MHERST - The Mullins Center crowd, as is so often the case these days, was dead, and so was the basketball being played by the home team.
UMass lost its Atlantic 10 opener to St. Bonaventure last night by a 70-60 score, dropping the Minutemen to 6-7, and prolonging what has become an increasingly painful march into the new millennium for coach Bruiser Flint.
St. Bonaventure, off to its best start in 27 years, is now 9-2. The Bonnies have also turned the tables on a Minutemen team that used to dominate them with regularity. Last night was the Bonnies' first ever at Mullins and St. Bonaventure has now won three of the last five games in this series.
Tyrone Weeks and Bonnies' head coach Jim Baron.
The Minutemen have now lost four out of their last five games, and that one win came over a Div. 2 program - American-Puerto Rico.
The Minutemen last beat a Div. 1 program on Dec. 18, a 69-60 win over Florida State.
The tragedy last night was that the Minutemen worked so hard to merely erase total embarrassment from the score. They trailed the Bonnies by 23 points with 15:30 left in the game before making any sort of move.
A Chris Kirkland 5-footer cut the Bonaventure lead to 55-43 left with 7:00 left. They would never get any closer despite Monty Mack and Shannon Crooks combining for 21 points over the last 10:53.
Chris Kirkland put in 16 of the front-court's 25 points.
The Minutemen also trailed, 51-30, with 10:53 left, before Mack made his nightly attempt to earn this team some salvation.
He drained a pull-up trey with 9:55 left, and came back with three free thows to chop the Bonnies' lead to 53-37.
The first half wasn't any prettier as St. Bonaventure's 39-21 halftime lead indicated.
The Bonnies closed out the half with a 19-5 run over the last 7:39, with virtually everyone getting into the celebration.
Peter Van Paassen, showcasing an awkward left-handed hook, scored six of his 10 first-half points in this stretch. Caswell Cyrus, the hottest of all with 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting from a number of spots on the floor, contributed with a dunk and a tough baseline fadeaway.
Tim Winn split the Minutemen defense with a pair of drives, including a slash off a pick at the top of the circle for the final basket of the half with five seconds left.
The horrid part about the half's final seven minutes was that St. Bonaventure absolutely shredded what was supposed to be UMass' one strength - defense - by shooting 11-for-20 during the run.
AMHERST, Mass. - St. Bonaventure's 12-year drought at UMass is history, and the Bonnies' 9-2 start is historic as well.
St. Bonaventure is off to its best start in 27 years after recording a landmark victory over the Minutemen, 70-60, Thursday night. Bona had lost 12 straight at UMass and had been 0-9 at the Mullins Center since the arena opened. (Webmaster's note: actually the Bonnies had been 0-7 at the Mullins Center.)
Patricio Prato squeaks past Winston Smith.
That effort was led by Bona big men Caswell Cyrus and Peter Van Paassen. Cyrus recorded season highs of 22 points and 11 rebounds while Van Paassen contributed 17 points and nine rebounds. Cyrus is coming off a strained arch in his left foot and practiced Wednesday for the first time since Dec. 29.
The Bonnies bounced to 20-9 lead on a Cyrus dunk just 9:33 into the game, and led, 39-21, at halftime. The Bonnies' lead twice hit 23 in the second half. UMass made several dents into Bona's lead, but it only came within single digits once - with nine seconds to play (69-60).
Monty Mack led the Minutemen (6-7, 0-1) with 19 points on 6-of-18 shooting.
St. Bonaventure is 9-2 for the first time since the 1973-74 campaign. The Bonnies' last victory at Amherst was Jan. 29, 1987.
"We are not at all surprised we won this game," Baron said. "I told our guys beforehand that we have good players and good leaders. We earned this win."
Bona plays Sunday at La Salle.
MHERST - No knock on St. Bonaventure, which has emerged as a legitimately good men's basketball team. But the team the Bonnies beat last night is at this moment a bad one.
Bruiser and the staff were again left searching for answers.
For 30 minutes, it didn't look as if the Minutemen's wheels were coming off — it looked as if they were already spinning haphazardly down the hill, endangering anyone in their path who paused to watch.
Not until UMass sliced a 46-23 deficit to 53-41 in the second half did the Minutemen (6-7, 0-1 Atlantic 10) show signs of life. But it was far too little to erase a deficit that was built in the first half, when St. Bonaventure (9-2, 1-0) rolled to a 39-21 lead.
A teasing 18-7 run brought UMass to within 12 with 8:13 left. But the Bonnies settled down and David Messiah Capers scored five straight points, including a killer 3-pointer that made it 60-43 with 5:50 left.
"We made a mad rush, and in the past, they might have panicked," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint, whose team is home against Fordham tomorrow afternoon. "But they made some big shots."
St. Bonaventure, which had not won in Amherst since 1987, is 9-2 for the first time in 27 years. The words sound foreign for this long-suffering program, but the Bonnies must be viewed as at least an outside NCAA tournament contender.
As for the Minutemen, they've lost three straight. The only win in the last five games came against American University of Puerto Rico, a team that does not belong to the NCAA and routinely loses to mainland U.S. schools by 40 points or more.
After the game, Flint tried to put a positive spin on a negative night.
"We battled back in the second half," he said softly. "The wheels aren't going to fall off. Last year, we weren't a team, but this year we are, and we don't have guys who are going to quit."
The Bonnie D held Monty Mack to 6-18 shooting.
"I think I had some good looks," said Mack, who shot 6 for 18 from the field. "I've just got to make some of them."
Cyrus, who made 10 of 15 from the field , came into last night averaging 12.7 points per game. He sat out Sunday's win over Niagara to rest an injured left arch, but had 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting in the first half, which the Bonnies closed out with a 19-5 run.
St. Bonaventure shot 50 percent from the field, while UMass shot 34.4 percent. The Bonnies were a horrid 12 for 27 from the line — the only weak part of their game — but UMass, at 13 for 25, wasn't much better, and the Minutemen managed only three assists for the game — one fewer than Bonnies' point guard Tim Winn, who also had four steals.
"You can't shoot 34 percent from the floor and 52 from the line against a good team," Flint said. "You just can't do that."
MHERST - For the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team, the low post never looked so low as it did last night.
The Minutemen were taken apart in the telltale first half by Caswell Cyrus, who returned from a one-game absence to lead St. Bonaventure to a 70-60 Atlantic 10 Conference victory at the Mullins Center.
Cyrus scored 14 of his 22 points in the first half and also contributed 11 rebounds in the game before 5,136, the second-smallest crowd in Mullins Center history. Last year's season opener against Niagara drew 5,078.
St. Bonaventure had never won at the Mullins Center, which opened in 1993. In fact, the Bonnies hadn't won in Amherst since 1987.
"I really wanted this one," said Cyrus, a 6-foot-9 senior. "I thought about it at practice."
He thoroughly outplayed UMass centers Kitwana Rhymer and Micah Brand in his 29-minute performance.
"We tried to double them (defensively)," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said of the strategy against Cyrus and 6-11 Peter Van Paassen, who had 17 points with nine rebounds. "But they shot over the double team sometimes. And it's tough to double them when they throw it out and David Capers or J.R. Bremer hits shots."
Micah Brand goes nowhere fast against the Bonnie D.
Rhymer, a 6-10 junior who leads the Atlantic 10 in blocks (2.4 per game), missed all four shots he took from the field and was 1 for 6 from the line. Brand, a 6-11 freshman, played 11 minutes with three points and five rebounds.
The play of Cyrus suggested the Bonnies had made a wise move resting him in Sunday's 84-71 win over Niagara. He has been bothered by an injured left arch, and played several games in discomfort before sitting out the Bonnies' last game before A-10 play began.
Cyrus, whose career scoring high of 25 points came against UMass two years ago, has been the Atlantic 10 shot-blocking king for the last three seasons. He has 18 in 10 games this season, including one last night, and set the tempo in the first half.
UMass had no answer.
MHERST - A late run made the difference between awful and unpleasant for the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team, but Thursday night's 70-60 loss to St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 opener at the Mullins Center still goes down as a bad defeat.
A second-half emergence from their first-half hibernation allowed the Minutemen to slash a 23-point deficit to a less embarrassing 10-point loss, but it came far too late.
The loss was the fourth in their last five games for the Minutemen (6-7), with the only win coming against Division 2 American-Puerto Rico.
The pressure on Bruiser builds with each mark in the loss column.
"We battled hard, but we just dug ourselves such a hole, we couldn't battle our way out," Flint said. "In the second half we ... cut it to 12, but they made a couple of big plays. I told them if we keep battling, we'll be fine. We have to put the ball in the basket better. But we didn't quit and that made me feel real good."
Despite the recent struggles, Flint said he doesn't expect this year's team to self-destruct the way last year's did.
"The wheels aren't going to fall off," Flint said emphatically. "This is a good crew. They come and they work hard every day. I have good kids. Guys came out and they fought. We don't have guys that are going to quit.
"Last year at this time, the guys knew we weren't winning games," Flint continued, "because we weren't a team. This year we're a team. We might be struggling a little bit, but we're a team."
St. Bonaventure won the tip-off and rolled from there. The Bonnies made the Minutemen play catch-up right away, scoring the first six points of the game.
Led by early offense from Chris Kirkland, UMass stayed close for the first five minutes, trailing only 10-9. But a 10-0 run for the Mustard and Brown put the visitors ahead by double-digits with 10:30 left in the half at 20-9.
Five points by Monty Mack and two by Kirkland made up a 7-0 counterpunching run by the Minutemen to make it 20-16. But SBU closed the half with a 16-5 burst and went to the locker room ahead, 39-21.
That lead swelled to 51-28 in the second half, before UMass' alarm clock finally buzzed.
Led by Mack and point guard Shannon Crooks, the Minutemen used a full-court press to key a 15-4 run that made it 55-43. But David Messiah Capers drained an off-balance shot in the lane and then sank a pull-up 3-pointer on the fast break to slow the UMass momentum.
The Minutemen didn't get within a dozen again until the outcome had long since been decided.
"The nice thing about it was we had such a big lead, we had enough of a buffer," said Bona coach Jim Baron.
The inside duo of Caswell Cyrus (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Peter Van Paassen (17 points, nine boards) led the Bonnies to their first win ever in the Mullins Center. They improve to 9-2, their best start in 27 years.
"Peter did a real good job, Cy did a really good job," Baron said. "They complement each other and can play really strong inside. We want to get it inside and have an aggressive presence."
Mack had a team-high 19 points for the Minutemen, snapping his five-game streak of scoring more than 20. Kirkland scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Crooks added 14 points.
UMass returns to action Saturday at 2 p.m. when it plays host to A-10 foe Fordham.
"I think it's good (to play again soon)," said senior captain Mike Babul. "Hopefully we'll get a win under our belts Saturday."
Notes: Junior guard JoVann Johnson missed UMass' game against Providence on Dec. 30 due to a death in the family and still hasn't returned.
"I'm just trying to get in touch with the kid," Flint said. "I talked to him Christmas night and he told me about the funeral. I talked to him after that and he said he had some family problems that he had to work out. I haven't talked to him since Friday. I've been leaving messages...
"I don't think he knows what he wants to do," Flint continued. "I think that's the reason he hasn't called me."
Mack's 19 points moved him into 15th place on the UMass career scoring chart with 1,241, jumping three spots past Northampton native and UMass hall-of-famer Ray Ellerbrook (1,224), Donta Bright (1,229) and current Boston College coach Al Skinner (1,235).
MHERST - For now, only the oddsmakers haven't been clued in.
Nobody told the Las Vegas folks that this is not your older brother's Minutemen anymore. The University of Massachusetts was favored by five points going into Thursday night's game with St. Bonaventure, but those days really should be long gone.
It used to be that the Bonnies beating the Minutemen in the Mullins Center was an event that would lead the highlights on SportsCenter. Now, to anyone who follows the Atlantic 10, it's not really even an upset.
Perceptions change slowly. Notre Dame and Southern California are still thought of as college football powerhouses by many despite their recent slides because tradition plants strong roots in the mind.
The success of UMass in the early- and mid-1990s still makes the Minutemen a name in college basketball circles. But even that is eroding.
Last year when mid-major teams beat UMass, their fans would rush the court, cut down the nets and treat the event as a milestone in their program's history.
After last night's game, St. Bonaventure coach Jim Baron stated - correctly - that this game wasn't a fluke.
"I'm not at all surprised that we won this game," Baron said. "We have some good leaders, some good seniors. It's not a situation where we lucked out. We earned this victory. We worked very hard."
Marshall coach Greg White offered similar sentiments earlier this season when his Thundering Herd beat UMass for the second straight season.
At some unknown point, St. Bonaventure appears to have surpassed UMass, beating the Minutemen at least once in the last two years. The Bonnies have several components the Minutemen should be envious of, and it's not just the 9-2 record.
The Bonnies are no world-beaters. The NCAA Tournament is a more realistic dream this year in Olean, N.Y., than it has been in a long time, but it is still by no means guaranteed. As small upstart schools go, St. Bonaventure is still along way from being Gonzaga.
The scoresheet doesn't tell the whole story, but it still painted a pretty clear picture last night of the margin between the two schools.
The Bonnies had more fast-break points (19-17), more second-chance points (13-11) and many more points inside (46-28) that the Minutemen.
SBU shot an impressive 50 percent, while the rarely accurate Minutemen connected just 34 percent of the time.
But the most glaringly ugly UMass statistic resided in the assist column. The home team delivered a Mullins Center-low three assists. Mix that with 16 turnovers and the game could be sold as a "what not to do with the ball" instructional video.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint tried not to overemphasize the negative connotations of the loss.
"I thought we would be a little bit better, but we have 16 more games left," Flint said. "I'm always going to try to find a formula to help us win, but I'm not going to press or panic or anything like that. We need to stay the course and keep working."
But after each defeat, the NCAA Tournament trip he predicted for this team gets farther and farther away.
The win over American Puerto Rico doesn't count because of the school's Division 2 status, leaving UMass at 5-7 in the eyes of the NCAA selection committee.
It likely would take at least 19 wins to get an at-large bid. With only 17 games left, plus the A-10 tournament, the margin of error is pretty slim.
It's not impossible. Flint's 1996-97 team started 5-8 (not counting a win vs. Division 2 Chaminade) and rebounded to win 20 games, but for the Minutemen to turn things around, they need to do it soon.
|St. Bonaventure Bonnies||70|
|at the Mullins Center|
ST BONAVENTURE (70) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Van Paassen 26 7-11 3-6 1-9 0 4 17 Cyrus 29 10-15 2-4 4-11 0 3 22 Capers 31 4-9 3-7 1-3 2 2 12 Winn 36 2-6 0-1 0-4 4 3 4 Prato 25 0-4 0-0 1-4 2 3 0 Massiah 11 0-3 0-0 1-1 0 1 0 Cheeks 14 1-2 0-0 2-3 0 0 2 Bremer 23 4-6 4-9 1-4 3 1 13 Siegrist 5 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 1 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 28-56 12-27 11-40 12 18 70 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.500, FT-.444. 3-Point Goals: 2-9, .222 (Capers 1-2, Winn 0-3, Prato 0-1, Massiah 0-1, Bremer 1-2). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 4 (Cheeks 2, Massiah, Cyrus). Turnovers: 18 (Winn 5, Capers 4, Prato 4, Cyrus 2, Van Paassen 2, Bremer). Steals: 9 (Winn 4, Bremer 2, Van Paassen 2, Massiah). MASSACHUSETTS (60) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Kirkland 40 7-17 1-3 5-10 0 2 16 Babul 23 1-2 0-0 1-3 0 2 3 Rhymer 25 0-4 1-6 3-8 0 5 1 Mack 38 6-18 4-6 0-2 0 3 19 Crooks 34 5-13 4-6 0-3 2 4 14 Oates 3 0-0 0-0 0-1 0 0 0 Depina 11 0-3 2-2 0-0 1 0 2 Blizzard 6 1-1 0-0 2-2 0 0 2 Smith 9 0-1 0-0 0-3 0 1 0 Brand 11 1-2 1-2 3-5 0 3 3 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 21-61 13-25 14-37 3 20 60 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.344, FT-.520. 3-Point Goals: 5-16, .313 (Kirkland 1-1, Babul 1-2, Mack 3-9, Crooks 0-3, Depina 0-1). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 5 (Rhymer 3, Kirkland, Brand). Turnovers: 16 (Crooks 5, Smith 3, Kirkland 2, Mack 2, Blizzard, Brand, Depina). Steals: 9 (Mack 3, Kirkland 2, Babul, Crooks, Depina, Rhymer). __________________________________ St Bonaventure 39 31 - 70 Massachusetts 21 39 - 60 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 5,136. Officials: John Cahill, Tom Clark, Jody Silvester.