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UMass salivates in crunch time
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 1/28/2000

PITTSBURGH This one belonged to a team that played with resiliency and poise, but it belonged to Kitwana Rhymer most of all.

When a big rebound was needed down the stretch, the 6-foot-10 University of Massachusetts center grabbed it. When points were needed, they frequently came from him.

Video clip: Kit Rhymer turns and burns.
1.1meg AVI
Courtesey: A-10 Network
And when the 84-75 Atlantic 10 men's basketball victory over Duquesne was in the books, the value of the junior from the Virgin Islands was as clear as it has been all season.

"All of us started getting out of our game," said Rhymer, who scored 16 points with 14 rebounds, four blocks and three steals at the Palumbo Center. "We were rushing too much, so we told each other to settle down."

Rhymer did some of that talking, but he was heard most loudly through his play. He had 10 rebounds in the second half for UMass (10-8, 4-2 Atlantic 10), which had seen a 48-35 lead turn into a 60-55 deficit with 10 minutes left.

But Monty Mack hit two 3-point shots and Shannon Crooks had one in a 17-4 surge that gave the Minutemen a 72-64 lead. It was 79-75 when Rhymer tipped in Chris Kirkland's missed shot with a minute left, and moments later, he won the battle for a loose ball that just about clinched it.

It was the 14th straight time UMass has beaten Duquesne (8-10, 3-4), and it carried plenty of meaning. The Minutemen, who play at Virginia Tech tomorrow, have won four of their last five and have moved into a second-place tie with slumping St. Bonaventure in the A-10 East Division.

It was a nice road win against a Duquesne team that had been 6-1 at home, and it lifted UMass two games above .500 for the first time in 36 days.

But most of all, it showed that last week's second-half collapse against Dayton, when UMass frittered away a 14-point lead in a 57-52 loss, was a blip and not a chronic problem of fortitude.

"We just said we weren't going to let that happen again," said Mack, who had 15 of his 22 points in the first half. "We started taking our time on offense, and we didn't give up.

Audio clip: Chris Kirkland has gone from zero to hero in his UMass career.
37k WAV
Courtesey: A-10 Network
Kirkland scored 21 points, including 13 after halftime, and Crooks scored 13. Wayne Smith led Duquesne with 20 points, and freshman guard Kevin Forney, who attracted recruiting interest from UMass, scored 15 of his career-high 19 in the second half.

Rhymer's inspired play was especially handy because Duquesne's lineup includes 6-10 backup center Simon Ogunlesi, a UMass nemesis from a year ago. Playing for Villanova before transferring to Duquesne (where he became eligible last month), Ogunlesi's physical play helped turn the tide in 'Nova's 66-55 win over the Minutemen.

The 265-pounder wasn't much of a factor for his new team last night, though.

UMass led by as many as 13 in the first half and 44-35 at the break, and finished with 51.7 percent shooting, its third outing in four games with a percentage of 50 or better. The Minutemen were hot from the perimeter, hitting 8 of 11 from 3-point range.

"I just think we're being more patient on offense," said Kirkland, who played high school ball in Pittsburgh and made his last return to the city as a collegian.

Flint was more pleased with the late comeback tha upset that UMass had let its original lead slip away.

"We did lose our minds for about five minutes," he said, wryly adding that "we played some UMass basketball dropped passes, guys kicking balls, we're prone to do some of that. But we kept our poise."

UMass dumps Duquesne
By Dave Mackall, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 1/28/2000

The future continues to seep into the present for the fledgling Duquesne basketball team, which authored yet another chapter of frustration Thursday night at the Palumbo Center in an 84-75 loss to Massachusetts.

Devone Stephenson drives past Mike Babul.
The Dukes, playing before a festive crowd of 5,565, rode freshman Kevin Forney's 15 second-half points to rally from a 13-point deficit, only to falter down the stretch.

"He gave us a big spark," Duquesne coach Darelle Porter said. "He hit some big shots. But we just had too many breakdowns."

It was a gutty performance, nonetheless, by the young Dukes, who lost their third in a row and fourth in the past five games.

With only one scholarship senior in a season full of unexpected excitement, it looked like Duquesne (8-10, 3-4) would fold. But Forney fueled a Duquesne rally with eight points to help the Dukes turn a 48-35 deficit into a 60-55 lead with 10:27 remaining.

"He is as good a young player as there is in the league," Massachusetts coach Bruiser Flint said. "All of their freshmen have made a difference. They are playing much better (than last year). They have some guys who can really score."

Massachusetts (10-8, 4-2) won for the fourth time in the past five games. The Minutemen found a way to score often, in beating Duquesne for the 14th consecutive time.

Monty Mack scored 22 points to lead Massachusetts. Former Sto-Rox star Chris Kirkland added 21 and Kitwana Rhymer a career-high 16 points to go with 14 rebounds.

"Those guys (Mack and Kirkland) have been doing that all year," Flint said. "The biggest difference is that we got 16 points from Rhymer and 13 from (Shannon) Crooks. That's rare for us to have four guys in double figures."

Wayne Smith led Duquesne with 20 points. Forney added a career-high 19 and freshman point guard Devin Montgomery 11.

Smith's 6-for-16 shooting effort typified Duquesne's shooting woes. The Dukes managed to make just 25 of 72 shots for 34.7 percent, although they converted 8 of 18 3-pointers.

Just as it did in its most recent game against St. Joseph's, Duquesne fell behind early. The Dukes were down 35-22 with 4:31 to go in the first half and trailed 44-35 at halftime.

After Massachusetts increased its lead to 13 early in the second half, the Dukes, incited by a noisy crowd, roared back and took their first lead on a 3-point shot by Smith with 14:55 to go, making it 52-51.

A 3-pointer by Forney with 10:27 remaining gave Duquesne a 60-55 advantage before Massachusetts recovered and went back in front for good on a 3-pointer by Mack, who hit 5 of 7 shots from behind the arc.

"We did lose our mind for a while there, but tonight instead of panicking, we took our time," Flint said.

Duquesne fell behind by eight before closing within three, 73-70, with 3:30 left. But, after a timeout, the Dukes failed to respond to a fullcourt press by Massachusetts, and an in-bounds pass by Courtney Wallace hit the backboard and bounced out of bounds, giving the Minutemen possession.

"Like I said, we had too many mental breakdowns," Porter said. "It wasn't Courtney's fault. We have to get guys in the right position on that play."

Wallace was injured in the first half and received nine stitches around his right eye. Porter said he was unsure how the injury occurred and also speculated that Wallace might have suffered a slight concussion, although Wallace played much of the second half.

Meanwhile, it was another close outcome that went sour for the Dukes.

"I'm happy that we're competing hard," Smith said. "But a loss is a loss, and we don't like losing."

Notes: Duquesne travels to Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon to face No. 24 Temple in what arguably will represent its toughest test so far. ... Kirkland, who played on Sto-Rox's 1995 WPIAL Class AA championship team, shot 7 of 17 and added eight rebounds for Massachusetts.

Dukes drop 3rd in a row, falling to UMass, 84-75
By Ray Fittipaldo, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports Writer, 1/28/2000

The Duquesne Dukes dug another hole early yesterday. And like Saturday's 62-59 loss to St. Joseph's, the Dukes fought their way back into the game.

Wayne Smith fights his way around Chris Kirkland.
Massachusetts, however, did not need a last-second shot to put the Dukes away. The Minutemen regained their composure after blowing a 13-point second half-lead and won, 84-75, before 5,565 at the Palumbo Center.

The Dukes (8-10, 3-4) dropped their third consecutive game and second in a row at home after winning their first six at home. Massachusetts (10-8, 4-2) won for the fourth time in five games.

The Massachusetts seniors led the way. Guard Monty Mack scored 15 of his game-high 22 points in the first half, and Sto-Rox graduate Chris Kirkland scored 13 of his 21 in the second half to led the Minutemen.

Junior center Kitwana Rhymer added a career-high 16 points and 14 rebounds and junior Shannon Crooks had 13 points.

"Having four guys in double figures is rare for us," Massachusetts Coach Bruiser Flint said. "Kitwana made a lot of big plays for us. Monty and Chris are going to get their points. We have to scramble to get the rest."

Duquesne trailed by 13 with 18:41 remaining in the game, but the Dukes staged a furious rally and took a five-point lead with 10:26 left. Led by freshman Kevin Forney and sophomore Wayne Smith the Dukes went on a 25-7 run over an eight-minute span. Forney, who did not enter the game until there was 4:11 left in the first half, had eight points and two 3-pointers in the run.

Forney had a late class and was late to the shootaround. Porter wanted to make sure he was briefed on the game plan before he inserted him in the game. Forney responded with a career-high 19 points. Smith, who had two key 3-pointers in the run, led the Dukes with 20.

"Our guys played great," Porter said. "I told them, with this crowd, let's make a run at it and get back in the game."

The Minutemen looked to Mack to pull them out of their funk. A 6-3 senior averaging 19.3 points a game, Mack drilled consecutive 3-pointers on back-to-back possession to give the Minutemen a 65-62 lead with 8:43 remaining.

The second 3-pointer came after a Duquesne turnover on an in-bounds play. Junior Courtney Wallace was left alone at one end of the court while his teammates stood at the other end. The referee put the ball on the floor and initiated his five-second count. Wallace, in a hurry to get the ball in, rammed the ball off the back of the glass.

"That was after a timeout when we had diagrammed a play," Porter said. "One of our guys didn't go down to get the ball. That wasn't Courtney's fault."

Massachusetts was able to set up a play for Mack, who drilled the shot. Mack's two 3-pointers sparked a 13-2 run that gave the Minutemen a 72-64 lead with 6:50 left.

"That's what you're supposed to do when you're the best player on the team," Flint said of Mack's two big shots. "We have a tendency to lose when teams make big comebacks on us. We showed poise tonight."

The Dukes were able to get the lead down to three, but the Minutemen made 7 of 9 free throws down the stretch to secure the victory.

"I'm happy we competed hard, but a loss is a loss," Smith said.

The Minutemen rode a hot first half of shooting to take a 9-point lead at the break, 44-35.

Mack made 3 of 5 3-point attempts in the first 20 minutes. Mack made his second 3-pointer and converted a steal into a transition hoop for an 18-8 lead with 14:53 remaining.

Mack converted a Charles Stanfield turnover into another easy layup for a 24-15 lead, and his third 3-pointer boosted the lead to 29-22 with 6:26 left.

"UMass did a good job of executing," Porter said. "But we did have some breakdowns. Little things that shouldn't happen."

Duquesne was able to trim the lead to five, 40-35 with 1:34 left in the half after Forney made consecutive baskets, completing a 13-5 run in which Smith had six points.

But the Minutemen established a 9-point bulge at halftime. Massachusetts was 18 for 35 from the field, 5 for 7 from 3-point range in the half.

UMass regains poise, wins 84-75
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 1/28/2000

PITTSBURGH - With just under nine minutes left in the game and the score tied 62-62, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team was just trying to hold on. After watching a 13-point lead evaporate, the Minutemen were attempting to slow down Duquesne's surging momentum.

UMass coach Bruiser Flint thrust his fist downward in frustration when Jonathan DePina was whistled for a charge, to the delight for the 5,565 fans at the Palumbo Center. But Courtney Wallace tossed the ensuing inbounds pass off the back of the backboard for a cheap turnover.

The Minutemen took advantage. They quickly inbounded the ball to Monty Mack, who buried a 3-pointer from the right shoulder. The hoop gave UMass the lead and shifted momentum as the Minutemen led the rest of the way. Making big shots down the stretch, UMass held on to defeat the Dukes, 84-75, and grab a key Atlantic 10 Conference win.

"I was just coming off the screen looking to shoot," Mack said. "We picked up momentum from there."

"Everybody stuck in there. There was big-time heart right there," said junior center Kitwana Rhymer.

Mack's 3-pointer opened up a 10-2 run for the Minutemen (10-8, 3-3 A-10), who pulled ahead, 72-64, with 6:51 to go. Duquesne hung around, pulling to 73-70 with 3:39 left. But two free throws by Kirkland and a cutting layup by Mike Babul from Rhymer basically finished off the home team.

Audio clip: Halftime interview with Monty Mack.
360k WAV
Courtesey: A-10 Network
"We just wanted to come back and take our time on offense, Mack said. "We started rushing a little bit and turned the ball over a couple times. We didn't give up. We came out with the victory and I'm proud."

So was Flint.

"We played with much more poise," Flint said. "We lost our mind for about five minutes. We dropped a couple of passes, kicked a few of our legs for layups. We're prone to do that from time to time. But tonight, instead of panicking we just took our time and took what they gave us and did a better job defensively. We had some big stops and made some plays to get the lead back. If a team makes a comeback on us, we tend to lose it. Tonight we didn't do that."

UMass won the game in the paint, outscoring the undersized Dukes, 42-16, on the strength of the play of Rhymer and Kirkland late in the game. Rhymer had eight points and 10 rebounds in the second half to finish with 16 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots. He made all four of his free throws. Kirkland had 13 points in the second half and finished with 21. Mack led UMass with 22.

Wayne Smith led Duquesne (8-10, 3-4) with 20 points, but Babul did a solid job guarding him, forcing him into a 6-for-16 shooting night.

"It feels good to stay in games like this," Smith said. "But a loss is a loss and we don't like losing."

Mack led UMass early, scoring 15 points before halftime as the Minutemen took a 44-35 lead. It didn't last long, though. After UMass scored the first four points of the second half, Duquesne assembled a 17-3 run to take a 55-51 lead.

Two free throws by Kirkland and a jumper by Shannon Crooks tied the game, but the Dukes answered with a 5-0 run to pull back ahead, 60-55. But the Minutemen answered with a 17-4 run that included Mack's key 3-pointer to escape the Steel City with the win.

The Minutemen now travel to Blacksburg, Va., to take on Virginia Tech at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Rhymer rebounds for Minutemen
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 1/28/2000

PITTSBURGH - Kitwana Rhymer's difficulties had lasted so long, onlookers had started to wonder whether his slump was more than just a slump.

But in the University of Massachusetts' last four games, a stretch in which the team has gone 3-1, the junior has rebounded - both literally and figuratively - and has been a strong presence in the pivot for the Minutemen. During that stretch he's averaged 11.9 points and 10.3 rebounds. Thursday night his 16 points and 14 rebounds helped keep UMass in the game in the second half in its win over Duquesne.

"Kit made all the big plays for us at the end of the game," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "He made foul shots. He got rebounds. He put the ball back in. He's been playing like that as of late."

Rhymer's free-throw shooting has improved dramatically. After shooting below 50 percent for the first 14 games of the year, he has made 17 of his last 18.

"When he goes to the line," Flint said. "I feel good, because I know he's been in there and he's been working on it."

Not getting into foul trouble, which plagued him earlier in the season, allowed Rhymer to be more aggressive late in the game Thursday.

"It frees me up a lot," Rhymer said. "I can rebound, block shots and do what ever is needed. If I don't have four fouls, I'm fine."

"If you look at some of our earlier games, when he gets in foul trouble, we lose," Flint said. "It really hurts us rebounding (because) he blocks shots and makes us better defensively. As long as he stays out of foul trouble, he's fine and we're fine."

* * *

RECRUITING NEWS: UMass got some good news on the recruiting front. The Gloucester Times reported that Anthony Anderson, a 5-foot-10 point guard from Lynn is "leaning toward UMass." Anderson is a pure point guard and is considered by several recruiting services to be one of the top players still unsigned.

* * *

NUMBERS, NUMBERS: UMass moved into a tie with St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 East at 4-2. The Bonnies have the tie-breaker with the Minutemen because they won the head-to-head meeting on Jan. 6.

UMass shot 51.7 percent from the floor, its third game in its last four shooting over 50 percent. Prior to that, the Minutemen shot only 50 percent once and that was against lowly American-Puerto Rico.

Monty Mack's 22 points moved him into a tie for second place with Wayne Smith in the A-10 at 19.4 points per game. Rhymer's night moved him up on the conference charts in two categories. Rhymer is now third in rebounding (8.0 per game), and second in blocked shots (2.11).

2000 Atlantic-10 Television Network

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Massachusetts Minutemen 84
Duquesne Dukes 75
at Duquesne

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Kirkland        39  7-17   6-7   4-8  2  1   21
Babul           27   3-3   0-0   1-4  2  4    6
Rhymer          37   6-8   4-4  4-14  1  3   16
Mack            34  8-16   1-2   0-3  3  2   22
Crooks          27  5-13   2-2   2-5  4  4   13
Depina          19   1-1   0-0   0-0  6  3    3
Blizzard         1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  2    0
Smith           13   0-1   1-3   1-4  1  0    1
Brand            3   1-1   0-0   1-2  0  2    2
TOTALS         200 31-60 14-18 13-40 19 21   84

Percentages: FG-.517, FT-.778. 3-Point Goals:
8-11, .727 (Kirkland 1-1, Mack 5-7, Crooks 1-2,
Depina 1-1). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 5
(Rhymer 4, Babul). Turnovers: 23 (Kirkland 6,
Rhymer 4, Crooks 3, Depina 3, Mack 3, Blizzard,
Brand, Smith). Steals: 9 (Rhymer 3, Babul 2,
Kirkland 2, Crooks, Mack).

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Smith           34  6-16   6-8   2-4  4  2   20
Stanfield       25   1-5   2-5   1-3  1  2    4
Stephenson      26   2-6   3-3   4-8  0  4    7
Montgomery      34  4-10   1-2   1-5  7  0   11
Tann            16   1-6   1-2   0-0  0  1    3
Ogunlesi        14   0-1   0-0   2-3  0  4    0
Wallace         19  2-12   2-2   5-9  2  2    7
Forney          20  7-14   2-2   3-3  0  1   19
Midgley         12   2-2   0-0   1-1  0  2    4
TOTALS         200 25-72 17-24 19-36 14 18   75

Percentages: FG-.347, FT-.708. 3-Point Goals:
8-18, .444 (Smith 2-3, Stanfield 0-2, Montgomery
2-3, Tann 0-2, Wallace 1-3, Forney 3-5). Team
rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 5 (Smith 2, Stanfield
2, Wallace). Turnovers: 16 (Montgomery 4, Wallace
4, Smith 2, Forney, Midgley, Ogunlesi, Stanfield,
Stephenson, Tann). Steals: 8 (Smith 4, Stephenson
2, Forney, Ogunlesi).
Massachusetts      44   40  -   84
Duquesne           35   40  -   75
Technical fouls: None.  A: 5,565. Officials:
Arnie Mcdonald, Bryan Kersey, Mark Distrola.

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