MHERST - La Salle, one of the Atlantic 10's worst defensive teams, checked in last night, triggering an avalanche of career highs in the ensuing 82-48 UMass romp.
Chris Kirkland had a monster game, tying his career high of 26 points.
The good intentions behind that shot said a lot about what coach Bruiser Flint needs from his role players.
``Now don't go thinking of him as a marksman or something,'' Flint said, half-joking. ``This is it for him. He's a senior. It's like I tell him - next year it could be rec league for you, and buying your own sneakers, and staying in Motel 6.''
The win boosted the Minutemen to 12-10, though the more important number right now is their 6-3 conference record.
It pushed them into sole possession of second place in the Atlantic 10's eastern division behind Temple, with St. Bonaventure a half-game back at 5-3 with a home game tonight against Virginia Tech.
The Minutemen's belated push for some sort of postseason consideration received a small boost last night. Last week's twin losses to Temple and Texas considered, UMass has won six of its last nine games.
And Flint has no problem backing this kind of streak.
``I told the guys that we can win every game we have left on the schedule,'' said Flint. ``I keep saying that we've played much better basketball since the New Year, and nobody will believe me.''
Flint may be getting some mileage out of this us-against-the-world approach.
``We all talk about going out there and winning for us, and nobody else,'' Monty Mack, who scored 20 last night, said of a team-wide perception that no one believes in this team.
Considering this season's deadened Mullins Center crowds, they are probably right. The Explorers certainly played a willing hand in strengthening that feeling last night.
La Salle shot 36 percent from the floor, melted during a 22-5 UMass run over the last 7:44 of the first half, and continued to give up ground over the last 20 minutes.
``A lot of people talked about how they lost two in a row coming into this game, but sometimes you have to look at who they played - Temple and Texas,'' said La Salle coach Speedy Morris. ``I think they'll be all right.''
Morris isn't so sure about his own side.
``We just gave up, and you can't do that,'' said Morris. ``To compete and still get beat by a team is something you can accept. But we didn't do that. And we've had a few of these this year. We panicked tonight. We didn't run anything. We lost our composure, but they're responsible for that.''
MHERST - In a men's basketball season sprinkled with ups and downs, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team wakes up this morning with one significant advantage on its side.
Chris Kirkland gets open for the jumper.
St. Bonaventure is 5-3 in the league, a half-game behind UMass. The Bonnies can tie it up with a home win against Virginia Tech tonight.
"We've got a lot more games," said Flint, who chose not to look too far ahead. "If we're there (second place) at the end, ask me about it then. But I told the guys they can win every game they have left, if they want to."
Even Temple, which UMass visits Feb. 26?
"Yes," Flint said. "No question."
For now, UMass was happy with Chris Kirkland's 26 points last night, which tied a career high. He also had eight rebounds and four steals.
Shannon Crooks glides in uncontested.
Crooks said the Minutemen, who snapped a two-game losing streak and won their sixth of the last nine, are ready for the stretch run, starting with Saturday's game at Xavier.
"Our goal still is still the NCAA tournament," said Crooks, aware that UMass is a long shot. "But if it happens to be the NIT, that's still one step further than last year. I believe that when all is said and done, we'll be in postseason play."
UMass encountered practically no resistance from La Salle (8-12, 2-7).
The Explorers are a perplexing team with little depth but plenty of individual talent among the starters. But they've lost 11 of their last 13 and live in the cellar of the Atlantic 10 West.
"We never got into our offense and did a poor job defensively. Other than that, we did a good job," La Salle coach Speedy Morris said wryly.
"The tougher team won," he added, aware of how obvious that remark seemed. "I guess that's a pretty stupid statement.
This one was over in the first half. UMass shot poorly at the outset, but outscored La Salle 22-5 in the final eight minutes of the first half and led 37-20 at the break.
Only 4,772 showed up to watch — a record low for a UMass men's basketball game at the Mullins Center — but those who did had fun. Third-string center Anthony Oates scored a career-high four points. Walk-on Dwayne Early, a Central High School graduate knocked down his first basket as a Minuteman, and all 11 Minutemen scored.
"Oates is my man," said Crooks, the playmaker. "Everybody likes him. I was just trying to reward him."
UMass is 3-3 at home in conference games, but when the Minutemen have won, they've won big. They ripped Fordham by 30 and Rhode Island by 39 at the Mullins Center last month.
Mack moved into ninth on the all-time UMass scoring list. With 1,407 points, he moved past Marcus Camby and Edwin Green and is closing in on Horace Neysmith (1,428) for eighth.
Defensively, UMass forced 13 of La Salle's 20 turnovers in the telling first half.
"Very few teams press us, and I think they were the first whose press disrupted us," Morris said. "We just gave up."
Donnie Carr led La Salle with 16 points.
MHERST - The University of Massachusetts men's basketball team had some fun last night, but life for this team generally seems a little more fun on the road.
Monty Mack picks Donnie Carr's pocket, one of the Minutemen's 14 steals.
UMass (12-10, 6-3 Atlantic 10) is 6-3 on the road, and 3-0 in the conference. Starting with Saturday's game at Xavier, the Minutemen play five of their final seven regular-season games away from Mullins, where they have beaten three Atlantic 10 teams (Fordham, Rhode Island and La Salle) by 30 points or more, but are still only 5-5.
"On the road, they take a bunker mentality," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "They know it's just us, and if we don't do it together, we'll be in trouble.
"But here, I think they think they're sometimes letting people down," Flint said. "If they hear people getting a little down on them, they get a little down, too. And it snowballs."
"A lot of guys talk about it," said forward Chris Kirkland, who tied his career high with 26 points last night. "But we tell ourselves that when we win, people will be with us."
Monty Mack nodded in agreement, suggesting that at least on the road, UMass knows everyone is against the Minutemen. But at home, it's hard to tell how many people are for them.
"We know we have to play for us," said Mack, who scored 20 points last night. "Nobody else is going through what we do, in practice and so on."
Sophomore guard Shannon Crooks agreed with Flint's comments that while the players aren't blaming the home atmosphere for their struggles, it would help if they knew more people were hanging in there with them.
"We hear a lot of those (negative) comments, and it affects us to a certain extent," Crooks said. "When we're up, people are with us, but when we're down, they'll be down, too. That's the way it is in life."
"Nobody gives these guys much credit," Flint said after UMass had won its sixth game of the last nine.
MHERST - The University of Massachusetts men's basketball team continued to treat the bottom of the Atlantic 10 food chain like an all-you-can-eat buffet, as the Minutemen hammered La Salle, 82-48, Wednesday night at the Mullins Center.
Chris Kirkland dished out some whoopass on the Explorers.
Midway through the second half, suspense was harder to find than fans in the cheap seats as the Minutemen (12-10, 6-3) played in front of 4,772, the smallest crowd ever for a men's basketball game at the Mullins.
The only mystery left was whether Monty Mack or Chris Kirkland would lead the Minutemen in scoring, a battle Kirkland won, 26-20. Kirkland also had a game-high eight rebounds, while Shannon Crooks added 12 points.
Donnie Carr led La Salle with 16 points, but the defense of Kirkland and Babul held forwards Rasual Butler and Victor Thomas well below their scoring averages.
The game was tight early as neither team could seem to get started. La Salle answered UMass' missed shots from short distances with turnovers, and the scoreboard read 15-15 with 8:29 left until intermission. But from there, the Minutemen took over. Led by Mack and Kirkland, UMass finished the half on a 22-5 layup-filled run that essentially finished the game by halftime.
Crooks buried a 3-pointer from the wing to start the second half, putting UMass up by 20.
Carr put up a fight for the Explorers early, scoring their first five points of the half. A three by Butler made it 42-28, but the Minutemen launched a 16-4 run to make it 58-32 with 13:24 left in the game, extinguishing any hope of a La Salle comeback.
"We went out and screened well and executed our plays," Kirkland said. "We were getting the ball where we wanted and just capitalized. It's good to see things we work on in practice show in a game."
UMass shot 58.1 percent in the second half and outrebounded the Explorers, 21-13.
La Salle couldn't stop Monty Mack as he shot 53% from the floor.
The highlight of the final 20 minutes came with 5:14 left. Crooks drove into the lane, drawing defenders. He dished the ball to crowd favorite Anthony Oates, whose dunk brought the fans to their feet. Oates produced his career-high in scoring just under two minutes later with a layup through a double-team. His five rebounds were also a career high.
"Oates is my man," Crooks said, smiling. "I was just trying to get him a couple of buckets because he's been working hard in practice. I was trying to reward him for all the things he brings to the team. Everybody likes Oates. I felt good for him."
The 6-foot-10 center grinned when recalling the crowd's mini ovation after his dunk.
"It felt real good," Oates said. "It was like the best feeling you've had in your whole life."
Senior walk-on Dwayne Early also scored his first field goal of the season on a driving pull-up jumper that hung on the rim before deciding to drop in. His two previous career points came on a pair of free throws against American-Puerto Rico.
The win put UMass ahead of St. Bonaventure by a half game in the race for second place in the A-10 East. The Bonnies (5-3) host Virginia Tech tonight. Flint didn't put too much stock in his team's position.
"We have a lot more games to go," he said.
The Minutemen return to action Saturday, when they travel to Cincinnati to face Xavier at noon.
MHERST - It was a tactic John Calipari loved to employ.
The former University of Massachusetts coach would convince his players that the whole world was against them. Whether it was the media, opponents' fans or whoever, he'd make his players believe that the only people they could count on were each other, and it usually worked.
Current Minuteman coach Bruiser Flint doesn't have to conceive any outside adversity. There has been plenty already.
Several articles have been written locally and nationally about the program's demise and Flint's lack of job security. There has been little in the way of consistent fan support and some of the fans who have come have spent significant time booing Flint.
So, according to the UMass players, the team and the coaching staff has bonded.
"A lot of guys talk about it and they hear people saying stuff," Kirkland said. "If we win games people want to be behind us, but if we lose games, then they say there is something wrong with the coaching staff and the players. We just tell ourselves it's just the people in the locker room with us. That's why in the huddle we say 'Us,' because we know in hard times it's only going to be us behind us."
Senior guard Monty Mack echoed Kirkland's sentiments.
"We all talk about it and go out and play for 'us,' because there isn't anybody else out there practicing with us and doing the things that we have to go through," said Mack, who has defended Flint on several occasions. "We just go out and play it and go through it as a team."
Sophomore point guard Shannon Crooks tried to deflect criticism of the coaching staff.
"It affects us to a certain extent. When we're up, people are going to be behind us, when we're down, people are going to be down on us," he said. 'That's how it is in life. Sometimes people try to put it on the coaching staff, when it's us that has to come to play on the court."
* * *
While the Minutemen still have dreams of an NCAA Tournament bid, Crooks said even a trip to the National Invitation Tournament is a step in the right direction.
"Our goal is to go to postseason play. The NCAA is our goal, but if it happens to be NIT, that's one step further toward bettering this team because we didn't go to postseason last year," Crooks said. "Guys are just playing as hard as possible and I believe we're going to be in postseason when it's all said and done."
Flint said if his team maintains its current effort, it likely will make the postseason.
"I told them we can win every game (left)," Flint said. "We can. We're 6-3 in the league and we've played much better basketball in the new year.
"We lost to two top teams. We lost to what maybe is one of the top five teams in the country in Temple last week and we lost to a top 15 team in Texas," Flint continued. "We've played well. That's why we're 6-3 in our conference. If we play hard and win the games we're supposed to win, we'll be right there in the end."
* * *
Mack continued his climb up the UMass career scoring chart Wednesday, moving out of a tie for 10th with Marcus Camby and past Edwin Green into ninth place with 1,407 points. Next up is Horace Neysmith at 1,428 points.
|La Salle Explorers||48|
|at the Mullins Center|
LA SALLE (48) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Thomas 35 4-10 3-8 2-7 0 3 11 Butler 34 3-11 0-0 1-3 0 1 7 Jordan 22 2-3 2-5 3-4 1 2 6 Blanks 32 1-5 0-0 0-1 0 2 3 Carr 36 7-18 0-0 0-1 3 0 16 Sidebotham 4 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Jones 4 0-0 1-2 0-0 0 0 1 Pavlovich 9 0-2 0-0 0-2 0 0 0 Wilson 9 0-2 0-0 2-2 0 1 0 Pidhirsky 4 1-1 0-0 1-1 0 0 2 Bragg 11 1-1 0-0 2-4 1 1 2 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 19-53 6-15 11-25 5 10 48 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.358, FT-.400. 3-Point Goals: 4-15, .267 (Thomas 0-1, Butler 1-4, Blanks 1-3, Carr 2-7). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 3 (Butler, Blanks, Pidhirsky). Turnovers: 20 (Butler 7, Thomas 5, Blanks 3, Sidebotham 2, Bragg, Jordan, Pidhirsky). Steals: 4 (Butler, Jordan, Thomas, Wilson). MASSACHUSETTS (82) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Kirkland 35 10-19 6-8 4-8 2 3 26 Babul 36 2-3 1-2 3-6 6 2 6 Rhymer 19 2-6 2-2 2-4 1 3 6 Mack 31 9-17 0-2 4-6 3 0 20 Crooks 32 5-9 0-0 1-3 3 1 12 Oates 10 2-4 0-0 2-5 0 1 4 Depina 17 1-2 0-0 1-4 0 2 3 Blizzard 6 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 2 Smith 1 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Early 2 1-2 0-0 0-0 0 1 2 Brand 11 0-2 1-2 0-1 0 1 1 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 33-66 10-16 17-37 15 15 82 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.500, FT-.625. 3-Point Goals: 6-12, .500 (Babul 1-1, Mack 2-4, Crooks 2-3, Depina 1-2, Smith 0-1, Early 0-1). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 5 (Kirkland 2, Blizzard 2, Crooks). Turnovers: 10 (Babul 5, Crooks, Depina, Early, Mack, Oates). Steals: 14 (Kirkland 4, Babul 3, Mack 3, Crooks 2, Depina 2). __________________________________ La Salle 20 28 - 48 Massachusetts 37 45 - 82 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 4,772. Officials: Jody Silvester, Tom Scott, Joe Mingle.