o watch Monty Mack on certain nights as UMass struggles for its offense is to remember the role that Donnie Carr was once forced to shoulder at La Salle.
The Explorers' senior guard, perhaps the most prolific scorer in the Atlantic 10 over the last four years, was labeled as a gunner early in his college career.
And that came out of necessity, according to La Salle coach Speedy Morris, whose Explorers play the Minutemen in Amherst tonight.
``We didn't have a lot of weapons when he came to La Salle,'' said Morris. ``So he was asked to come in here as a freshman and score, and he got labeled as a gunner because of that. But what people don't talk about is the fact that he led us in assists when he was a sophomore and a junior, and that's unusual for an off-guard. But that's the kind of game he played. The difference is that he has help now, and he doesn't have to take so many shots. He's always been a guy who passed the ball, though.''
And it is now UMass' luck, of course, to be hosting La Salle at a time when Carr has fully recovered from an illness that nearly wiped out his senior season.
Carr was diagnosed with pneumonia in early December, which caused him to miss six games and lose approximately 25 pounds.
The 6-foot-2 guard, who has regained about 15 pounds, is still a somewhat gaunt version of his former self, but the explosive touch appears to be back.
After averaging 9 points over his first four games back, Carr has averaged 21 over his last four.
Which is not necessarily the part that impresses UMass coach Bruiser Flint the most.
``The thing that really impressed me about him last year was that he became a better defensive player, and that's something that comes with maturity,'' said Flint. ``This year has really been a shame for him, because he got sick and lost all of that weight. But he's really learned how to play at both ends.
``That's something that most guys simply don't want to do - it's more a matter of that than whether they can or can't,'' he said. ``It's a mentality - you have to want to be the best player on the floor every night.''
That's not a problem with Carr, who will eventually leave as one of La Salle's all-time best. Two points tonight will give him 1,900 for his career, making Carr the fifth Explorer to get that far.
The other four include Lionel Simmons (3,217 points), Michael Brooks (2,628), Tom Gola (2,461) and Steve Black (1,925).
``People talk about him being out for (six) games, but I really look at it as him being out for nine games, because he had to recover,'' said Morris. ``His uniform was hanging off of him, and he was hurting the team. But we had to keep him out there. He's shooting better now. I'd say he's just about all of the way back.''
MHERST — The University of Massachusetts men's basketball team enters tonight's game on a two-game losing streak. La Salle enters as the last-place team in the Atlantic 10 West Division.
But to listen to the coaches talk, the game is a much better matchup than it seems.
"UMass lost two straight, but look who they played," La Salle coach Speedy Morris said of the Minutemen (11-10, 5-3 Atlantic 10). "Temple and Texas — those are two terrific teams. If they'd played two lower teams, they'd probably have seven wins in their last nine."
"I still think La Salle (8-11, 2-6 A-10) is the best offensive team in the league," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "They've got three guys (guard Donnie Carr and forwards Rasual Butler and Victor Thomas) who can flat out score."
UMass is tied for second in the A-10 East with St. Bonaventure, which suffered a rare home loss to Fordham Sunday. Finishing at least second would give UMass a bye into the A-10 tournament quarterfinals, but that's a month away, and La Salle's lineup presents more immediate problems.
Butler leads the Explorers with 18.6 points per game, but the team's heart and soul is Carr, a — 6-foot-3 senior averaging 17.3 points and 3.9 assists per contest.
Carr was sidelined just before Christmas with pneumonia, and La Salle's success went with him. The Explorers plummeted from a 6-1 start to 6-9 — their longest losing streak in 34 years — as Carr missed five games and wasn't healthy for the first four he played after returning.
"He's nearly 100 percent now, though," said Morris, noting that Carr has regained his stamina and about 14 of the 25 pounds he'd lost.
Carr was sixth in the nation with 23.9 points a game as a freshman in 1996-97. But he also averaged 22 shots a game and gained a reputation as a player who never saw a shot he didn't like.
As La Salle's lineup has improved around him, Carr has emerged as a complete, unselfish player, which Morris said was always true.
"He got the label of a gunner, and it was probably my fault because we told him we had to have him shoot," Morris said. "He's always passed the basketball. The last two years, he's led the team in assists, and I don't know too many off-guards who can say that."
"I was impressed that he became a better defensive player," said Flint, aware that Carr usually gets the toughest defensive assignment. "That goes with maturity, of deciding that if you're going to be the best player on the floor, you should be the best at both ends.
"That's tough for a young player who scores a lot of points. It's a mentality, and a lot of guys don't want to do it. But he does."
This year, Carr is averaging 15 shots per game, and he has help. Carr, Thomas (16.8 points, 8.6 rebounds per game) and Butler give the Explorers a dangerous three-man attack.
Sources involved with junior-college recruiting say 6-8 power forward Jackie Rogers of Barton County (Kan.) Community College plans to attend UMass as long as Flint is the coach. Rogers, who is also being recruited by Oklahoma and Kansas, has developed strong relationships with Flint and assistant Tony Barbee. Another recruit, point guard Anthony Anderson of Lynn English, is also "heavily leaning" toward UMass, according to recruiting sources.
MHERST - Last year's 63-60 loss to La Salle at Tom Gola Arena didn't officially end the season for the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team, but it may as well have.
A win over the 10-14 Explorers in the second-to-last game of the rough regular season represented a chance to keep the school's bid to finish .500 and its National Invitation Tournament hopes alive.
But an abundance of missed shots from close range and a horrible offensive night for Monty Mack (1-for-13 shooting) and Lari Ketner (5-21) led to the loss that dropped UMass to 12-15.
At 11-10, the Minutemen are in significantly better shape this season as they prepare to face La Salle at 7 tonight in the Mullins Center than they were the last time the two teams locked horns. The Minutemen are tied for second place in the Atlantic 10 and are battling for a first-round bye in the conference tournament. Plus, an NIT bid is within reach if they can keep themselves comfortably above the .500 mark.
The Minutemen talked about getting back to the form that earned them three straight wins prior to last week's two losses.
"We have to play hard and start diving on the floor. We have to do all the little things," said senior forward Chris Kirkland.
Like many of their Atlantic 10 West brethren, the Explorers have been up and down - lately, more down than up. After starting the season 6-1, Speedy Morris' squad had dropped 10 of its last 11 before beating Virginia Tech, 71-62, Saturday.
La Salle has gotten a boost from the return of star guard Donnie Carr. Pneumonia claimed five games and 25 pounds from the previously muscular senior.
"He really lost nine games," Morris said. "Those first four games (back), he wasn't really contributing to the team."
While his game and bulk haven't entirely returned, Carr's shooting has returned. He is scoring 17.3 points per game.
In Carr's absence, and even since he's returned, there is never a lack of willing shooters on the Explorers' squad. Forwards Rasual Butler (18.6 ppg) and Victor Thomas (16.8 ppg) are third and fifth in the league, respectively, in scoring.
"They're the best offensive team in the league," Flint said. "With Carr, Thomas and Butler, they have three guys that can flat-out score. They can go on a 20-0 run on you."
Thomas also has stepped in admirably to replace departed A-10 rebounding champ K'Zell Wesson (10.8 rpg) and is second in the conference (8.6 boards per game).
"They're a really good offensive team," said Kirkland, who will guard Thomas. "So we have to be at our best on defense."
Mike Babul will guard Butler, while Monty Mack will start the game defending Carr.
Sophomore point guard Julian Blanks has established himself as one of the league's most productive passers, with 5.16 assists per game.
"Blanks is steady," Flint said. "He knocks down the open shots and won't make a lot of mistakes."
Blanks is currently playing with a broken nose and wearing the goalie mask-style face protector.
Morris is concerned about his team being able to score against the Minutemen.
"They are very stingy on defense. That's Bruiser's forte," he said. "You have to get good shots."