Coverage from:
The Daily Hampshire Gazette
The Boston Herald
The Springfield Union-News

Mack expected to face Hawks
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 2/19/2000

AMHERST - Monty Mack will play and the game is at 4 p.m.

Those are the answers to the two biggest questions surrounding Saturday's men's basketball game between the University of Massachusetts and St. Joseph's.

On the original tickets printed for the game, the starting time is listed at 2 p.m., but the game has been moved to 4 p.m. The game will be televised on Channel 40.

Mack, who sat out Wednesday's 81-72 win at Fordham is healthy again and expected to play against the Hawks, but likely won't start. "Monty will be all right," Flint said after practice Friday. "He's still coughing a little bit. I'll ease him in a little bit."

After the success without Mack in the lineup, Flint said he'd consider using a three-guard lineup more to take advantage of Shannon Crooks' (29 points vs. Fordham) offensive ability off the ball. The key is how junior point guard Jonathan DePina is playing.

'It all depends on Jonathan," Flint said. "If he's playing well, Shannon can move over because he can guard a little bit bigger and rebound. Shannon is better at that position than he is at the point anyway."

St. Joseph's dealt with the absence of its top gun earlier in the week when Marvin O'Connor, who is averaging 16.9 points per game, was suspended for the Hawks's 59-56 loss to La Salle for fighting.

That loss was part of a busy and difficult week for the Hawks, who fell to Villanova, 68-61 Thursday night to drop below .500 at 11-12 (6-6) Atlantic 10. Once a contender for an National Invitation Tournament berth, St. Joe's has now lost five of their last seven games.

Still if recent history is any indicator, Saturday figures to be a good game as almost all UMass-St. Joe's showdowns have been. In the last five years, the nine matchups between the two schools have been decided by an average of 5.3 points. Three of those games have gone to overtime. The Minutemen are 7-2 over that stretch.

"It's always close," Flint said. "They actually have played us better here than at St. Joe's."

Don't tell that to St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli. He might prefer the dentist's office to a trip to the Mullins Center as he's felt snake-bitten with good reason in recent trips to Amherst.

* Last year Andre Howard's would-be game winning shot was either blocked by Chris Kirkland or he was fouled - depending on who you ask.

"There was a foul, no call," Martelli insisted after the game.

* In 1998, if Duval Simmonds had made one of two free throws with 8.7 seconds left, the Hawks would have prevailed. Instead he missed them both and Charlton Clarke's 3-pointer beat the buzzer to force overtime. UMass won.

* St. Joseph's was inbounding the ball, leading the 1996 Final Four-bound Minutemen 58-55 with 34.4 seconds left. An upset appeared imminent, but a Hollywood-worthy fall by UMass' Rigoberto Nunez sparked an intentional foul call on Hawk Terrell Myers. The Minutemen tied the game and won in overtime. An enraged Martelli chased the refs off the court.

Still Martelli is trying to see the glass half full.

"A lot of crazy things have happened there," Martelli said. "But we try to look at it from the flip side that we've played well enough to win there."

On this trip to Amherst, Martelli could be without the services of guard Na'im Crenshaw, the team's second leading scorer at 11.3 points per game, who is suffering from an ankle sprain.

"It's probable that he won't play Saturday," Martelli said, adding that he was uncertain who would start in his place.

St. Joe's will miss Crenshaw's defense as he would have guarded Mack.

UMass gets it done
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 2/19/2000

AMHERST - In some respects UMass is a team that only a coach could love to watch.v ``We may not have the most glamorous way of doing things, but we're doing real well right now,'' coach Bruiser Flint said of his Minutemen (13-11), who have a chance to give their 7-4 Atlantic 10 record another boost with today's game against St. Joseph's at the Mullins Center.

Few are going to debate the first part of that statement.

Prior to Wednesday's pull-out-the-stops win over Fordham with an ill Monty Mack on the bench, offense had been a forced march.

With Mack expected to be well enough to play today, the Minutemen now have a chance to put their two halves together - Mack, with his 19.7 scoring average, and the rest of the lineup, with Wednesday's rare 81-point run.

The Minutemen also shot 54.7 percent from the floor against Fordham - the highest percentage of the season, discounting a 59.4 effort against American-Puerto Rico, a Div. 2 team, in the Puerto Rico Holiday festival.

Could Wednesday's game have shown this unglamorous lineup what is possible?

``I think so,'' said Chris Kirkland. ``Guys on this team have the confidence that they can score. Guys who hadn't played that much really showed something (against Fordham).''

Perhaps the phrase ``shot that much'' is more appropriate.

Kirkland, already established behind Mack as the No. 2 option, did his requisite part with 17 points.

But it was Kitwana Rhymer's ability not only to stay on the floor, but to score 12 of his career-high 19 points over the last five minutes, that made this game stick.

The same can be said of Shannon Crooks - always a willing shooter, but this time around someone capable of making his offense count. The sophomore guard missed his first six shots, scored UMass' last 13 points of the first half and finished with a career-high 29 points on sound 12-of-24 shooting.

There will be a need for more of that mentality today against St. Joseph's. The Hawks (11-12), who lost a nonconference, crosstown matchup against Villanova on Thursday, are one of the Atlantic 10's true free-shooting teams.

The St. Joe's offense, behind guard Marvin O'Connor, has developed a reputation for winning - and losing just as often - by shootout.

That pace hasn't been to UMass' liking this season, though the Minutemen beat the Hawks, 73-68, under those conditions on Jan. 16 in Philadelphia.

``It's like we told these guys before Fordham, when we realized we weren't going to have Monty,'' said Flint. ``You can't be afraid.''

Mack's back for UMass
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 2/19/2000

AMHERST Where the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team winds up this season remains unknown. The NCAA tournament is virtually out of reach, unless the Minutemen get hot and win the Atlantic 10 tournament for the automatic NCAA berth.

The NIT is doable, but so is a trip to nowhere if the Minutemen slip now. After 24 games, though, it's now clear this team has earned coach Bruiser Flint's respect, if not national acclaim.

"Last year's (14-16) team had more talent," Flint said. "But this team shows up to play every night."

At p.m. today, the Minutemen (13-11, 7-4 Atlantic 10) will show up to play St. Joseph's (11-12, 6-6) in a game UMass probably must win if the NIT berth is to become reality. The Minutemen will try to do so with Monty Mack, who will play after sitting out Wednesday's 81-72 win at Fordham with the flu.

Mack is averaging 19.7 points a game, but without the league's No. 2 scorer, UMass still found ways to keep its recently productive offense on the move. In the last three games, the Minutemen are averaging 80 points per game.

Mack's return would be welcomed under any conditions, but especially against St. Joseph's, which is last in the A-10 in 3-point field goal defense. So as UMass faces Flint's alma mater at the Mullins Center, the trick may be for Mack's teammates to remain as confident and aggressive as they were without him, while deferring to the fact that the main scoring source is back.

St. Joseph's has lost five straight to UMass, but by a total of only 22 points. On Jan. 16, the Minutemen won 73-69 in Philadelphia.

The Hawks are led by 6-foot-4 sophomore Marvin O'Connor, whose 19.3 average in league games is fourth in the Atlantic 10. The Villanova transfer lit up UMass for a season-high 28 points last month, and for all games this season, he's averaging 16.9 ppg.

But O'Connor's production comes with a catch: he's earned a reputation as a player with a temper, and after being ejected for fighting last week against Fordham, he had to sit out Tuesday's 59-56 loss to La Salle.

After that game, Fordham coach Bob Hill compared O'Connor to Dennis Rodman, claiming both players like to distract opponents by taunting and other attention-grabbing techniques. Even St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli says O'Connor's emotions can become a problem if they become uncorked.

"It's a very, very, very delicate situation," said Martelli, aware that one more fighting ejection will cause the league to suspend O'Connor a second time, this time for the season. "I can't have him without his aggression, because you want a player to compete and in this league, you'll be challenged. But you can't let your emotions spill over."

O'Connor returned Thursday and scored 20 points in a 68-61 loss to Villanova. But his one-game suspension is only a part of the Hawks' personnel losses lately.

Junior guard N'aim Crenshaw, the team's No. 2 scorer (11.3 ppg.) missed the Villanova game with a sprained ankle and is listed at 50-50 for today's game.

Bill Phillips, a 6-9 sophomore and one of the A-10's top reserves, has been playing with a viral infection that has reduced his minutes. St. Joseph's is also without senior forward Rob Haskins, who left the team in early February for personal reasons.

Haskins played for a month after learning that a friend had been killed during the Christmas holidays, then decided that his heart was not sufficiently in basketball.

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