Coverage from:
The Providence Journal
The Providence Journal - Babul focus
The Springfield Union-News
The Daily Hampshire Gazette

Rams reach a new low in 57-37 loss to UMass
URI's point total is the lowest in a home game in more than six decades.
By Paul Kenyon, The Providence Journal Sports Writer, 2/23/2000

PROVIDENCE -- The last time the University of Rhode Island scored fewer points in a home game than it did last night:

The UMass thumping of Rhody allowed for reserves like Dwayne Early to get some PT.
The landmark game came in January, 1937, when Springfield College went to Kingston and held off URI, 34-30.

It wasn't that close last night.

URI went more than 10 minutes without scoring in the first half, a stretch which began with it ahead of Massachusetts, 11-4. However, UMass ran off 25 straight points and went on to a 57-37 victory at the Civic Center.

It was Rhode Island's lowest total since it scored 32 in a game at Connecticut in 1970. The 37 points were the lowest in a home game since that loss to Springfield 63 years ago.

The Rams, now 5-22 on the season and 2-12 in Atlantic 10 play, have lost 10 straight for the second time this season. The 22 defeats tie the school record for most losses in a season, set 16 years ago.

To make matters worse, the team faces the prospect of playing the rest of the way -- as it did last night -- without its center and captain, Luther Clay. Clay suffered a scratched cornea in Saturday's loss at George Washington and is expected to be out for two weeks.

Massachusetts is 15-11, 9-4 in the conference. The Minutemen still have legitimate hope of qualifying for postseason play.

It's hard to find any hope on the URI side. The Rams keep having more hurdles thrown in their way. Not only have they lost Clay, but point guard Zach Marbury was limited last night because of an injured foot.

``Hopefully you learn from this. There's always hope. There's always recruiting,'' URI coach Jerry DeGregorio said. ``It's hard when your starting four and five (Clay and Tiger Womack, who is out with a broken foot) are out and you're playing a football player (Justin Henry). And he did a good job. He got us 12 rebounds tonight, which I thought was nice. Unfortunately, he had eight turnovers. I think that comes from being frustrated, from trying to make plays.''

Frustration is the operative word for the URI situation. Add the fact that the team had to go against one of the best defenses it sees all year in UMass's man-to-man, and the game degenerated into one as ugly as has been seen in a season of ugly games.

Consider some of the numbers:

Despite all that, the night actually began well for the Rams. Massachusetts missed its first eight shots and URI took an 11-4 lead on a rebound basket by Tavorris Bell (15 points, the only Ram in double figures) with 13:07 left in the first half. By that time Bruiser Flint, the Massachusetts coach, was unhappy enough with his team to have benched three starters.

The subs came in and got the Minutemen going. Guard Jonathan DePina spearheaded a full-court press which gave URI fits. Forwards Micah Brand (15) and Ronnell Blizzard (9) combined for 24 points.

It was the press which got Massachusetts going.

``They scored 17 points in the first half off turnovers,'' said DeGregorio. ``I felt when we were five on five, our defense versus their offense, we were okay. It was when our offense created their offense, our inability to be patient offensively, to try and make plays when there were no plays there to be made.''

Five times during their run of 25 straight points the Minutemen turned URI turnovers directly into easy baskets before the Rams could set up defensively. That included two dunks by North Attleboro's Mike Babul.

It was 29-15 by halftime and UMass built its lead as high as 26 in the second half.

DeGregorio said he is getting through his team's struggles by referring to his bible. He qouted from Romans V on what he is doing to deal with his team's plight:

``Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance builds character. With character you have hope. And hope never fails you.''

UMass's Babul had a lot on his mind
He and the rest of the Minutemen dedicated last night's performance to Mike's brother, Jeff, who was badly injured during a high school basketball game Monday night.
By Paul Kenyon, The Providence Journal Sports Writer, 2/23/2000

PROVIDENCE -- It would be totally understandable if Mike Babul's head wasn't quite into last night's game against the University of Rhode Island. Just 24 hours earlier, the UMass senior learned that his younger brother, Jeff, had taken a serious fall in his high school basketball game and had been rushed to the hospital.

Mike Babul loses out on the rebound.
``The team dedicated the win to him tonight,'' said Babul, who spent the better part of Monday night and yesterday afternoon with his brother at Rhode Island Hospital.

Jeff Babul, a senior star for North Attleboro, suffered his fall about two minutes into Monday night's game against rival Attleboro. He had gone up to block a shot, and when the opposing player ducked, Babul somersaulted over him and dropped to the floor, landing on his head. He lay motionless for several minutes and an ambulance was summoned.

Mike Babul, meanwhile, was on his way to Providence with the UMass basketball team in preparation for last night's game at the Civic Center.

``We got to the hotel about 7:15, and I was thinking about going to see Jeff's game,'' he said. ``But I decided not to because I wouldn't have been able to get there until about halftime, and then I'd have to rush back to the hotel for a film session at night. So I called a friend from home to go to the mall just to waste some time for about an hour or two, and my dad came running into the lobby right when I was leaving.

``My dad said it was the worst fall he'd ever seen in his life, and my dad's been watching basketball games for 40 years,'' Babul said. ``So I was like, `Oh my God.' I didn't know what to think. They said at first he was out cold and they didn't know if he was paralyzed. It was that bad of a fall. I'm glad I didn't see it.''

Babul said his brother underwent a CATscan and doctors determined that Jeff was experiencing some internal bleeding around his brain.

``He was in good spirits,'' said Babul, when he visited his brother in the hospital. ``I think he was glad I was there, someone he could talk to besides the nurses. He just had a massive headache.

``He was on my mind all night. I got back to the hotel probably about 1:30 (in the morning), and I couldn't sleep at all. I kept waking up thinking about him. So I got up (yesterday), went to shoot-around and then went back to see him for about three hours. He was doing good, so that kind of took it off my mind a little. But he didn't want me to leave him.''

Even with the distraction, Babul finished with six points, two rebounds, one assist and one block in UMass' 57-37 victory over URI.

His contribution, which nearly duplicated his performance against the Rams in the teams' Jan. 22 meeting, included two dunks that came during UMass' 25-0 run in the first half. His layup three minutes into the second half put the Minutemen ahead 32-16.

Babul, one of the top high school players in the country while at North Attleboro, has been up and down in his final season, but says the past couple of months have been better for him.

Though he has yet to score in double figures this season, he came close when he scored nine in last Saturday's win over St. Joseph's. Babul also pulled down five rebounds and led the Minutemen in assists with five and in steals with three in that game. More impressively, he held St. Joe's Tim Brown -- the Atlantic-10's top three-point shooter, to zero points, only allowing him two attempts from the perimeter.

``Probably the last 15 games or so, it's been great for me,'' Babul said. ``I've been playing real well, except for maybe one or two games, and doing what I do best.

``I just got back into the rythym of things,'' he said. ``I wasn't coming in and out, coming in and out. The first part of the season, I wasn't getting the minutes that I used to. I probably averaged more than 30 minutes a game last year, and (this year) I was playing like 14, 15 minutes, had no rythym and was just frustrated out of my mind. Now the last 13, 14 games, I've been playing a good 25 to 35 minutes every game. If you get the minutes out there, you get so much more comfortable.''

UMass runs away from Rhode Island
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 2/23/2000

PROVIDENCE - Shannon Crooks said it best last night.

Shannon Crooks gets past the defense.
"We can't have another game like that, or we're going to get killed," the University of Massachusetts point guard said after last night's 57-37 men's basketball victory over Rhode Island. "We started out flat, as everyone could see."

The 5,335 fans at the Providence Civic Center could see it, but it was hard to watch. It took a 25-0 first-half run for UMass (15-11, 9-4 Atlantic 10) to shake off the cobwebs from a start that saw the Minutemen go scoreless for nearly the first six minutes.

But as badly as UMass played, Rhode Island (5-22, 2-12) was much worse.

"Monty Mack and Tip Vinson were out there looking at each other, practically asking who could shoot worse," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said.

Mack shot 2 for 12 and finished with five points, but Rhody guard Vinson underwhelmed him, going 1 for 12 for four points.

The bright spots for UMass, which moved a half-game ahead of idle St. Bonaventure for second place in the Atlantic 10 East, were a defense that produced 18 steals and the play of the bench, led by freshman center Micah Brand's career-high 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting.

"I was getting the ball in the low blocks and was able to score," said Brand, whose 26 minutes were also a career high. That allowed starting center Kitwana Rhymer, who played only 10 minutes, to rest a sore ankle.

Rhode Island was missing center Luther Clay, the Atlantic 10's No. 3 rebounder who suffered an eye injury against George Washington Saturday. The Rams tied a school record for most losses in a season, and last night was their 10th straight.

They made it possible with 29 turnovers, 30.8-percent shooting from the line, 38.5-percent work from the line and zero on 3-pointers, missing all eight.

The 37 points were the fewest allowed by UMass since Feb. 1, 1996, in a 59-35 win at Temple. It was Rhode Island's lowest total since a 35-32 loss to Connecticut in 1970, and its lowest at home since 1937 when the Rams lost 34-30 to Springfield College.

It was also 44 fewer than Rhody had scored in Saturday's 99-81 loss to George Washington. But Flint was hardly gloating.

"That wasn't one for the ages," he said. "I told our guys afterward just to get on the bus."

UMass held Rhody scoreless for an 11:23 first-half stretch, turning an 11-4 deficit into a 29-11 lead. Crooks, who finished with 12 points, had seven straight to give the Minutemen a 14-11 lead.

It was 29-15 at halftime, after UMass got some life from Brand, Jonathan DePina, Winston Smith and Ronell Blizzard off the bench.

"I try to be prepared every night, but it was fun to get the opportunity to play," said Blizzard, who scored nine points in 14 minutes.

Tavorris Bell led Rhode Island with 15 points, and Justin Henry a walk-on who is on a football scholarship had 12 rebounds. Even without Clay, the Rams managed a 43-38 rebounding edge.

Flint liked what he saw from Brand.

"He took his time in the post and ran the floor," the coach said. "He's getting better, and when he gets some more strength, he'll be good."

The win allowed UMass to equal its season-high winning streak of three games and surpass last year's victory total.

The Minutemen are four games above .500 for the first time since 1998.

UMass gets ugly win over URI
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 2/23/2000

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The same school that held University of Massachusetts football running back Marcel Shipp under 100 yards rushing held star guard Monty Mack under 10 points Tuesday night, but Rhode Island got the same result - a loss.

Shannon Crooks looks for help upcourt.
The Minutemen, who hammered the Rams 31-9 on the gridiron last fall, delivered a similar pounding on the hardwood, 57-37 in an ugly basketball game at the Providence Civic Center.

"We were definitely out of sync," said sophomore guard Shannon Crooks. "We came out flat as everyone could see. We just have to move on. We can't have another game like that or we're going to get killed.

"It was a good feeling to play the way we did and still win," Crooks continued. "We can learn from that and move on. We have to go out and try to win a few more games."

The win put UMass (15-11, 9-4 Atlantic 10) four games over .500 for the first time in two years. The 15 victories are more than the Minutemen had all last season and assures them of finishing .500 or better for the year.

They won despite poor ball handling (18 turnovers) and rebounding. Despite the absence of Rhody center Luther Clay, URI won the battle of the boards 43-38.

"We struggle rebounding the ball," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "Everybody knows that's our Achillies heel. If we don't rebound Saturday (against Temple) it's going to be a rough night for us."

Sophomore center Micah Brand blamed the rebounding woes on not taking Rhode Island's big men seriously enough.

Chris Kirkland gets ready to make his move.
"I think the fact that Luther wasn't there tonight, we took Rhode Island's big men less seriously," Brand admitted. "But we know that against the front court of Temple, we definitely have to come ready to play. I think if Clay had been there tonight we would have come out a little more intense going for the rebounds."

Fortunately for the Minutemen, their lousy night came against a Rhode Island team that lived up to its 5-22 record.

Without Clay, who suffered a scratched right eye against George Washington over the weekend, the Rams combined 30.5 percent shooting from the field and 38.5 percent from the line with 29 turnovers. UMass turned those turnovers into 24 points, including 17 in the first half alone.

After scoring 23 Saturday against St. Joseph's, Mack never really found the range, scoring just five points on 2-for-12 shooting. It wasn't a good night his counterpart either as Rhody shooting guard Tip Vinson shot 1-for-12. Flint was critical after the game.

"(Monty) and Tip Vinson were looking at each other saying 'Okay, who can shoot the worst tonight'," said Flint. "He wasn't ready to play. He could never get himself out of it. That's what happens when you're not ready to play."

With Mack struggling, the Minutemen got offense from unlikely places. Brand saw extended minutes with Kitwana Rhymer nursing an ankle injury. Brand responded with a career high 14 points, outscoring Mack and Chris Kirkland (eight points) by himself.

"I was fortunate to get the ball on the low block and shots were falling for me," Brand said.

"Micah did a good job," Flint said. "He took his time in the post. He ran the floor and got a couple easy ones. The kid is getting better. If he gets strength he's going to be pretty good."

Ronell Blizzard also had a career high with nine, while Crooks added a dozen. Tavorris Bell led the Rams with 15.

The Minutemen seemed uninspired to play at team they had beaten by 39 points earlier in the year and the Rams actually led early. UMass didn't score for the first 5:19 of the game and fell behind 11-4 with 13:09 left in the half. But once the Minutemen came to life the Rams were overmatched.

The UMass defense buckled down and Rhode Island's offense went dry for 11:23. During that stretch Crooks and Brand had seven points each to launch a 25-0 UMass run that put the visitors ahead 29-11 with 1:46 to go in the half.

"When we started to turn it up, I didn't think they could match our intensity," Crooks said.

The Minutemen built their lead to as many as 26 after intermission allowing Flint to empty his bench.

UMass returns to action at 2 p.m. Saturday against No. 8 Temple at the Liacouras Center.

Massachusetts Minutemen 57
Rhode Island Rams 37
at the Providence Civic Center

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Kirkland        25   3-9   2-3   2-7  0  2    8
Babul           18   3-4   0-2   0-2  1  1    6
Rhymer          10   0-2   0-0   0-1  0  2    0
Mack            27  2-12   0-0   0-2  5  0    5
Crooks          27  5-10   0-0   2-4  0  2   12
Oates            5   0-2   0-0   0-1  0  1    0
Depina          26   0-6   0-0   3-3  4  3    0
Blizzard        14   4-7   1-2   2-4  1  2    9
Smith           20   0-2   3-4   2-4  1  1    3
Early            2   0-1   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Brand           26   6-9   2-4   4-5  0  0   14
TOTALS         200 23-64  8-15 15-33 12 14   57

Percentages: FG-.359, FT-.533. 3-Point Goals:
3-20, .150 (Mack 1-9, Crooks 2-4, Depina 0-5,
Blizzard 0-1, Smith 0-1). Team rebounds: 5.
Blocked shots: 6 (Blizzard 2, Kirkland, Babul,
Crooks, Brand). Turnovers: 18 (Blizzard 4, Crooks
3, Mack 3, Kirkland 2, Oates 2, Rhymer 2, Depina,
Smith). Steals: 18 (Mack 5, Crooks 3, Depina 3,
Smith 3, Kirkland 2, Blizzard, Brand).

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Casper          16   3-5   0-0   0-2  0  4    6
Bell            39  7-16   1-3   7-9  2  2   15
Wafula          27   0-5   1-2   0-3  0  4    1
Vinson          37  1-12   2-2   2-5  1  0    4
Marbury         27   3-7   1-4   3-5  0  2    7
Henry           37   2-3   0-2  3-12  3  2    4
Prescott         3   0-1   0-0   1-1  0  0    0
Smith           14   0-3   0-0   1-2  1  1    0
TOTALS         200 16-52  5-13 17-39  7 15   37

Percentages: FG-.308, FT-.385. 3-Point Goals:
0-8, .000 (Vinson 0-5, Marbury 0-2, Smith 0-1).
Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 5 (Wafula 3,
Bell, Henry). Turnovers: 29 (Henry 8, Marbury 8,
Bell 4, Vinson 3, Casper 2, Wafula 2, Smith).
Steals: 9 (Marbury 4, Vinson 2, Henry, Smith,
Massachusetts      29   28  -   57
Rhode Island       15   22  -   37
Technical fouls: None.  A: 5,335. Officials: Jack
Sweeney, George Demos, Gene Monje.

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