HILADELPHIA - Bruiser Flint's teams, much to the detriment of the coach's battered patience, have typically played their best basketball late.
Ronell Blizzard throws it down.
Don't bother mentioning that NIT business right now, however. The Minutemen play No. 6 Temple in the semifinals tonight at 7. Like any hitter with newfound power, they are swinging for the wall.
``Forget the NIT for a moment - we're trying to make the NCAAs,'' Flint said, mapping out a scenario that would require that the Minutemen beat the Owls, and then win tomorrow's championship game. ``I want to be there (in front of a television set) watching on Sunday, to see where they're sending us, and that's what I told the guys.''
The guys, obviously, are game. The Minutemen, still smarting from an 87-86 loss to George Washington at the Mullins Center last week, went into yesterday's game determined not to repeat the same mistakes.
They lost last week after getting pulled along by the Colonials' signature shootout style.
They won yesterday after forcing GW into a halfcourt-oriented trudge down the floor, and emerged a point shy of the UMass record for field-goal percentage with a 66 percent (29-of-44) shooting performance, including an other-worldly 81 percent (13-for-16) in the second half.
So what if the Colonials' designated shooter, SirValiant Brown, hoisted his usual bushel of shots and finished with 33 points on 8-for-26 shooting.
Shannon Crooks, whose out-of-control play cost UMass the game last week, stepped in with a supremely patient effort yesterday that resulted in 21 points and five assists on 8-for-12 shooting. Monty Mack dovetailed nicely with his backcourt mate's game, and added 17 points and four assists on 7-for-12 shooting.
Chip in a 22-point, 6-for-9 field goal, 10-for-10 free throw performance from Chris Kirkland, and you get the idea.
The Colonials rarely defended, and the Minutemen took advantage.
For a change.
``This really is our best ball as a team,'' said Crooks. ``Everyone listened to each other and fed off each other today. We watched the film of last week's game (Wednesday) night, and we could really see what went wrong.''
That counted doubly for Crooks, who suffered through a week from hell last week, when he shot a combined 8-of-36 from the floor against GW and St. Bonaventure.
``Shannon lost his mind last week,'' said Flint. ``So we checked him into the insane asylum and he came back out a different guy.''
Crooks, who shot 15-for-23 from the floor over the last two days against George Washington and Duquesne, couldn't agree more.
``Me and Monty both got caught up in (Brown's) pace last week,'' he said. ``I was upset with myself for playing that way on Senior Day, and sending the seniors off that way. This wasn't so much about redeeming myself as just running the team.''
HILADELPHIA - After a season of slumping attendance, tough results and growing doubts about his job security, Bruiser Flint could finally savor something good after yesterday's 86-68 win over George Washington.
The win not only cemented an NIT berth for the Minutemen, but most likely ensured that Flint will return for at least one more season, with his largest and reportedly most talented recruiting class to date due in Amherst next fall.
But Flint wants nothing to do with this salvation talk. He was never told by UMass officials that his job was in jeopardy. Nor did he receive a definitive vote of confidence from athletic director Bob Marcum once the season hit hard times.
``All I can try to do right now is win games,'' Flint said yesterday. ``My players play hard for me, and that's all I can say. It's sports in the '90s. You can't win enough. People are complaining because the Yankees aren't winning preseason games. So what do you expect? All I can do is prepare my guys. This group is special. They've won 17 games, and they play hard for me every day.''
Marcum was also caught up in yesterday's win, declined to comment on Flint's status. . . .
Atlantic 10 commissioner Linda Bruno said the conference, which is losing Virginia Tech to the Big East next season, will not add another team.
Temple 71, Virginia Tech 52 - Mark Karcher scored 17 points and Pepe Sanchez added nine points and five assists as the No. 6 Owls (24-5) beat the Hokies (16-15) to advance to the semifinals against UMass.
Dayton 67, St. Joseph's 64 - Tony Stanley scored 19 points as the Flyers (22-7) beat the Hawks (13-16) to advance to the semis against St. Bonaventure. The Flyers scored their last 11 points on free throws.
St. Bonaventure 72, Xavier 69 - Caswell Cyrus scored 15 points, including eight straight in the final minutes, as the Bonnies (20-8) held off the Musketeers (20-11).
David Messiah-Capers led the Bonnies with 16 points. Tim Winn, Patricio Prato and Van Paassen each had 10.
HILADELPHIA, March 9 – SirValiant Brown watched the seconds tick off the clock with stunned bewilderment. George Washington's season was coming to an end much more quickly than he or his teammates had desired.
Chris Kirkland cuts off SirValiant Brown's path to the rack.
George Washington, which advanced to the semifinals the past four tournaments, had not lost in the quarterfinals since 1995.
"Man, this can't be over," Brown said. "I don't want it to be over. There at the end I was just shocked. Dang, the season is over."
Brown scored 33 points on 8-of-26 shooting to lead George Washington (15-15). Brown, the second-leading scorer in Division I at 24.3 points per game, scored more than 30 points in nine games this season.
But he did not get much help against Massachusetts (17-14). Freshman guard Chris Monroe, who finished with 15 points, was the only teammate to score in double figures. Senior forward Chris Kirkland had 22 points and 10 rebounds for Massachusetts.
George Washington, which had beaten the Minutemen, 87-86, on Feb. 29 in Amherst, Mass., struggled to shoot the ball well. The guards – Brown, Monroe and point guard Bernard Barrow – shot a combined 13 of 43. The starting post players – Antxon Iturbe and Jason Smith – totaled four points.
The Colonials took 18 more shots than Massachusetts, but made eight fewer field goals. They shot 33.9 percent.
The shots George Washington missed were not difficult ones. A play that exemplified the Colonials' troubles came midway through the second half, when Mike King threw an inbounds pass to Iturbe, who immediately passed it back. King, who had slipped behind the defense, missed an uncontested layup. Massachusetts scored on the other end.
"We got great looks," George Washington Coach Tom Penders said. "We couldn't get anything going. Twice on out-of-bounds plays we missed layups."
Massachusetts, which made a season-high 65.9 percent of its shots, led almost the entire game. Although the Colonials kept the Minutemen's lead under 10 in the first half, Massachusetts made 10 of its first 13 shots in the second half to break the game open. George Washington, meantime, missed 16 of its first 23 field goals to fall behind 66-46 with 8 minutes 58 seconds left.
"They came out hot and we didn't come out playing our best," Monroe said.
The Minutemen, who start three seniors, a junior and a sophomore, appeared much more poised. Four of GW's five starters had never played in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
"They looked very calm," Penders said. "Too many of our kids looked like they were a little bit too excited."
George Washington must wait until Sunday to learn if it has earned an NIT bid. The Colonials have wins against Maryland and Seton Hall, but also losses to Ohio and Old Dominion. But if their season is finished, Penders is pleased with how it turned out.
"It's been a great year," he said. "It could have been a disaster. . . . This was the year for people to get GW, because we will have some players to go along with [the ones] we already have. We will have some very high-level caliber players here and I'm excited about that."
Temple 71, Virginia Tech 52:
The Owls' three-point barrage was too much for the Hokies. Top-seeded and sixth-ranked Temple (24-5) made 10 three-point baskets to advance to the semifinals.
Junior forward Mark Karcher had three three-pointers and finished with 17 points to lead the Owls, who are 18-0 in the conference tournament quarterfinals. Freshman guard Brian Chase scored 16 points for Virginia Tech (16-15). The Hokies made eight three-pointers in the game.
Without starting center Dennis Mims, Virginia Tech went to a zone defense. Mims, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
"I thought they shot the ball really well on the perimeter," Hokies Coach Ricky Stokes said. "They were really tough on the boards. We wanted to slow them down, but they handled the press well and made tough shots."
Virginia Tech jumped out to an 8-3 lead. Temple, which ranks No. 2 in scoring defense and No. 3 in field goal percentage defense in Division I, held Virginia Tech without a field goal for a seven-minute stretch and built a 19-10 lead.
The Hokies missed 15 of 22 shots in the first half and trailed 36-22 at halftime. Virginia Tech was never able to gain on Temple.
Atlantic 10 Note:
The conference athletic directors met and decided against expanding the league, deciding to form a single division. With Virginia Tech moving to the Big East Conference, there had been some interest in finding a school to take its place. The league had been in preliminary talks with Richmond, a member of the Colonial Athletic Association.
HILADELPHIA — The last time the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team played George Washington, they lost a heartbreaker on Leap Day.
But it was in yesterday's 86-68 victory over the explosive Colonials that the Minutemen took a giant leap with a performance that mixed courage, precision and poise. The Atlantic 10 Conference quarterfinal win at the First Union Spectrum may help redefine the way this entire season is viewed.
"I think we'd proven ourselves a capable team already, but this may be a big win for the NIT," forward Mike Babul said after UMass (17-14) advanced to the A-10 semifinal round for the first time since the Final Four season of 1996. In that year, they won the last of their five straight conference tournament titles.
Yesterday, the Minutemen shot a stellar 81 percent in the second half, missing only three of 16 shots. They also overcame the curse of playing George Washington, which lost to UMass in a 1996 A-10 semifinal but knocked the Minutemen out in the 1997 and 1998 quarterfinals.
Beyond history, though, was the feeling that the Minutemen may have earned their way into the NIT with this victory, which came against the same run-and-gun Colonials that had edged UMass 87-86 in Amherst Feb. 29. The win didn't come with a guarantee that Bruiser Flint would be retained next season, but by advancing past the quarterfinals for the first time in his four years, Flint secured what may be the most powerful argument yet to his case.
Tonight, UMass meets sixth-ranked Temple (24-5) at 7 in the A-10 semifinal. If the Minutemen can somehow upset the Owls, an automatic NCAA tournament berth will remarkably be one victory away.
"We're just trying to win games," said Flint, who refused to call yesterday's win the biggest of his career.
"I'm hoping for a bigger one Friday," he said. "People are talking about the NIT, but we're still playing for the NCAA."
Yesterday, UMass won with sparkling execution. Point guard Shannon Crooks scored 21 points with five assists, and even though he had six turnovers, he helped UMass force George Washington (15-15) into a game of controlled tempo.
"As far as running the team, it might have been my best game," Crooks said. With him in charge, UMass shot 65.9 percent (29 for 44) for the game, the second-highest figure in A-10 tournament history.
West Virginia shot 66.7 percent in a 1979 quarterfinal against Duquesne.
UMass did it even after getting a scare in the first half, when Monty Mack injured his neck while fighting for a rebound. But Mack shook it off and scored 17 points in 37 minutes, while Chris Kirkland had 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Kitwana Rhymer, who has made 11 of 13 shots in two games against GW, scored 12 points with 11 rebounds. And when Rhymer ran into foul trouble, 6-foot-9 forward Ronell Blizzard filled in competently at center, a position he has rarely played. "I totally wasn't expecting it," Blizzard said.
SirValiant Brown, who had scored 35 points in the first UMass game, had 33 (including a 4-point play) for GW, which may have played itself out of the NIT. The freshman guard and Atlantic 10 rookie of the year paid a price for his scoring with 8 for 26 shooting.
HILADELPHIA — For the University of Massachusetts, the reward for the biggest victory of this men's basketball season is to play a team that at times looks nearly unbeatable.
But after yesterday's 86-68 Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinal victory over George Washington, UMass accepts the challenge of playing Temple, a team that's chasing the Atlantic 10 tournament title, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and perhaps eventually, the NCAA title.
Tonight at 7, UMass (17-14) tries to keep its suddenly brightening postseason alive against the No. 6-ranked Owls at the First Union Spectrum.
"We usually bow out in this (quarterfinal) round," forward Mike Babul said after yesterday's game. "I don't know if playing Temple is a good thing or not. But we've got to beat them sometime."
This season, Temple slammed UMass 75-48 in Amherst and 72-54 in Philadelphia.
The Owls (24-5) have not won the A-10 tournament since 1990. In yesterday's quarterfinal, they routed Virginia Tech 71-52, officially ending the Hokies' five-year affiliation with the Atlantic 10.
Virginia Tech joins the Big East next season.
Yesterday, Mark Karcher (17 points) and Lamont Barnes' 12 led Temple. Center Kevin Lyde had seven points and nine rebounds.
Tony Stanley scored 19 points and Brooks Hall intercepted a desperation pass at the buzzer as Dayton advanced with a 67-64 victory over St. Joseph's. Later, St. Bonaventure ousted Xavier 77-69.
UMass athletic director Bob Marcum refused to commit himself to coach Bruiser Flint's future yesterday. Marcum has previously said he'll wait until the end of the season.
"I wouldn't say anything now to spoil the feeling of this victory," Marcum said after yesterday's game. "But I will say this: we won the ballgame, we're playing Temple, we're winning and I'm feeling very good."
While yesterday's game was seen as a significant boost for Flint, Marcum said he planned to "talk to some people" before making any formal announcement. The earliest that any official announcement is expected is early next week, after NIT bids are announced Sunday.
Former UMass coach John Calipari is still in contact with Memphis officials about that school's coaching job, although a late winning streak has created some support for interim coach Johnny Jones.
Calipari has said he wants the Memphis job, but doesn't want to become a divisive influence. So for now, he says he can only keep in contact and wait.
"I'm just laying low, and watching these guys win," said Calipari, a Philadelphia 76ers assistant in attendance at the UMass game.
ELEVEN FOR THE 10:
The Atlantic 10 announced yesterdaydespite reports that Richmond was interested in joining as a full member, the A-10 would go with one, 11-team division next season after Virginia Tech departs.
HILADELPHIA - In its biggest game of the year, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team delivered its best effort. The Minutemen turned the tables on nemesis George Washington, winning 86-68 at the Spectrum.
Bernard Barrow gets past Jon DePina.
The Minutemen (17-14) will take on No. 7 Temple at 7 tonight.
UMass scored same number of points this time as it did in the Feb. 29 game against George Washington (15-15). In last week's loss, though, the Minutemen tried to play GW's breakneck pace and fell short, 87-86. Thursday the Minutemen dictated their own tempo and 86 points were more than enough.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint said the earlier loss was a motivator.
"I felt we were going to win the game today," Flint said. "I knew we would get them to play the way we wanted them to play. If we had won that game last week, it might have been a different outcome."
Sophomore point guard Shannon Crooks made poor decisions late in the first UMass-GW game, but Thursday was a different story. He set the all-important pace for the Minutemen and helped keep his team steady throughout. Crooks' 21 points were the second most of his career.
"As far as running the team, I felt this was my best game, keeping guys under control," Crooks said. "You could see the way guys were listening to me today."
"He lost his mind last week," Flint said. "He didn't play well against GW last week and he thought he was going to make up for it against St. Bonnies. Today he played under control."
Chris Kirkland had a team-high 22 points to go with 10 rebounds. Monty Mack had 17 points, while Kitwana Rhymer added 12 points and 11 rebounds.
"That was the best effort I felt I put out all around," Rhymer said. "It's the best I've felt because last year we didn't get this win and the second one feels good."
UMass trailed only once in the game, 7-6 with 17:32 to go in the half, but Mack buried a 3-pointer to put the Minutemen ahead to stay. Still, against a team with the offensive potential of George Washington, few leads feel safe.
But UMass answered adversity well. Early trouble for Mike Babul and Rhymer meant minutes for small forward Winston Smith and rare time at center for Ronell Blizzard. Both played well.
The Colonials were able to keep the UMass lead within single digits in the first half, but the Minutemen went into the locker room with momentum on a dunk by Blizzard that made it 41-32.
In the second half, UMass did little wrong, making 13 of 16 shots, an eye-popping 81.3 percent clip. Leading 56-46, the Minutemen went for the kill. They ran off 10 straight points, including an alley-oop from Mack to Rhymer, that brought rare on-court smiles from both of them.
The rattled Colonials began forcing shots even more than usual, but the Minuteman defense held firm.
The win earned them their first trip to the Atlantic 10 semifinals since 1996.
After the game, Flint said his team belongs in the postseason.
"We're trying to make the NCAA," Flint said. "I think my guys deserve to go to the postseason whether it's the NCAAs or NIT."
|Massachusetts Minutemen (E3)||86|
|George Washington Colonials (W2)||68|
|Atlantic-10 Tournament Quarter-Final|
at the First Union Spectrum,
MASSACHUSETTS (86) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Kirkland 39 6-9 10-10 4-10 2 3 22 Babul 13 1-1 1-4 0-2 2 4 3 Rhymer 27 4-5 4-6 2-11 2 4 12 Mack 37 7-12 2-2 0-3 4 2 17 Crooks 37 8-12 5-6 0-2 5 3 21 Oates 1 0-0 0-0 0-1 0 0 0 Depina 5 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 4 0 Blizzard 13 1-2 1-2 0-1 0 1 3 Smith 27 2-3 4-4 0-2 1 4 8 Early 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 29-44 27-34 6-32 16 26 86 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.659, FT-.794. 3-Point Goals: 1-6, .167 (Mack 1-5, Crooks 0-1). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 3 (Kirkland, Crooks, Mack). Turnovers: 17 (Crooks 6, Kirkland 3, Depina 2, Mack 2, Rhymer 2, Babul, Smith). Steals: 7 (Crooks 2, Smith 2, Babul, Mack, Rhymer). GEO WASHINGTON (68) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Monroe 37 4-11 7-11 5-9 4 4 15 Iturbe 28 2-4 0-0 1-1 0 5 4 Smith 20 0-3 0-0 0-2 0 2 0 Barrow 29 1-6 1-2 4-5 1 2 3 S Brown 38 8-26 15-19 4-5 0 4 33 Roma 9 1-1 0-0 0-1 0 2 2 King 35 4-10 0-0 3-7 2 4 9 Lund 2 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 De Miranda 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Anyan 1 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 2 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 21-62 23-32 17-30 7 23 68 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.339, FT-.719. 3-Point Goals: 3-16, .188 (Smith 0-1, Barrow 0-3, S Brown 2-7, King 1-5). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 1 (Roma). Turnovers: 13 (S Brown 4, Barrow 3, King 2, Monroe 2, Smith 2). Steals: 7 (Barrow 3, S Brown 3, Monroe). __________________________________ Massachusetts 41 45 - 86 Geo Washington 32 36 - 68 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 7,002. Officials: Joe Demayo, Ken Clark, Fran Connolly.