MHERST - Lord knows that UMass has had a lot of meetings over the last two seasons.
Sometimes they follow it up with a win, sometimes not.
But that didn't stop the Minutemen from huddling Friday night in another attempt to purge the darkness from their troubled hearts.
Most agreed they were playing too tight, too nervous. UMass then went out and whipped Fordham yesterday by an 82-52 score that belied its 7-7 record.
Fordham, an improved team that has switched to an NBA-like running style under head coach Bob Hill, never figured in this one beyond an early 6-3 lead.
The Minutemen responded with a press that fueled an 11-0 run over the next 5:43 and never looked back.
They shot a fairly typical 40 percent from the floor, with Monty Mack (22 points) and Chris Kirkland (21) leading the way. They forced 23 Fordham turnovers and hounded the Rams backcourt enough that Jason Harris bottomed out with five points on 2-of-9 shooting, to go along with a rough 13-point, 2-of-8 game from point guard Bevon Robin.
UMass played as if the last 14 games were not a problem.
``Today there was a sense of urgency - we told ourselves that we weren't going to lose this game,'' said sophomore guard Shannon Crooks, the chief menace when it came to guarding Robin.
``We have to win now. We lost some games that the team feels we should have won. We just have to go out the rest of this season with the same mentality.''
That mentality manifested itself in a swarming approach to defense yesterday. Kirkland finished with five steals, to go along with four from Crooks.
Robin, repeatedly trapped, turned the ball over eight times. And if the Rams had any hope of fighting through the pressure, it evaporated after the Minutemen took a 31-21 halftime lead.
Fordham forward Teramun Johnson opened the second-half scoring for his team with a putback, but UMass scored the next 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting that included six points from Kirkland, five from Crooks and four from Mack.
Fordham never found its own pace.
``We usually play better when teams press us,'' said Hill. ``It usually makes us quicker, but that didn't happen today. We'd get to the end of it, and not make the right passes. But I don't think the press had anything to do with this, except for that 11-0 run. It was our defense, more than anything, that was the problem today.''
UMass coach Bruiser Flint, in endorsing his team's 40-percent shooting effort from the floor, seemed to agree.
``I think we can win games shooting 40 percent,'' he said. ``What kills us is when we shoot in the low 30s.''
Indeed, Flint's team has shot in that latter range more often than he would like to remember this season.
Freshman center Micah Brand came off the bench with seven rebounds, a block and two assists in 21 minutes yesterday, and is starting to increase his role to a dramatic degree on this team. What he needs now, according to Flint, is a good off-season weight program.
``We have to work on his eating habits, because he's one of those big guys who doesn't eat,'' said Flint. ``He's a salad guy.
``Now, Lari (Ketner) ate like a horse. Anytime we went out, he'd get two entrees. Micah gets a salad.'' . . .
Junior transfer JoVann Johnson, who was given permission to leave the team to go home for a family funeral that forced him to miss a Dec. 30 game against Providence, still has not rejoined the team.
The guard missed his third game - his second unexcused - yesterday, and has not been in touch with the coaching staff. He is said to be upset over a lack of playing time.
``I don't think he wants to come back,'' said Flint. ``That's obvious. But we haven't been able to reach him. Even the players have been trying to reach him, because they all like him. I'm not sure he understands that you just can't leave like that.''
he University of Massachusetts men's basketball team regained a measure of respect by earning a confidence-building 82-52 Atlantic 10 win over Fordham this afternoon in Amherst.
Chris Kirkland again led front-court scoring with 21.
Monty Mack led UMass with 22 points, and Chris Kirkland added 21. Shannon Crooks was the only other player in double figures, with 10.
UMass shot just 40 percent for the game, but held the Rams to a paltry 29 percent from the floor (17 of 57) and forced 23 Fordham turnovers.
"We got some turnovers, some easy baskets," said embattled UMass coach Bruiser Flint following the game. "I thought we did a good job of scrambling and pressing. We took what they gave us and capitalized."
UMass also did a good job of taking care of the ball, turning it over just 11 times while racking up 16 assists.
"One of the things we talked about (after the St. Bonaventure loss) was discipline," said Flint. "And I thought we were more disciplined today."
The Minutemen had used a 15-0 run early in the first half to take charge of the game.
Bruiser didn't have much to yell about with a 30 point blowout win.
"I thought we had good movement on offense. Guys cut hard to the basket, we were better on screens, and that meant we executed better," said Flint.
UMass led 31-21 at the half, with Mack scoring a team-high 14 points. Mack scored the Minutemen's first eight points.
Fordham guard Bevon Robin, who came into the game averaging 17 ppg., had just two in the first half and finished with 13 points on 2 for 8 shooting from the field. Rams leading scorer Jason Harris (18.3 ppg.) had just five points while playing only 25 minutes.
The Minutemen are off until Jan. 16, when they travel to Philadelphia to play A-10 rival St. Joseph's.
Asked what he was going to work on over the next week, Flint was candid.
"We've got to work on our heads," he said. "As long as our heads are in the right place we'll be all right."
MHERST - After Saturday's 82-52 win over Atlantic 10 foe Fordham, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team might take some inspiration from its football brethren.
Kit Rhymer didn't have a super game in the stat book, but he was part of the UMass machine that dominated Fordham.
But on Oct. 9, a 77-0 win over Northeastern restored everybody's confidence and UMass won eight straight en route to the playoffs.
After dropping four of their last five and falling under .500 at 6-7, coach Bruiser Flint's Minutemen have struggled. But players and coach alike agreed that Saturday's domination of Fordham was a step in the right direction.
"I know that now the team knows what we have to do to win," said freshman center-forward Micah Brand.
"We lost some games that we think we should have won," sophomore guard Shannon Crooks said. "This game... we just needed it. We came out determined to win it. We need to come out the rest of the season with the same mentality."
The Minutemen (7-7, 1-1 A-10) don't play again until Sunday, when they travel to Philadelphia for a 2 p.m. game at St. Joseph's. Crooks talked about what UMass has to do to have Saturday's performance carry over.
"We just have to stay focused," Crooks said. "There are going to be days where some guys come to practice not focused and the guys that are ready have to pick those guys up. We have to keep playing hard."
Jon DePina logged 25 minutes at the point.
The Rams came into the game averaging 79.5 points per game, while shooting 44.2 percent from the floor. The backcourt of Jason Harris (18.3 ppg) and Bevon Robin (17.0) were among the A-10's best one-two punches.
But the Rams struggled with UMass' fullcourt pressure and aggressive face-guarding, turning the ball over 23 times. Harris finished with just five points. Robin scored 13, but only two in the first half due to aggressive double-teaming. He delivered no assists and had eight turnovers.
"We wanted to take Bevon Robin and Jason Harris out of the game and I thought we did a great job on that," said Flint.
Senior guard Monty Mack agreed.
"They were averaging 80 points a game and we held them to 52," Mack said. "That was the big thing. We stuffed them on defense and made them work for every shot."
Fordham coach Bob Hill was surprised at his team's offensive struggles.
"We only have one true point guard and when Bevon gets taken out of a game like he did tonight, it makes it very difficult for us to score," Hill said. "When they started to press, we lost our composure. When teams press us, we usually play better. But for some reason tonight we didn't handle it very well."
The poor ballhandling that UMass displayed in its Thursday loss to St. Bonaventure when the Minutemen had only three assists to go with 16 turnovers, was much improved. UMass had 16 assists and just 11 turnovers, its second lowest turnover number of the year.
Offensively, UMass was led by two 20-point scorers. Mack led all scorers with 22, while Chris Kirkland scored 21. Ten Minutemen got into the scoring column as Flint was able to empty his bench.
"Everything didn't really go right," Flint said. "We only shot 40 percent, but we can win shooting 40 percent. What kills you is when you shoot in the low 30s. What we learned from the St. Bonaventure game is that we can press a little bit more and make it into a little more of a scramble game. We get more easy buckets that way."
Fordham led briefly at 6-3, but led by Mack, the Minutemen snapped off a 15-0 run to set the tone for the afternoon. The UMass lead hovered between seven and 12 points for the rest of the first half. UMass led, 31-21, at intermission.
The Minutemen already have blown double-digit leads this season, so there was still uneasiness among the 5,092 fans in the Mullins Center. But after the Rams scored the first basket of the second half, UMass duplicated its first-half run with another 15-0 spurt that made it 47-23, essentially eliminating any suspense with 14:48 still on the clock.
The mood was jovial the rest of the way as the UMass players displayed rare on-court smiles. The momentum of a late foul pushed Mack toward the sideline where the Fordham student radio crew was calling the game. With a mischievous smile, Mack grabbed one of the broadcaster's water bottles, unscrewed the top and took a drink before making both free throws.
"We were just out there having some fun," Mack said. "I saw the water bottle and I just grabbed it."
|at the Mullins Center|
FORDHAM (52) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Johnson 27 1-4 0-0 3-5 3 2 2 Canal 14 2-4 0-0 0-3 0 3 4 Pugh 10 2-3 0-0 0-1 0 0 4 Harris 25 2-9 1-3 2-4 1 3 5 Robin 36 2-8 7-10 2-4 0 5 13 Aponte 2 0-1 0-0 1-1 0 0 0 Olivares 22 2-5 5-6 1-4 0 4 10 Carroll 10 1-3 0-0 0-0 0 0 2 Harmatuk 15 0-3 0-0 1-2 1 3 0 Downey 2 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Kuchinsky 12 0-3 0-0 0-1 1 4 0 Dupree 6 0-3 2-2 1-1 0 0 2 Freeman-mckame 19 5-10 0-0 5-10 0 2 10 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 17-57 15-21 16-36 6 26 52 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.298, FT-.714. 3-Point Goals: 3-13, .231 (Harris 0-4, Robin 2-4, Olivares 1-2, Harmatuk 0-1, Kuchinsky 0-2). Team rebounds: 8. Blocked shots: 5 (Freeman-mckamey 2, Kuchinsky 2, Olivares). Turnovers: 23 (Robin 8, Olivares 5, Canal 2, Pugh 2, Dupree, Freeman-mckamey, Harmatuk, Harris, Johnson, Kuchinsky). Steals: 7 (Canal 2, Johnson 2, Aponte, Carroll, Robin). MASSACHUSETTS (82) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Kirkland 34 7-14 7-11 2-5 2 2 21 Babul 27 2-3 1-2 2-6 4 2 5 Rhymer 18 1-5 2-3 1-4 0 2 4 Mack 33 9-24 2-2 2-3 1 2 22 Crooks 23 4-10 2-2 2-4 2 4 10 Oates 3 1-2 1-2 3-3 0 1 3 Depina 25 1-3 6-9 4-5 2 3 8 Blizzard 3 1-2 2-2 0-1 0 0 4 Denson 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Smith 11 1-3 0-0 1-2 3 3 2 Early 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Brand 21 1-4 1-1 4-7 2 1 3 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 28-70 24-34 21-40 16 20 82 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.400, FT-.706. 3-Point Goals: 2-10, .200 (Mack 2-9, Blizzard 0-1). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 7 (Rhymer 2, Oates 2, Kirkland, Early, Brand). Turnovers: 11 (Kirkland 3, Crooks 2, Babul, Blizzard, Brand, Depina, Mack, Smith). Steals: 14 (Kirkland 5, Crooks 4, Babul 2, Depina 2, Rhymer). __________________________________ Fordham 21 31 - 52 Massachusetts 31 51 - 82 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 5,092. Officials: Glenn Mayborg, Bill Pugh, Bernard Clinton.