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The Boston Herald
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The Springfield Union-News - notebook
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By George, Minutemen lose
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 3/1/2000

AMHERST - As vital as wins are for UMass right now, the losses are deadly.

UMass dominated the battle of the boards but fell short on the points.
And last night's 87-86 Atlantic 10 tumble to George Washington not only dropped the Minutemen to 15-13, it also dimmed their chances at some sort of postseason appearance.

It didn't help that in the course of being torched by Colonials freshman SirValiant Brown for 35 points on ungodly 10-of-27 shooting, the Minutemen lost track of their own strength, as inconsistent as it may be.

``We played dumb basketball for the last five minutes, and that's why we lost,'' said UMass coach Bruiser Flint, whose team is now 9-6 in A-10 play. ``We had a chance to put them away, and then we made dumb plays.

``If we play smarter ball, then we win,'' he said. ``They just keep coming at you and you have to stay with it.''

UMass obviously didn't fill that order.

The Minutemen had played surprisingly well with Chris Kirkland and Monty Mack on the bench in foul trouble for a good portion of the second half.

After fighting through a withering three-minute stretch in which the lead changed hands eight times, UMass produced three big hoops, starting with Mike Babul's tip dunk of a Shannon Crooks miss, and finishing with a Kitwana Rhymer put-back and Crooks transition layup for a 78-71 lead with 6:52 left.

That seven-point lead was UMass' peak. Oddly enough, with Kirkland and Mack back on the floor, and the Colonials pushing the ball at their usual frenetic pace, the Minutemen steadily lost hold.

Starting with two Brown free throws with 5:31 left, the Colonials (15-13, 9-6) started to lop points off that margin.

A Mike King three-point play, off an offensive rebound, cut the UMass lead to 80-78 with 4:18 left. Another King put-back, this time with 2:33 left, cut it to 82-80.

King's hoop also answered one of those mistakes that had Flint holding his head in anguish. Crooks, leading the break, had opted at the last minute for a dunk, and instead lined the ball off the front of the rim.

This turned a potential 84-78 UMass lead into a very real, and rapidly deteriorating, 82-80 edge with King's play. Thirty-three seconds later, Brown drained a wide-open trey - his fifth - for an 83-82 George Washington lead that would withstand a number of attacks, but not before the freshman guard split the lane on the next possession for an 85-82 lead.

Mack popped out on the baseline for an 18-footer that cut the GW edge to 85-84 with 1:09 left, but the bad plays continued.

This time Brown lost the ball on a drive, only to have Mack pull up and short-rim a jumper from the lane on the ensuing fast break.

One Brown free throw later, with GW now holding an 86-84 lead, the Minutemen made one last blunder.

Crooks drove the lane and, in the process of dishing off to Kirkland, collided with GW forward Antxon Iturbe in the lane. Referee Tim Higgins whistled Crooks for the foul.

Kirkland would rebound a Mack miss and put it in with two seconds left, but the Minutemen were sealed off in yet another winnable game.

``We have to play smarter,'' said Flint. ``That's the bottom line.''

UMass notes

Chris Kirkland gets up for the easy bucket.
Last night's loss came on Senior Night, meaning it will most likely be the last Mullins Center game for Chris Kirkland, Mike Babul and Anthony Oates.

Monty Mack, though a senior, is on track under Prop. 48 guidelines to return to UMass for a fourth season next winter.

``This was definitely a tough way to go out,'' said Kirkland, who bid the Mullins Center adieu with a career high-tying 26 points. ``To put in this much time and hard work, and to lose, is hard.'' . . .

UMass' postseason options get slimmer by the game, though idealists like Kirkland are still holding out hope that there is something better than the NIT - if that - for this 15-13 team.

``We're thinking about the NCAA tournament, and making it there first, before we think about anything else,'' said Kirkland.

At this stage, considering their record, the Minutemen would have to win next week's Atlantic 10 tournament to keep that distant hope alive.

Saturday's regular-season finale at St. Bonaventure is particularly important. A win over the Bonnies would give the Minutemen sole possession of second in the Eastern Division and a bye on the first day of the A-10 tourney.

Colonials thwart Minutemen
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 3/1/2000

AMHERST It was a miserable way to finish the home regular-season schedule. But the Mullins Center hasn't been kind to the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team this season, either.

Antxon Iturbe gets position on Micah Brand.
The Minutemen squandered a seven-point lead in the final 5:35 against George Washington, and the relentless Colonials who play at a pace unmatched by any team in the Atlantic 10 Conference escaped with an 87-86 victory before 5,430 on Senior Night.

"That team may be down by 20 one minute, and up four the next," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "We just didn't play smart enough. When you have a chance to put a team like that away, you have to do it, and we didn't."

One of the last good chances was lost when Shannon Crooks was called for an offensive foul with 13 seconds left and UMass trailing 86-84. It was a tough night for Crooks, who missed 18 of 24 shots.

And with 4 seconds left in an 87-84 game, Monty Mack missed a 3-point shot. Chris Kirkland put in the rebound, but it left the Minutemen one point short. GW outscored UMass 16-8 in the final 5:31.

UMass (15-13, 9-6 A-10) was 6-6 at home this year, and won't return to Mullins unless they receive an NIT home game. But even reaching the NIT remains in doubt for the Minutemen, who close the regular season Saturday at St. Bonaventure.

Second place in the A-10 East is at stake in that game, and neither last night's result nor tonight's Xavier-St. Bonaventure game affects that situation. Meanwhile, George Washington has surged into NIT contention with records identical to UMass (15-13, 9-6), but having won nine of its last 11 games.

George Washington guard SirValiant Brown improved his chances to become the first freshman to win the national scoring title. Brown scored 35 points on 10-for-27 shooting, setting a Mullins Center record for points by an opposing player, and easily bettered his 24.5-point average that leads the country.

"I believe that if you have Earl Campbell, you run him off-tackle as much as possible," said GW coach Tom Penders, using a comparison to explain why he doesn't mind Brown shooting so often. "We tried to create mismatches when Mack was in foul trouble, matching him up against Val (Brown) as much as possible."

Kirkland tied his career high with 26 points, and Mack had 22 despite foul trouble for both players. The ending was especially bitter because both players, as well as Mike Babul and Anthony Oates, had been honored on Senior Night.

"This is definitely a tough way to end it at home," Kirkland said. "To put so much time and work into it, and come to the end of the road (at Mullins) like this it hurts."

Mack passed the 1,500-point career mark and now has 1,509, seventh all-time at UMass. If he graduates on time this spring as expected, he'll be eligible to return next year, reclaiming a freshman year lost to academic rules.

George Washington led 52-48 at halftime, but a 10-0 UMass run gave the Minutemen a 61-59 lead with 12:48 left. The game seesawed from there until UMass, playing with both Mack and Kirkland on the bench with four fouls, took a 78-71 lead on a 10-3 run.

Brown's 3-point shot gave GW an 83-82 lead with 1:59 left, and the Colonials never trailed again.

"The silver lining is that if we win Saturday, we still get the (first-round A-10 tournament) bye," Flint said. "But it always hurts to lose on Senior Night.

Fans, Flint love Oates
UMass notebook
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 3/1/2000

AMHERST He hasn't played very much in his two years at the University of Massachusetts, but senior center Anthony Oates still became a fan favorite at the Mullins Center.

Shannon Crooks & Jon DePina set the trap.
And in his final home game last night, Oates was saluted by Bruiser Flint as one of the coach's all-time favorites, too.

"Kids are different now, and it's not like it used to be," Flint said after UMass had lost 87-86 to George Washington. "But Anthony he's like it used to be."

The 6-foot-10 Oates was given a starting assignment last night, the second of his career. He didn't take a shot and committed one foul, leaving the game after 3:57 with George Washington leading 12-8.

But on a night that also honored seniors Monty Mack (who will be eligible next season provided he graduates on time this spring), Mike Babul and manager Jim Blascak of Westfield, Oates came in for special praise.

"I told his mom she's done an outstanding job," Flint said. "There's not a selfish bone in his body. He's a gentle giant one of the best kids I've been around. Ever."

Oates came from junior college in Arizona last season. He's scored 13 points in 20 games this season.

If Mack returns as expected next season, he'll become the second UMass player to have two "senior" seasons. Tyrone Weeks, another partial academic qualifier, was the other in 1997 and 1998.


Kitwana Rhymer's 16 points included 7-for-8 shooting, but he scored only two points after halftime.

"We've still got a chance for the bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament, and that's an up," said Rhymer, who also had 16 rebounds as UMass owned a 52-34 edge on the boards and grabbed 28 offensive rebounds. "But we didn't play smart enough tonight, and it cost us."


Three UMass players (Mack, Jonathan DePina and Shannon Crooks) fouled out, and Babul and Kirkland finished with four each. DePina was whistled for an intentional foul in the first half.


There were scattered boos for Flint in the pregame introductions. With his coaching status uncertain, it's possible that last night was his final game at the Mullins Center . . . Assuming Mack returns, he's on pace to finish second all-time in UMass scoring. He has 1,509 points and is now seventh.

SirValiant effort sinks UMass
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/1/2000

AMHERST - A freshman ruined University of Massachusetts' senior night as SirValiant Brown scored 35 points including George Washington's last seven, as the Colonials nipped the Minutemen, 87-86, Tuesday at the Mullins Center.

Jon DePina looks for options.
With UMass leading 82-78 with 3:05 left in the game, Shannon Crooks led the Minuteman fast break. He leapt toward the basket, but he couldn't get high enough as his dunk attempt smacked off the side of the rim.

"He should have laid it up," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said after the game.

The Colonials grabbed the rebound and took off on a fast break. Brown missed a shot at the other end, but Mike King put back the rebound to make it 82-80. The basket launched a 7-2 run for the Colonials, giving them an 85-82 lead with 1:24 left. That put UMass on its heels.

Monty Mack hit a shot from the corner with his foot on the 3-point line to make it 85-84. After the teams traded turnovers, Brown hit a free throw. Mack had a chance to tie the game, but missed a floater in the lane with 27 seconds left.

UMass was forced to foul and Babul sent Brown to the line. He made one of two to make it 86-84 with 23.2 seconds left. Crooks drove into the lane and tried to dump the ball to an open Kitwana Rhymer, but Crooks collided with GW center Antxon Iturbe and was called for a charge with 12.7 seconds left.

Crooks fouled out, as he grabbed Brown on the inbounds with 11.7 ticks on the clock. The freshman again sank one of two, extending the visitors' lead to 87-84. Because Jonathan DePina had already fouled out, Mack had to bring the ball up himself and missed his 3-point try from behind a double-team. Kirkland put the rebound back in with 2.5 seconds left to make it 87-86.

Mack fouled out, hitting King on the inbound. King missed the first free throw and then the second one intentionally, forcing the Minutemen to scramble unsuccessfully to get off a buzzer-beater.

Chris Kirkland lets the ball get away.
"We played dumb basketball in the last five minutes of the game," Flint said after the game. "That's why we lost. We had a chance to put them away and we didn't. They're relentless. So you have to play smart against them. You have to put them away. There comes a point in the game where you have to make smart plays and we didn't."

Brown's 35 were a Mullins Center record for a UMass opponent. Fellow freshman Chris Monroe added 18 for GW (15-13, 9-6), while King chipped in 11.

"I was feeling it, so I was doing my thing out there," said Brown, who shot 10-for-27 from the floor and 10-for-13 from the line.

"I believe when you have Earl Campbell, you run him off tackle until they stop him," GW coach Tom Penders said. "Even when Val wasn't scoring, when he missed Mike King was there to clean it up."

Kirkland led UMass (15-13, 9-6) with 26 points to go along with seven rebounds. Mack, who scored his 1,500th career point in the game, had 22 to move past Mike Pyatt into seventh place on the UMass scoring list with 1,509 career points. Kitwana Rhymer had 16 points and 16 rebounds on 7-for-8 shooting.

The Minutemen close their regular season Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at St. Bonaventure. The winner will finish in second place in the Atlantic 10 East and will earn a bye in the first round of next week's Atlantic 10 Tournament.

"The silver lining is that if we win on Saturday, we can still get the bye," Flint said. "We have to go and try to win the game."

George Washington set the tempo from the opening tip as the game went up and down throughout. After GW opened a 14-10 lead early, UMass answered with a 11-3 run to make it 21-17.

"Our only chance to win has been to create tempo," said Penders. "Our guards really pushed hard and we wanted to make them run."

The Colonials make their living with runs. A 26-11 spurt turned a six-point UMass lead into a 49-40 deficit with 1:48 left in the first half. More alarming for the Minutemen, though, was Mack and Kirkland each picking up their third foul during that stretch.

Flint called time out and successfully gambled, putting Kirkland back in. Baskets by Rhymer, Babul and Kirkland comprised a 6-0 run that brought UMass back within three at 49-46, forcing GW to call for time with 49.4 seconds left.

The teams traded a three by Brown for a two by Crooks leaving GW with a 52-48 halftime advantage.

Notes: Minuteman seniors Kirkland, Babul, Mack and Anthony Oates were honored as part of the annual senior day proceedings. Mack can return next year if he earns enough credits to graduate, which he is expected to do. It was UMass' first senior day loss since the 1990-91 season.

George Washington Colonials 87
Massachusetts Minutemen 86
at the Mullins Center

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Iturbe          29   2-3   0-0   3-7  1  3    4
Smith           15   3-5   2-4   0-3  0  3    9
Monroe          39  5-12  6-10   6-8  1  4   18
Barrow          38   1-4   1-3   1-4  5  4    3
S Brown         40 10-27 10-13   0-1  0  4   35
Roma             3   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
King            32  7-10   2-5   3-4  2  3   17
De Miranda       4   0-0   1-2   1-2  0  0    1
TOTALS         200 28-61 22-37 14-29  9 21   87

Percentages: FG-.459, FT-.595. 3-Point Goals:
9-19, .474 (Smith 1-2, Monroe 2-4, Barrow 0-1, S
Brown 5-11, King 1-1). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked
shots: 4 (Smith 3, Monroe). Turnovers: 11 (Monroe
3, S Brown 3, Barrow 2, King 2, Smith). Steals: 6
(Barrow 3, King 2, Monroe).

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Kirkland        27  8-12 10-13   5-7  2  4   26
Babul           36   2-4   0-2   5-5  3  4    4
Oates            4   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  1    0
Mack            26  7-19   4-4   3-6  1  5   22
Crooks          39  6-24   2-2   1-7  6  5   14
Depina          15   0-2   0-0   0-2  1  5    0
Blizzard         1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Smith           14   2-2   0-0   2-2  0  1    4
Rhymer          34   7-8   2-4  7-16  0  2   16
Brand            4   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
TOTALS         200 32-71 18-25 23-45 13 27   86

Percentages: FG-.451, FT-.720. 3-Point Goals:
4-14, .286 (Mack 4-9, Crooks 0-4, Depina 0-1).
Team rebounds: 7. Blocked shots: 4 (Rhymer 2,
Crooks, Babul). Turnovers: 17 (Crooks 4, Depina
4, Babul 2, Mack 2, Rhymer 2, Brand, Kirkland,
Oates). Steals: 5 (Crooks 3, Mack 2).
Geo Washington     52   35  -   87
Massachusetts      48   38  -   86
Technical fouls: None.  A: 5,430. Officials: John
Cahill, Tim Higgins, Reggie Greenwood.

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