MHERST - Some teams are a stylish joy to watch. UMass is not one of them.
The Minutemen, with their defense-dominated outlook, generally win by holding an opponent below 40 percent shooting. This in turn guarantees the sort of mud pit exchange that produced yesterday's 76-65 win over St. Joseph's.
Shannon Crooks turns the corner past Bill Phillips.
But they earned this one in various ways at the other end of the floor. Mike Babul and Crooks did such a good job defending Hawks guard Marvin O'Connor that the explosive sophomore was forced to work harder than usual for his 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting.
The rest of the team wasn't much better, hitting just 19-of-55 (34.5 percent). The Hawks turned the ball over 17 times - a total that led to 17 UMass points - and combined with the Minutemen to commit 45 fouls.
Ugly? Absolutely. But the Minutemen also emerged from the scrum with a 14-11 record, including wins in three of their last four games, and an 8-4 conference record that has them tied with St. Bonaventure for second place in the Atlantic 10's East division.
Lack of style is perfectly acceptable under these circumstances.
``Guys have been stepping up, and it happened again (yesterday),'' said UMass coach Bruiser Flint. ``We had (Anthony) Oates and (Ronell) Blizzard step in and give us some good minutes when some of the other guys fell into foul trouble. And that's what we'll need if we're going to keep going.''
With Mack, Crooks and freshman Micah Brand doing most of the work offensively, the Minutemen pushed out to a 54-46 lead with 10:39 left, courtesy of a Chris Kirkland 18-footer, followed by a Crooks free throw.
But mainstays Kirkland and Kitwana Rhymer, in addition to Brand, all had four fouls by the time Blizzard checked in for Rhymer with 9:59 left and UMass on top by a 56-48 score. Oates replaced Kirkland with 9:09 left, and the Minutemen had an Oates-Babul-Blizzard frontcourt - not exactly the model of offensive precision - on the floor.
But Babul responded with a lane-splitting drive and scoop, which Mack followed with an 18-footer 37 seconds later for a 60-49 edge.
St. Joe's came back with a 6-0 burst, capped by a Tim Brown trey, only for Mack to hit two free throws with 5:51 left, followed by the game-breaker from Babul.
He stepped in front of a pass intended for O'Connor at midcourt and drove in himself for the fast break dunk and a 64-55 UMass lead with 5:32 left.
O'Connor responded with a deep trey with 5:07 left, but the Minutemen were about to close this one out over the last 3:37 from the line, where they shot 9-of-13 down the stretch to go along with a Mack trey.
The Minutemen vastly improved their foul shooting, hitting on 26-of-34 after shooting just 50 percent from the line in Wednesday night's win over Fordham.
Kirkland followed up his solid effort from Wednesday night with a double-double yesterday, scoring 12 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. Babul added nine points, five rebounds, and team highs in assists (five) and steals (three).
MHERST - UMass pushed its record out to 14-11 yesterday, which struck a subtle but reassuring ring for head coach Bruiser Flint.
``Fourteen wins is as much as we had all of last season,'' he said after yesterday's 76-65 win over St. Joseph's. ``Last year we never got to the point of having a winning record, even, so this is important.
Perhaps the most important aspect of yesterday's win for the Minutemen was its affect on the Atlantic 10's East Division standings.
The Minutemen, tied with St. Bonaventure for second in the division with 8-4 conference records, also are two games ahead of the Hawks (6-7) in the division.
Now that everyone in this middle-heavy conference is pointing to the A-10 tournament March 8-11 for some postseason survival, seedings are becoming crucial.
A second-place division finish - a decision that could come down to the Minutemen's season-ending game against St. Bonaventure in Olean, N.Y., on March 4 - means a first-day bye in the tournament.
``We've been talking about postseason play a lot lately,'' Flint said of his team's rise in confidence over the last month. ``We're trying to get a little momentum together now, going into the playoffs. The main thing is to get that bye, and then manage to stay out of Temple's path until the championship game.''
Babul scores with coach
Defense has never been the question for Mike Babul, and the senior forward did his usual fine job, along with Shannon Crooks, in giving Hawks guard Marvin O'Connor a hard time offensively.
But that's not what caught Flint's eye yesterday.
Babul's nine-point, five-rebound effort - including three big rebounds as well as a crucial steal and dunk down the stretch - actually overshadowed his defense for a change.
``Forget his defense. It was the other things that he did (yesterday),'' said Flint. ``He really stuck his nose in there and got a lot of different things done for us.
``He came up big when our other guys got into foul trouble,'' he said. ``With (Ronell) Blizzard and (Anthony) Oates out there with him, it was a question of where we were going to get our offense, and he answered that for us.''
More foul play
O'Connor, an excitable, vocal sort, was compared by Fordham coach Bob Hill to Dennis Rodman following last Saturday's St. Joseph's-Fordham game, which featured nine technical fouls.
Yesterday O'Connor drew an intentional foul on Crooks that required some cooling-off time on the part of the UMass guard.
``I didn't retaliate,'' said Crooks. ``Bru kept me under control. It's not the kind of thing that you can let get to you during a game.''
MHERST - It was a men's basketball game that had almost everybody wondering if the referees were being paid not by the game but by the hour, or by the foul call.
Whistles were blown, players got frustrated, and substitutions were made based not on matchups, but on who could afford a personal. When all ended, though, the University of Massachusetts had found a way to win a game they needed, a 76-65 decision from St. Joseph's before 5,356 at the Mullins Center.
Monty Mack came back from a one-game absence to score 23 points for UMass, while Shannon Crooks connected for 20. With Mack sidelined by the flu Wednesday, Crooks had picked up the scoring slack with 29 points in an 81-72 win over Fordham, but yesterday, both guards showed they could score within the same offense.
Yet the biggest accomplishment for UMass may have been avoiding the distractions that cropped up in a game involving 45 foul calls — 32 after halftime — against a St. Joseph's lineup that is developing a reputation for rattling its opponents.
"The whole game, our guys were saying they thought they were getting cheap shots," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "I told them not to lose their cool, to let the refs take care of it."
"In my earlier days, I might have retaliated," Crooks said. "But you can't let it get to you."
The win allowed UMass (14-11, 8-4 Atlantic 10) to remain tied for second with St. Bonaventure in the A-10 East. St. Joseph's (11-13, 6-7) is tumbling with three straight losses, and yesterday's came partly because the Hawks pushed the Minutemen to the edge of foul-trouble disaster, but couldn't push them over the side.
Kitwana Rhymer, Micah Brand and Chris Kirkland had four fouls each with more than nine minutes left. But only Rhymer fouled out, and that came with 1:56 remaining and the Minutemen leading 70-60.
"We had to watch the banging, especially inside and on defense," said Kirkland, who managed 12 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
Despite the foul problems, the UMass defense forced 17 turnovers and held St. Joseph's to 34.5 percent shooting.
Mack played 30 minutes, contributing six rebounds and three assists in addition to his scoring. Marvin O'Connor led St. Joseph's with 15 points, but missed eight of 13 shots.
Mike Babul helped keep Marvin O'Connor in check but also scored 9 points of his own.
Even in victory, UMass continued to struggle on the boards. The Minutemen lost a 41-32 rebounding battle yesterday, with St. Joseph's grabbing 19 offensive boards.
But a 14-4 surge over the final five minutes of the first half gave UMass a 32-27 lead, and the Hawks never recovered. The UMass lead remained in single digits for almost the entire second half, and when St. Joseph's forward Bill Phillips hit two free throws, the Hawks were within 65-60.
But Mack responded with two free throws and a 3-pointer from the left wing, and it was 70-60 with 2:35 left.
Babul contributed a season-high nine points with five rebounds and five assists as UMass beat St. Joseph's, which is Flint's alma mater, for the sixth straight time.
"Mike came up with some big rebounds, played tough and really stuck his nose in there," Flint said.
MHERST - Monty Mack wasn't in the University of Massachusetts men's basketball starting lineup yesterday, but in the 76-65 victory over St. Joseph's, he showed he is regaining his form.
Monty Mack keeps a close eye on Na'im Crenshaw.
"I'd say I'm about 95 percent back," said Mack, who sat out Wednesday's 81-72 win over Fordham when his temperature rose to 101 degrees. "My chest was burning at the beginning, but it didn't affect me in the second half.
"It felt good to be out there sweating again," Mack said. "Plus, I could hear Bruiser (Flint) on the sidelines."
Shannon Crooks and Jonathan DePina started yesterday, and Crooks scored 20 points to give him 49 in two games. But Mack came off the bench after less than two minutes, and played 30 minutes.
Mack even scored on a post-up move, something he hadn't shown before.
"It wasn't in the playbook, but I just told Shannon to throw me the ball," Mack said.
Second-half foul trouble forced Flint to try some makeshift lineups. He briefly used forward Ronell Blizzard at center, then had Blizzard and center Anthony Oates, neither of whom played at all against Fordham Wednesday, in the game at the same time.
But while foul calls put several key UMass players in trouble, the Minutemen made the most of their chances at the other end. They hit 26 of 34 foul shots, while St. Joseph's made 19 of 29.
UMass had missed 17 of 34 free throws against Fordham, but Mack, Crooks and Chris Kirkland were a combined 21 of 24 yesterday.
"Shannon can get 15 points a game if he hits his foul shots," Flint said of the sophomore guard, who is averaging 11.6 points per game but shooting only 52 percent from the line. "He's the only guy on the team who has the ability to drive, get fouled and get to the line."
UMass has been outrebounded 189-136 in his last five games, including 41-32 yesterday. The Minutemen did manage a 19-18 edge in the second half against St. Joseph's.
One trend has been obvious lately. When Kitwana Rhymer is in foul trouble, the Minutemen's rebounding nearly vanishes.
"I was upset with Kit's fifth foul, because he let it (the game's physical nature) get to him," Flint said. Rhymer fouled out with 1:56 left on a play away from the ball, with UMass on offense and leading by 10. He finished with only four points and one rebound in 24 minutes.
Flint didn't talk about the officials after the game. It was the second time UMass had seen referee Rich San Fillippo in three games, and coincidentally or not, both contests — the loss at Xavier and yesterday's game — saw heavy Minutemen foul trouble.
UMass' six-game winning streak against St. Joseph's has come by a total of 33 points, including 11 yesterday. The Minutemen (6-5 at Mullins) also clinched at least a .500 home record, with only the Feb. 29 game against George Washington remaining at home.
St. Joseph's was playing its fourth game in six days, and also endured a weather-delayed bus ride Friday. The Hawks didn't reach Amherst until 10:30 p.m.
MHERST, Mass. - These days, fans of St. Joseph's basketball must sift long and hard through the mounting losses and set aside the heartbreak of a depressing week to find some comforting news.
Na'im Crenshaw gets the pass around Shannon Crooks.
Want more good news? The Hawks have a week off to repair their frayed nerves and prepare for their final three regular-season games.
Otherwise, the Hawks' unnerving pattern of fading down the stretch and missing easy putbacks after fighting to grab one offensive rebound after another continued as St. Joe's dropped its third straight game and fell to 11-13 overall and 6-7 in the conference.
"I think the week got to us," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said, referring to frustrating City Series losses to La Salle and Villanova on Tuesday and Thursday. "Our legs kind of gave out, and because of that the result was kind of inevitable."
After a game, Martelli typically absorbs the box score before giving his assessment. Yesterday, he noticed once again that his team had the verve and resiliency to dominate the offensive boards, 19-9, against the Minutemen (14-11, 8-4). The Hawks did the same against La Salle and Villanova, grabbing 21 offensive rebounds against each team, but the result was the same as they returned home by bus last night with three losses in five days.
"You get 21, 21 and 19 [offensive rebounds], and you would think you'd get some conversions," he said. "You work that hard to get the ball; you'd think you'd finish things off. I don't know whether we rush, or what. I don't have an answer for that."
Added Bill Phillips, the 6-foot-9 sophomore forward whose playing time was limited to 19 minutes because of a viral infection that has robbed him of his stamina: "Getting all those offensive rebounds shows a lot of hard work, but if you don't convert it's nothing more than a number."
It was the Hawks' miserable free-throw shooting that jumped off the scoresheet at Martelli. And since this game bogged down into a virtual free-throw-shooting contest the entire second half, this is where the matter was decided.
Ranked third in the conference in free-throw shooting, St. Joe's nonetheless shot 19 for 29 (65.5 percent), while UMass was 26 for 34 (76.5 percent). Their first five trips to the free-throw line in the second half, the Hawks missed one of two. Overall, the two teams combined for 32 fouls and shot 50 free throws in the second half, which amounted to a 20-minute rugby scrum.
"It was hard," UMass guard Shannon Crooks said of all the stoppages in play during the second half. "But the coaches kept talking to us and the players kept calming each other down."
Crooks had a career-high 29 points in Wednesday's win over Fordham as Monty Mack, the second-leading scorer in the conference, sat out with the flu. Unfortunately for St. Joe's, Mack was healthy and Crooks had another productive game. Mack scored 23 points.
"I felt 95 percent," Mack said. "When I got up this morning, I had some burning in my chest. But it didn't affect me at all in the second half."
Crooks had 20 points as the Minutemen shot a healthy 46.2 percent and ripped the Hawks down low, outscoring them, 48-17, from the lane.
"The difference in fastbreak points is stunning," Martelli said.
Despite their problems, the Hawks were within 60-55 with six minutes remaining, and stayed within striking distance. Mack shook loose from Na'im Crenshaw's sticky defense and drained a three-point basket to raise the UMass lead to 70-60 with 2:34 to go. Down 70-62, the Hawks had possession and still enough time when Phillips hauled down an impressive offensive rebound, went for the putback, and missed. After that, the Hawks had nothing left to give.
St. Joe's shot 34.5 percent on top of the 30 percent it shot against La Salle and the 34.7 percent that came against Villanova. Once again, the Hawks' leading scorer was O'Connor, but his 15 points came on 13 shots, and he had five turnovers. Mike Babul, UMass' defensive ace, made it a rough game for O'Connor.
MHERST - In a game that featured all the pace of a bad American League baseball game, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team outlasted St. Joseph's in a foulfest, 76-65 in front of 5,356 at the Mullins Center Saturday.
The win gave UMass (14-11, 8-4 Atlantic 10) as many wins as it had all last year (14-16) with four games to go. The Minutemen kept its improving postseason hopes alive and kept pace in the race for second place in the A-10 East with St. Bonaventure, which defeated Duquesne earlier in the day.
"We talk about postseason play," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "We win a few games and we know we're going to be playing when a lot of people aren't. Plus, we're keeping pace. We're right there for second place. It's always important to get that (Atlantic 10 tournament) bye. Instead of playing four games you only have to play three to try to win it."
Mack gets ready for collision as he catches the high, across the middle pass.
"It just felt good to be out there sweating," said Mack, who estimated that he played at about 95 percent. "It felt good. When I first got out there my chest was burning, but in the second half it didn't affect me so much. I think I had to just go out there and sweat it out."
Shannon Crooks, who replaced Mack at shooting guard Wednesday and scored 29 points against the Rams, moved back to his point guard spot. He still shined offensively though scoring 20 points to go along with six rebounds. His performance in the two games earned him Atlantic 10 Player of the Week honors. Chris Kirkland added 12 points and 10 boards.
St. Joseph's came out of the gate strong and led most of the first half taking advantage of a 23-13 pre-intermission rebounding advantage. But the Minutemen took over in the final 4:19 of the half.
Trailing 26-20, a Micah Brand lay-in in the paint was followed by a pair of baskets by Mack to tie the game at 26-26 with 2:35 left in the first half. Chris Kirkland sank two free throws to give UMass the lead, but St. Joe's reserve Bill Phillips made one of two from the line to bring the Hawks within one at 28-27.
But momentum which had been with the visitors most of the half had shifted. A floater by Kirkland and a fast-break lay-in by Crooks completed the Minutemen's half-closing 10-1 run.
The second half at times sounded like a whistle concert as the recently maligned Atlantic 10 officials called 32 fouls after halftime. St. Joseph's made only 15-of-22 from the line to hurt their chances of getting back in the game.
"The thing that stands out is foul shooting, 15-of-22 isn't going to get it done." said St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli.
The Hawks stayed within striking distance early in the half and looked to be climbing back in when a Tim Brown 3-pointer and a free throw by Frank Wilkins slashed an eight-point UMass lead to 49-45.
The Minutemen knocked the staggering Hawks to the mat with an 11-4 run that gave UMass it's biggest lead to that point, 60-49.
The Minutemen held on despite considerable foul trouble. Kirkland, Kitwana Rhymer and Micah Brand all had four foul with 9:09 left in the game.
"We just had to watch the banging inside and move our feet more on defense," Kirkland said.
It worked as only Rhymer fouled out.
Bad blood emerged down the stretch. After picking up his fifth foul Rhymer had to be restrained by teammates and coaches from trying to go after St. Joe's guard Na'im Crenshaw, who had exchanged words with Mack earlier.
Shannon Crooks gets wacked as he drives to the hoop.
Flint had been screaming to no avail for an intentional foul on St. Joe's guard Marvin O'Connor when the he hauled down Crooks midway through the second half. The UMass coach got his wish, when O'Connor, who had to sit out a game earlier this week for fighting, was hit with the hard foul call for chopping Crooks across the clavicle on a fast break with 1:02 left in the game.
"I didn't retaliate," Crooks said. "Back in the day I probably would have retaliated, but Bru has been keeping me under control. You can't let it get to you during the game. The most important thing is to win and we did that today."
Both O'Connor and Crenshaw skipped the postgame handshakes. O'Connor led St. Joe's (11-13, 6-7) with 15 points.
The Minutemen return to action Tuesday when they take on Rhode Island at the Providence Civic Center at 7:30 p.m.
MHERST - With 9:09 remaining in the University of Massachusetts' game with St. Joseph's, Minuteman coach Bruiser Flint admitted he was concerned.
His team led 56-49, but to his left on the UMass bench sat Chris Kirkland, Kitwana Rhymer and Micah Brand, all in foul trouble, while seldom used reserves Anthony Oates and Ronell Blizzard were pressed into service.
"I didn't worry about having Blizz and Oates in there because I knew we would still play defense," Flint said. "But it was like who are we going to get some offense from?"
The answer came from an unlikely source. Collecting the ball on the wing, Mike Babul drove into the lane and scored on a pretty finger roll.
"He came up big when those guys were down," Flint said. "Mike came up with some big plays and that really helped us."
Not usually an offensive weapon, Babul scored a season high nine points in the contest, but his stat line stretched well beyond the scoring column. The senior captain did a little of everything with five rebounds, five assists along with three assists.
The Mullins Center crowd appreciated his effort and when he stripped Na'im Crenshaw and broke in for and uncontested two-handed dunk, the 5,356 on hand gave him a warm ovation.
"Everyone seemed to be in foul trouble so I tried to do what came my way," Babul said. "Get a few points here and there, a couple of rebounds, a couple assists. Things turned out the right way. They were making a run at us and it slowed the momentum down."
Babul has given up hopes of becoming a 20-point scorer.
"I'm just trying to contribute in anyway I can," he said. "I know I'm not going to score in double-figures cause that's not in the offense. As long as I go out, do my job and help us win, I'm happy. If we're winning, I'm happy."
Babul, who has only one more game at the Mullins Center in his career (Feb. 29 vs. George Washington) said he hoped to leave UMass with a good impression.
"I want to go out in a good way," he said. "I want people to remember me as someone who played hard and gave it his all."
* * *
With Saturday's win, Flint has now won six straight games against his alma mater. Flint fell to St. Joe's twice during his first season as a head coach and hasn't lost to them since.
* * *
With nine steals in the game Saturday, the Minutemen are well on their way to breaking the UMass mark for average steals per game for a single season.
The 1989-90 squad averaged 8.58 swipes per game, but this year's Minutemen are ahead of that pace with 9.44 per game.
Monty Mack leads UMass with 49, which is tied for sixth best in one season, while Kirkland's 48 (seventh) is also in the top 10. Shannon Crooks is knocking on the door with 44.
|St. Joseph's Hawks||65|
|at the Mullins Center|
ST JOSEPHS PA (65) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Howard 34 3-11 1-2 0-3 3 2 7 Reid 24 4-7 4-7 4-9 1 1 12 Jennings 20 1-2 0-0 0-0 1 4 2 Oconner 31 5-13 1-2 2-4 0 3 15 Crenshaw 32 1-6 6-8 0-0 3 2 8 Brown 22 3-7 0-0 3-3 0 4 8 Wilkins 11 1-2 2-4 1-1 0 1 5 Phillips 19 1-6 5-6 3-6 2 5 8 Woods 7 0-1 0-0 2-3 0 1 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 19-55 19-29 15-29 10 23 65 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.345, FT-.655. 3-Point Goals: 8-19, .421 (Jennings 0-1, Oconner 4-8, Crenshaw 0-2, Brown 2-4, Wilkins 1-2, Phillips 1-2). Team rebounds: 12. Blocked shots: 2 (Howard, Reid). Turnovers: 17 (Oconner 5, Reid 4, Brown 3, Howard 2, Crenshaw, Woods). Steals: 2 (Howard, Oconner). MASSACHUSETTS (76) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Kirkland 32 3-11 6-6 2-10 1 4 12 Babul 33 4-6 1-4 2-5 5 1 9 Rhymer 24 1-1 2-2 0-1 0 5 4 Depina 18 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0 Crooks 37 6-13 7-9 1-4 3 2 20 Oates 3 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Blizzard 4 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0 Mack 30 7-17 8-9 2-6 3 3 23 Smith 4 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 0 Brand 15 3-4 2-4 0-4 1 4 8 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 24-52 26-34 7-30 14 22 76 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.462, FT-.765. 3-Point Goals: 2-11, .182 (Babul 0-1, Crooks 1-5, Mack 1-5). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 5 (Babul, Rhymer, Crooks, Blizzard, Brand). Turnovers: 10 (Brand 2, Kirkland 2, Rhymer 2, Babul, Crooks, Depina, Mack). Steals: 9 (Babul 3, Crooks 2, Depina 2, Kirkland, Mack). __________________________________ St Josephs Pa 27 38 - 65 Massachusetts 32 44 - 76 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 5,356. Officials: Bryan Kersey, Rich Sanfillipo, Joseph Pescitelli.