OSTON — He may not be the best player in the region or the conference. But after yesterday's 74-67 win over Boston College, it's hard to imagine a player much more valuable to his basketball team than University of Massachusetts guard Monty Mack.
The 6-foot-3 senior scored 26 points at Conte Forum, leading the Minutemen in a game that marked the return of Bruiser Flint. The UMass coach was back after his self-imposed, one-game suspension for using profanity on the radio last week.
Chris Kirkland tries to pick Troy Bell's pocket.
"When it's crunch time, you want to have the ball in your hands," said Mack, whose 3-point shot gave UMass a 62-57 lead with 4:21 left.
He also nailed a 3-pointer to make it 69-60 with two minutes left. UMass missed the front end of two one-and-one free-throw chances to give Boston College a chance, but kept its sweep of Commonwealth Classic games alive — winning all five against BC since the series was resumed in 1995.
It began as a poorly played game, with more turnovers than baskets in the first 15 minutes. But the exciting finish may have allowed UMass and Flint to put last week's events, which attracted national attention, behind them.
"I'd like it to be over," he said. "I coached today, so let's go on."
Bell hit 12 of 14 free throws for BC, which went 18 for 21 from the line. But he also committed 10 of the Eagles' 23 turnovers — and on a crucial shot with 26 seconds left, the ball wasn't even in his hands.
Instead, Michael Cotton hoisted a wild jumper from the left side with BC trailing 70-67, killing the momentum gained from a 7-1 run.
"The play before, Michael took it to the basket and got fouled," BC coach Al Skinner said of Cotton's shot. "That's what I was looking for, but for whatever reason, he pulled up."
Mack had some second-half help from forward Chris Kirkland, who scored 12 of his 16 points after halftime. Kirkland scored seven straight during a 14-3 run for a 55-49 lead.
UMass also received important bench contributions from forward Winston Smith and center Micah Brand.
"You can't see it in the statistics, but Winston gave us energy," Flint said of Smith's 26-minute performance. "And Micah stepped up, too."
Brand's free throw made it 71-67 with 24 seconds left. The 6-11 freshman scored nine points with four rebounds in 18 minutes, and played the pressurized final 2:26 after Kitwana Rhymer fouled out.
OSTON — It was a week that brought out all that is good about Bruiser Flint's stewardship of the University of Massachusetts men's basketball program, sprinkled with a taste of what drives people crazy about it.
There was the galling home loss to Marshall, the famous slip of the tongue and the honorable gesture that followed. And there was yesterday's 74-67 win over Boston College, a Commonwealth Classic that was more common than classic in the first half, and one UMass won largely because of Monty Mack, and partly in spite of itself.
The game at Conte Forum was Flint's 100th as UMass coach, and in some ways it was one of his most crucial. Losing to BC would have undoubtedly given more alumni than ever the ammunition to wonder if, having played one game without Flint, UMass might want to consider more.
"We made the plays we needed to win," Flint said, and since UMass won, it's hard to argue. But the first 15 minutes were so disorganized that it was hard to tell which was the bigger penalty for Flint, sitting out against Boston University or having to sit in and watch this one unfold.
Flint's suspension of himself proved what those who know him already knew. His character does not wilt under duress, and he is not a hypocrite, which he proved by invoking a penalty that would never even have crossed the minds of most of his peers.
College basketball needs more men like Flint, not one fewer. But if UMass keeps faltering, more and more people will suggest that Flint not just suspend himself, but fire himself — or that athletic director Bob Marcum do it for him.
He has to win, and those of us who want to see his type succeed — and count me in — heaved a deep sigh of relief when yesterday's game went into the win column.
His team came out misfiring in the first half yesterday. There were passes to nobody, dribbles off the foot, 5-second violations and countless abominations.
But UMass still led 36-35, and the second half was better. Mack was spectacular, carrying an offense that still looks infected with the Y2K bug — supposedly geared up for the year 2000. but sometimes reverting back to 1900.
Through all of this, Flint has kept his sense of humor.
"I told WHMP I'd buy them one of those pause things," he said, referring to the 7-second delay. But the bittersweet part of last week's saga is that in a world desperately needing more people with moral principles, Flint's own unshakable values seem largely unappreciated in his own region.
The nation saw him as a symbol of integrity on the "Today Show," but as the region digests an 18-22 record in the last 40 games, it continues to debate whether he's the right coach for tomorrow.
But if the bottom line is winning. "It wasn't pretty," he said, "but it was clean." If it matters to you that a man of genuine integrity succeeds, you'll hope that somehow, his team figures out a way to keep winning, pretty or otherwise.
Rightly or wrongly, that will determine whether Bruiser Flint, a man who has so many qualities to offer young people, will have the chance to keep offering them to UMass teams in the future.
wo basketball teams searching for some early season identity played an entertaining game before 6,475 at Conte Forum yesterday.
When it was over, UMass had another victory over Boston College, 74-67 - and both Minutemen coach Bruiser Flint and Boston College counterpart Al Skinner still were . . . well, searching.
``We made enough plays to win the game, but we really have to improve,'' Flint said after UMass posted its fifth straight win over the Eagles in a battle that really wasn't decided until the final minute.
``They made the plays coming down the stretch and we didn't,'' said Skinner. ``That's something we have to learn.''
UMass (3-2) fell behind by 10 in the first half, grabbed a one-point lead by halftime and led for the final 10:29. Monty Mack (26 points) and Chris Kirkland (16, nine in a crucial 3:10 span late) led the offense, and the Minutemen forced 23 BC turnovers, which they converted into 30 points.
``There's another level we need to get to in order to win a game like this,'' said Skinner, whose team fell to 3-2.
Said Flint: ``The main thing today is that we wanted to get on the plus side.''
And they got there under tough conditions.
BC's Xavier Singletary and Shannon Crooks scrap for the loose ball.
That's clear to even the most casual observer. And the Eagles could have won this game - could have broken it open in the first half, or taken some control early in the second, or even rallied late. But UMass hit huge shots coming down the stretch and got some help from BC to hold on.
Mack nailed his sixth 3-pointer of the game to make it 69-60 with two minutes left and seemingly end the day for BC. But Troy Bell (career-high 29 points on a day Xavier Singletary scored only two) answered with a bomb from beyond the top of the key and that started a closing run in which BC ended up with the ball, down three, with 35 seconds left.
It was here that Michael Cotton, who had made two strong moves to the basket earlier in the half, did some one-on-work on Kirkland and decided not to drive. His forced jumper with 26 seconds left was way off and the game was over.
``I just made the wrong play,'' said Cotton. ``I should have taken the ball strong to the basket.''
Or kicked it out to Bell, the freshman who had a big scoring day but did have 10 turnovers as he took a pounding from the UMass guards that left three significant scratches on his upper body.
``Before, (Cotton) took it to the basket,'' said Skinner. ``For whatever reason, he felt more comfortable to pull up.''
UMass went almost six minutes at the start of the game without a field goal and trailed, 12-2, when Crooks scored on a follow shot with 14:09 left. BC still led by 10, 23-13, almost 14 minutes into the game before the Minutemen finished with a 23-12 run to end the half ahead, 36-35.
BC came out and grabbed a five-point lead behind Bell in the early stages of the second half, but UMass rode Mack and Kirkland to a 16-5 spurt that established control of the game. Bell's mini run got BC within two with 4:58 left, but Mack's five points in 26 seconds made it 64-57.
ast year's lament has not gone away. Without Monty Mack, UMass still is a four-cylinder car backing up a passing lane on the Autobahn.
With him, the 3-2 Minutemen have just enough to beat all but the good teams.
And no one wishes it wasn't so more than the senior UMass guard, whose 21.4 scoring average is far too vital for comfort after five games.
He scored 26 during yesterday's 74-67 win over Boston College, and spent the rest of the time urging his teammates to join in.
There's the problem. He still has to ask.
``I tell them that if they're open, shoot it, but that makes things even harder,'' he said. ``But they just have to go out there and play. When they start waiting for what I'm going to do, that's when we go into a slump.''
Lest you thought those ugly, scoreless stretches might have disappeared with the Minutemen's attempt to accentuate the running game this season, they spent a lot of time stumbling through the desert yesterday.
They didn't score a field goal in the first 5:51.
They didn't score a field goal for the first 2:44 of the second half.
So what if Mack rapidly is becoming a player who can will 20 points out of himself on a given night, if every point has to be an uphill climb?
``We're going to have to worry about (relying on Mack too much) for the whole season,'' said UMass coach Bruiser Flint.
No wonder that the coach was sufficiently steamed by halftime yesterday. His team needed a 5-0 run over the last 52 seconds, starting (naturally) with a Mack trey and finishing with a Kitwana Rhymer put-back, to take a 36-35 halftime lead.
Chris Kirkland, who had emerged as a slashing scorer last season, only to retreat into a shell before his 23-point performance against Boston University on Thursday, had four points and one shot to his name by halftime yesterday.
``Oh, I goosed him a little bit at halftime,'' said Flint.
Lo and behold, the 6-foot-6 power forward suddenly went electric, scoring nine points during a 3:10 second-half stretch that included a spinning drive for a three-point play, two free throws, a 15-foot fallaway from the baseline, and a dunk off the fast break.
The Minutemen took the lead for good during this stretch, and Kirkland finished with 16 points on 4-of-8 shooting and 8-of-13 free throw shooting.
Kirkland's flurry also gave Mack a smidgen of breathing room. True to form, Mack scored eight points over the last 4:21, including a step-back 3-pointer off a crossover dribble.
It's great entertainment. But when Mack's ability to hit big shots generally is the only feature in the offense, the ensuing slowdown is inevitable.
Little wonder that Mack is carrying an inordinate load right now.
``I just want the ball in my hands,'' he said, knowing he doesn't have much choice.
icah Brand might as well have deflected a pass in the Final Four, for the way that UMass coach Bruiser Flint pumped the 6-foot-11 freshman's hand after he forced Boston College's last turnover yesterday.
Overall, Brand finished with his best game to date, with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting and four rebounds. He also provided some key relief for center Kitwana Rhymer, who fouled out for the third time in five games yesterday.
``Just the fact that coach Flint had enough confidence in me to leave me in the game at that point really meant something,'' said Brand.
Kirkland finds touch
Chris Kirkland was runner-up to Fordham's Alejandro Olivares for the Atlantic 10's most improved player award last season. The 6-6 forward emerged as a slashing, creative scorer with a knack for drawing contact with the ball in his hands.
Much to Flint's dismay, Kirkland returned this fall for his senior season in a timid frame of mind.
Flint has tried to remind Kirkland of his talent, not to mention his importance in the Minutemen's struggling offense.
``He has to become aggressive,'' Flint said. ``He had four points at the half today and what, took one shot and four free throws? Then he shot nine foul shots in the second half. And the only difference was that he turned and (attacked the basket). And that was the only thing he did differently.''
Crowd backs Bruiser
Flint received a particularly rousing ovation as he left the floor yesterday. The question, of course, is how much of this recent recognition stems from winning basketball games, and how much of it stems from his self-imposed one-game suspension for swearing earlier this week.
``Without question I want it to go away right now,'' he said of attention and recognition for the latter. ``I was on everything in the last couple of days, and it's over now. I just wanted to set a good example for my team.''
But not so fast, there.
``I'm going to buy WHMP (the UMass radio flagship station) one of those (five-second delay machines) as a gift,'' he said with a laugh.
Temple of gloom
News of Temple's 74-70 loss to Wake Forest yesterday was distressing for Monty Mack, particularly considering that the Owls once again had to play without senior point guard Pepe Sanchez.
``Why is it that whenever Pepe's out of their lineup, we lose to them, and we always seem to win when he's in there?'' said Mack.
roy Bell sported the battle scars yesterday of his first battle with UMass. Real battle scars.
``I was getting sliced all over the place and they weren't calling it,'' said BC's freshman guard - showing two deep scratches on his chest and one on his left upper arm. ``(Shannon) Crooks got me a couple of times. He's playing hard. I can't blame him.''
But Bell, whose shirt had some blood on it, also thought the physical play was at least partially responsible for his 10 turnovers. ``The 10 turnovers, man, I'll take responsibility for about six because I had a bad day,'' he said. ``I know they weren't all mine.''
BC coach Al Skinner couldn't find a way to knock off his alma mater.
Bell hopes time will bring some respect - and some protection.
The BC guard, whose parents were visiting from Minneapolis, is averaging 20.4 points a game in his first five college games. He was averaging just two turnovers a game before yesterday, when he went 7-for-13 from the floor, 3-for-4 from 3-point range. Bell has now hit a Big East-best 15-for-23 (65 percent) from behind the arc.
X misses the spot
Skinner was happy with the defensive effort of Xavier Singletary, but it's clear BC can't win with the transfer hitting 1-for-7 and scoring two points in 23 minutes. ``I can't ever remember 1-for-7,'' he said. ``There's a first time for everything.''
Yesterday was the first time freshman Uka Agbai started a college game. Skinner inserted the newcomer for Kenny Harley looking for more rebounding. It worked early, and Agbai had six rebounds for the game.
Brian Ross (10 points, four rebounds) was the only other Eagle besides Bell in double figures. Kenny Walls had nine, but failed to handle a key pass from Bell late in the game as the Eagles tried to rally.
Back to Amherst
The series shifts out to the Mullins Center next year and is still slated for a return to the FleetCenter the following season. Don't count on that. The feeling in the building yesterday was much better than it would have been if 6,475 had rattled around the Fleet.
UMass had at least half the noise. ``I heard the BC fans,'' said Bell, who defended those not there by saying, ``You can't blame them. We had a bad year last year. We have to win a couple of games - that's how you get the fans.''
Skinner, promising better things from his team, said, ``We're still missing something. We just don't have the feel for each other. We don't have the chemistry we need in order to be working well.''
He noted the difference between this year's game and last year's UMass blowout at the Centrum - a game that came during exams, with BC literally stepping off the bus and playing the game. The Eagles return to the Centrum Tuesday to play Holy Cross.
HESTNUT HILL - Behind Monty Mack's hot hand and aggressive team defense, the University of Massachusetts escaped with an electrifying 74-67 win over Boston College in Saturday's fifth annual Commonwealth Classic at Conte Gym.
Mack torched the Eagles (3-2) for 29 points on 9 of 19 shooting from the field and was 6 of 13 from three-point range. The senior also scored eight points in the final four minutes, catalyzing a late run for the Minutemen (3-2).
"If (Boston College) gave me open looks, I was going to shoot the ball," Mack said. "We wanted to come out in the second half and just play hard."
Led by the sweet stroke of freshman guard Troy Bell, the Eagles bolted to an early 21-11 lead. Bell, who entered Saturday's game averaging 18.3 points per game, continually found seams in the lane and harassed the Minutemen's perimeter defenders all afternoon.
Although he had the scoring touch of a veteran (29 points), Bell looked more like a freshman at key points, committing 10 turnovers.
UMass eventually capitalized, converting 30 points off BC's 23 turnovers for the game.
Freshman guard Shannon Crooks sparked the Minutemen late in the first half, scoring nine points, and UMass carried a slim 36-35 lead into the half.
Veterans Mack and Chris Kirkland led UMass in the second half. Kirkland, who was just 1-1 from the floor during the first 20 minutes, was more assertive in the paint in the second half and finished with 16 points.
"(Kirkland) just has to be aggressive - he has to be a little bit selfish," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "You can't score if you only take one or two shots in the second half ... All he did differently in the second half - instead of catching the ball and pump faking and passing it back out - is he caught the ball and took it to the basket ... He got it underneath the basket and looked to score."
The senior forward's presence down low opened up the perimeter for Mack.
After BC closed to within two, 69-57, Mack calmly nailed an NBA-range three-pointer, and seconds later, converted a pretty give-and-go from Kirkland to give UMass the 64-57 cushion.
"I expect games like this out of Monty," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "He's a (senior), so you expect him to step up like he did today when he's your best player."
The Minutemen shot a season-high 46% from the floor and hit 7 of 17 three-pointers on the afternoon (41%). Crooks and fellow freshman Micah Brand chipped in with nine points apiece for UMass, while Kitwana Rhymer snagged eight rebounds.
HESTNUT HILL - Pick a hero, any hero: Kirkland, Smith, Rhymer, Crooks, Brand, Mack.
When the University of Massachusetts defeated Boston College, 74-67, in the fifth annual Commonwealth Classic Saturday, a bevy of Minutemen were clutch players - a positive sign for a team that so far this season has provoked much collective head-scratching.
This was the same team that gave defending national champion Connecticut a tussle in Storrs in the second game of the season, but then returned to the Mullins Center, confidence in tow, and promptly fumbled, stumbled, and bumbled its way to a loss against Marshall.
Nobody was sure which team would show up Saturday. Just to be prepared, Minutemen fans brought both party favors and Mylanta to the Conte Forum.
Fortunately, heartburn was not an issue.
I realize it's quite premature to call these guys "heroes."
And another disclaimer seems necessary before we go bananas over UMass' big win: BC's non-conference schedule so far suggests that the Eagles have become an honorary America East Conference member (i.e., cupcakes galore). While BC has clubbed national nobodies Vermont, New Hampshire, and Hartford, the Eagles' lone test came on the road against Penn State, where they were squashed, 85-57.
I think it's safe to say Al Skinner and his gang from the Heights are not going to be hanging anything from the rafters this season. But BC has talent, youth, and loads of potential.
Like the Eagles, the Minutemen are an exciting group of players. Youth and enthusiasm is certainly on UMass' side (glass half full). Inconsistency, however, is also the hallmark of a young team (glass half empty). But when a relatively inexperienced team beats a Big East team on its own floor, in December, in front of a quasi-unfriendly crowd of 6,475 (with the Pope on its side), something is going right.
"BC's 1,000 percent better than they were last year, and we knew it was going to be a tough game," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "But the thing about today's game was that we made plays to win."
While a number of young Minutemen continue to get significant minutes at key positions for Flint's squad, maybe UMass has just enough experience in the form of seniors Chris Kirkland, Monty Mack, and Mike Babul to put together a serious challenge in the Atlantic 10 Conference this season. Temple's loss at Wake Forest Saturday, albeit without Pepe Sanchez, revealed how potentially vulnerable the Owls are this season.
Mack and Kirkland led the Minutemen in the second half, just like seniors should.
Kirkland, whose presence was virtually non-existent in the first half, was a force in the paint during the final 20 minutes, scoring 12 points and continually earning trips to the foul line.
Mack, meanwhile, provided the kind of game-long stability UMass will need throughout the season. When BC closed to within two, 59-57, late in the second half, Mack calmly drained an NBA-range 3-pointer. Seconds later, Mack converted a pretty give-and-go from Kirkland to give UMass a 64-57 cushion.
Highly touted freshman Micah Brand revealed flashes of brilliance as well, including a dunk at the end of the first half that gave UMass its first lead, 36-35, and officially punctuated the change of momentum in the Minutemen's favor.
UMass also did a solid, if unspectacular, job defensively. BC superfrosh Troy Bell got his points, netting 29 on 7-for-13 shooting (12-14 FT). But Shannon Crooks, Jonathan DePina and the rest of the UMass backcourt did just enough to disrupt the young point guard. Bell played like a veteran at times, shouldering the majority of the Eagles' offense, but he also resembled the true freshman he is, showing suspect decision-making while committing 10 turnovers.
Babul and Winston Smith, meanwhile, clamped down on BC's Xavier Singletary, holding the junior guard to just two points - 13 below his season average.
UMass capitalized on BC's offensive miscues, converting 23 Eagle turnovers into 30 points.
Call me crazy, but these are all signs of a veteran team.
Personally, I'm sick of all this talk about rebuilding. It's becoming an increasingly prevalent part of the sports lexicon. A loser is always "rebuilding." Get rid of your T-squares, nail-guns and levels, and play hoops. And if Saturday revealed anything, it's that UMass is an amalgam of experienced leaders and fast learners.
So, why not this year? Because if not this year, when?
|Boston College Eagles||67|
|The Commonwealth Classic|
at Boston College
MASSACHUSETTS (74) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Kirkland 36 4-8 8-13 1-2 2 0 16 Babul 14 1-3 1-1 1-1 1 0 3 Rhymer 25 3-6 0-1 3-8 0 5 6 Depina 24 0-6 1-2 1-4 2 2 1 Mack 36 9-19 2-2 0-2 2 0 26 Blizzard 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Smith 26 1-2 2-2 1-3 1 1 4 Crooks 20 4-6 0-0 2-3 4 4 9 Brand 18 4-6 1-3 1-4 0 2 9 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 26-56 15-24 10-27 12 14 74 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.464, FT-.625. 3-Point Goals: 7-17, .412 (Depina 0-2, Mack 6-13, Smith 0-1, Crooks 1-1). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 1 (Brand). Turnovers: 17 (Depina 4, Brand 3, Kirkland 3, Mack 3, Crooks 2, Rhymer, Smith). Steals: 14 (Crooks 3, Kirkland 3, Mack 3, Brand 2, Babul, Depina, Smith). BOSTON COLLEGE (67) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Agbai 28 1-4 0-0 2-6 1 5 2 Cotton 25 2-6 3-4 1-6 0 1 7 Ross 32 3-4 3-3 0-4 1 2 10 Bell 36 7-13 12-14 1-2 1 3 29 Singletary 23 1-7 0-0 0-2 2 0 2 Beerbohm 12 2-5 0-0 0-5 0 1 4 Pina 4 1-1 0-0 1-1 0 0 2 Harley 12 0-0 0-0 1-1 1 1 0 Walls 20 4-7 0-0 1-3 0 3 9 Millar 8 1-1 0-0 1-1 1 1 2 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 22-48 18-21 8-31 7 17 67 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.458, FT-.857. 3-Point Goals: 5-13, .385 (Ross 1-1, Bell 3-4, Singletary 0-3, Beerbohm 0-2, Walls 1-3). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 4 (Cotton 2, Beerbohm, Walls). Turnovers: 23 (Bell 10, Harley 3, Singletary 3, Cotton 2, Walls 2, Agbai, Beerbohm, Pina). Steals: 9 (Bell 3, Walls 2, Beerbohm, Cotton, Pina, Ross). __________________________________ Massachusetts 36 38 - 74 Boston College 35 32 - 67 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 6,475. Officials: Jody Silvester, Reggie Greenwood, Keith Herring.