17 for Davidson.
''One of our themes for the past three weeks has been chip away, chip away, keep chipping away, and if we could define the story, it was chip away,'' said Davidson coach Bob McKillop. ''Look at the clock and look at the score. A 15-point lead was now 10, and 10 was now 5, and all of a sudden we were going for a tie.''
UMass was woeful from the foul line, hitting only 17 of 33 attempts. In one stretch, it missed 10 consecutive free throws. Lari Ketner was 6 of 15 from the stripe.
''They started to score and the ball gets tight,'' said UMass coach Bruiser Flint, whose team had 14 turnovers, 11 in the second half. ''We've talked about making plays the entire year. We need a foul shot, make a foul shot. We need a rebound, get a rebound.
''You could see it, we were scared to shoot it the second half. We would pass out to guys and we were right under the basket.''
Playing a variety of defenses, Davidson got within 10 points, 47-37, on a Landry Kosmalski layup with 15:33 left in regulation. Then it was down to 5, 52-47, with Kosmalski putting in the rebound of a missed free throw. Finally, with 1:45 left, Ebong made his third straight field goal, tying it at 62-62. Davidson had the last shot in regulation, but point guard Ali Ton missed a 3-pointer.
UMass then had its problems in overtime.
Flint wonders about his senior leadership.
''That's why we're 3-6, somebody's got to step up and do something,'' the UMass coach said. ''We have poor leadership. The big rebound, the big shot, the big foul shot, who will make them? Somebody's got to do it.''
UMass's Atlantic 10 opener is Saturday.
MHERST - Remember that old statistic that UMass types loved to trot out over the last two seasons? The one that said that this team, since the 1994-95 season, was 88-0 when holding a lead of 10 points or higher?
These Minutemen, 75-66 losers to Davidson in overtime last night, dropped that torch into the water quite some time ago.
But never, perhaps, was the result as deadening as last night, when UMass led by as many as 15 in the first half.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint, who criticized his entire lineup for ``tightening up'' in the second half, watched his Minutemen collapse in that most uncontested of areas - the free throw line.
``Someone has to step up and do something,'' said Flint. ``I'm not getting that from these guys.''
During one second-half stretch, when center Lari Ketner appeared to be doing the right thing by getting to the free throw line, the Minutemen missed 10 straight foul shots.
So much for the supposed benefit of reaching a penalty situation with 10 minutes left, thanks to Davidson's physical, free-flailing ways.
So much for being saved at regulation, too, when Davidson point guard Ali Ton missed a 3-pointer from the top of the circle.
But Ton, a sneaky sort who added four steals to his 14-point, seven-assist, five-rebound performance, had plenty of time left. To wit, the Minutemen froze up altogether once they reached overtime.
They didn't score a basket in that five-minute stretch, shooting 0-for-8 from the floor and 2-for-4 from the line, committing two turnovers in the process.
Ton turned the first into a fast-break layup - the same play he used, after picking off a Monty Mack pass, to give Davidson its first lead since the opening hoop.
The Wildcats, on the crest of a 9-0 run, suddenly held a 64-62 lead with 1:18 left in regulation.
Mack, who was limited to a four-point second half after scoring 20 in the first, postponed doom by tying the score on two free throws with 56 seconds left.
Chris Kirkland opened the scoring in overtime by hitting 1-of-2 free throws, and Davidson closed out OT with an 11-1 run.
The Minutemen, who shot 30 percent from the floor in the second half after scorching Davidson with 59 percent shooting in the first, couldn't get away from the ball quickly enough.
Overall, they shot 17-for-33 from the line for the game and were once again outrebounded by a smaller team - this time by a 45-38 margin.
Beyond Ton, such Wildcats as reserve forward Ben Ebong, who had a 17-point, seven-rebound performance, and power forward Landry Kosmalski, who had 11 points and 12 rebounds, gave the Minutemen fits.
``I'll just put it to you like this,'' said Flint. ``The same thing happened to us today that has happened to us all season.''
MHERST - Horrendous second-half free-throw shooting turned what looked like an easy win for the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team into a disastrous loss. The Minutemen blew a 16-point lead and fell to Davidson, 75-66 in overtime Tuesday night at the Mullins Center.
Kitwana Rhymer and Mike Babul go for the loose ball.
UMass took the lead in OT when Chris Kirkland hit one of two free throws, but Davidson scored the next eight points to stun the Minutemen, who didn't make a field goal in overtime.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint expressed frustration after the game.
"The things that happened tonight have happened all year," he said. "Once they started scoring, we got tight. At some point in time (the players) have to do something. The coach can't have all the answers. We missed 10 straight foul shots. We got afraid. Every shot we hit in the first half, we were afraid to shoot in the second half. Then we started turning it over."
Shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor in the first half, led by 20 points from Monty Mack, UMass opened a 42-27 intermission advantage looking the best it had all season.
A three-pointer by Davidson's Chadd Holmes opened the scoring, but the Minutemen answered with an 8-0 run. The Wildcats stayed close early, keeping the UMass lead in single digits. But leading 25-20 with 7:29 to play in the half, the Minutemen tore off an 11-1 run and appeared to have the game in hand.
But the Minuteman left their offense in the locker room. They scored just six second-half field goals and were a hair-graying 10-of-21 from the line. Davidson capitalized to erase the deficit and take a 64-62 lead with 1:19 remaining. UMass tied the game on two free throws by Mack before Ton missed at the buzzer.
Mack led the Minutemen with 24 points, but had just four after intermission and committed crucial turnovers down the stretch.
"We became more aware of Mack in the second half," said Davidson coach Bob McKillop. "Our guys were knuckleheads not to be more aware of him earlier."
Lari Ketner added 14 points and 11 boards, but was horrendous from the line, shooting 6-of-15. He didn't attempt a shot in overtime.
"When you're 6-for-15 from the foul line, the last thing you want is the ball," Flint said when asked about Ketner's lack of involvement in overtime. "You know why? Because they may foul you. He had the ball underneath the basket one time and he threw it right back out."
Ton had 14 points and seven assists for the Wildcats, while Ben Ebong scored 17.
UMass (3-6) next plays host to Virginia Tech Saturday at 2 p.m. in its Atlantic 10 opener.
At the players' request Flint replaced Ajmal Basit with Chris Kirkland in the starting lineup.
"He felt as though he played better coming off the bench," Flint said of Basit. "I was thinking about it anyway, but he came to me and said he thought that coming off the bench he'd be more focused, but you saw how focused he was."
Basit played seven minutes, only one more than Kitwana Rhymer, and scored two points without grabbing a rebound. He committed two fouls.
MHERST - The spin control machine has run out of answers. Last night's 75-66 loss to Davidson at home was just plain bad.
St. John's was tougher than expected. College of Charleston was underrated. Marshall is a tough building to play in. UConn is No. 1. Villanova is a solid veteran team.
Davidson, however, is none of these. The Wildcats have a decent team that should be a factor in the mediocre-at-best Southern Conference, but they are still a squad that lost to perennial kick-arounds Navy and Colgate.
If the Minutemen are a top level program, they shouldn't lose to Davidson anywhere, not in North Carolina, not in Bob McKillop's driveway and certainly not in the Mullins Center. Making things worse, UMass held a 15-point lead at halftime, but nobody knew the Heimlich maneuver in the second half.
The saying goes something like this: To begin to move up, you first have to hit rock-bottom. That bottom was supposed to be a 22-point embarrassment at the hands of Marshall, but last night the Minutemen found a pick-ax and crashed through the floor.
This the worst loss this decade, arguably the worst defeat since UMass fell to Division 2 UMass-Lowell in 1989.
As coach Bruiser Flint walked off last night after the game, some fans jeered him, which further symbolizes the rising criticism directed at him.
Earlier in the season, Flint was outwardly confident that his team would rise above its slow start, but that sentiment has all but disappeared.
Flint, who admitted this was the worst loss of his career, said it is not too early in the season to be concerned.
"When we were 6-9 (in 1996-97), I knew we would be okay. I felt we would make a run to get into the tournament because of the guys that were out there. Guys stepped up and made plays when we needed them. I'm not getting that from these guys. When we need a big rebound, who is going to get one for me? When we need a big shot, who's going to get it? It's a shame."
Flint directed some criticism at Lari Ketner and Charlton Clarke.
"It comes from the seniors. Leadership has to be there," he said, "and right now we have poor leadership. That's why we're 3-6."
The Minutemen open their Atlantic 10 slate Saturday against Virginia Tech, but just because the league is struggling doesn't mean things will get easier. The NCAA likely won't give the A-10 five tournament bids this year, meaning there will be fewer chairs when the music stops, and teams that were expecting to go might find themselves in a dog-fight.
Among those teams will be the Minutemen, whose allotment of slip-ups is quickly running out.
|at the Mullins Center|
DAVIDSON (75) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Kosmalski 25 5-17 1-1 6-12 2 5 11 Erege 31 2-3 0-2 2-4 1 3 4 Holmes 26 2-8 0-2 1-4 0 4 5 Halbauer 36 3-10 5-6 1-3 0 1 13 Ton 40 6-11 1-4 1-5 7 1 14 Bree 8 0-0 2-4 0-0 0 0 2 Bergmann 8 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 2 3 Ides 8 0-1 0-0 0-1 0 1 0 Ebong 28 7-9 3-4 3-7 0 4 17 Marshall 15 2-4 2-2 1-3 0 5 6 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 225 28-64 14-25 15-39 10 26 75 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.438, FT-.560. 3-Point Goals: 5-17, .294 (Kosmalski 0-3, Erege 0-1, Holmes 1-1, Halbauer 2-5, Ton 1-5, Bergmann 1-1, Ebong 0-1). Team rebounds: 6. Blocked shots: 3 (Erege 2, Ebong). Turnovers: 20 (Ebong 6, Holmes 3, Ton 3, Erege 2, Halbauer 2, Marshall 2, Kosmalski). Steals: 6 (Ton 4, Halbauer, Marshall). MASSACHUSETTS (66) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Babul 31 1-6 0-1 1-6 4 2 2 Kirkland 40 4-8 1-3 1-6 2 4 9 Ketner 40 4-9 6-15 5-11 1 3 14 Clarke 42 4-10 3-4 0-2 6 5 12 M Mack 40 8-18 4-4 1-6 0 2 24 Depina 15 0-0 0-2 1-1 4 3 0 Cruz 2 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 2 0 Smith 2 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Rhymer 6 0-1 3-4 0-1 0 2 3 Basit 7 1-2 0-0 0-0 0 2 2 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 225 22-56 17-33 9-33 17 25 66 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.393, FT-.515. 3-Point Goals: 5-12, .417 (Kirkland 0-1, Clarke 1-2, M Mack 4-7, Cruz 0-2). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 4 (Ketner 2, Babul, Rhymer). Turnovers: 14 (M Mack 6, Kirkland 4, Depina 2, Clarke, Rhymer). Steals: 7 (Babul 4, Clarke 2, Depina). _______________________________________ Davidson 27 37 11 - 75 Massachusetts 42 22 2 - 66 _______________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 6,506. Officials: Frank Scagliotta, Larry Rose, Duke Edsall.