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UMass rally nips Villanova
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 12/7/1999

Video clip: Shannon Crooks with the game-winner.
1.37meg AVI
Courtesey: espn2
AMHERST - With 15.3 seconds left on the game clock and just 3 seconds on the shot clock, Monty Mack desperately rolled the ball to Shannon Crooks well behind the three-point arc with the game tied at 49-49. Despite shooting 1-for-12 to that point, Crooks never hesitated. The ball never touched the rim, dropping through to put the Minutemen ahead, 52-49.

The Wildcats hurried up the court and Gary Buchanan launched a long shot with his foot on the 3-point line. It banked in with 2 seconds left to bring the Wildcats within one.

Crooks was fouled on the inbounds and missed both free throws, but it was too late for the Wildcats to make another run at the hoop. UMass won, 52-51.

"We've lost a ton of them when we've played like this," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "We pulled it out. We played great defensively. We played hard."

The Villanova defense knew who to focus on, holding Monty Mack to 13 points, well below his average.
The play was designed for Mack. He came off the screen clean, but fumbled the ball. Nova forward Brian Lynch got his hand on the ball and knocked it off Mack's leg. Mack dove at it and pushed the ball to Crooks as he fell to the floor, yelling "shoot!"

"The ball started rolling," Crooks said. "I looked at the clock and it said 4 seconds. I heard Bruiser just yell 'shoot it' and I shot it. It went through for me, but it could have happened to anyone who was out there. It made me feel good. I had been a little down."

Having watched Crooks struggle early this season Flint was happy for his sophomore guard.

"I think that's big for Shannon," Flint said. "It'll give him some confidence."

The Minutemen (4-2) return to action Saturday when they travel to the Motor City for a 4 p.m. game in Detroit and try to extend their winning streak to four games.

Crooks' shot capped an impressive comeback. UMass trailed by 14 late in the first half and 31-21 at halftime, but a stifling defensive effort turned game around.

"We did things at the end of the game," Flint said. "We didn't turn it over. Every time we came out of a time-out, we ran what we wanted to run to get a shot.

"We came up with big rebounds," Flint continued. "We came up with big defensive stops. We needed a game like this so that they could realize themselves that if this is what we do, we can win games like this at the end. No matter what you do offensively, if you guard and you rebound, you have a chance to win the game."

Chris Kirkland came alive after the break.
Malik Allen scored the first basket of the second half on a lay-up, but the Minuteman defense took over and Villanova (2-1) didn't score again for nearly nine minutes. In that time, UMass whittled the Wildcat lead to 33-31. Chris Kirkland led the charge with 18 of his 22 points and seven of his nine rebounds.

"We came out with a lot more energy in the second half," Kirkland said. "I wanted to be more aggressive and the coaches were telling us that the middle was open in their zone and to just make harder cuts."

"Chris really stepped up big for us in the second half," said Mack, pausing to smile across the press conference table at Kirkland. "He was the key to why we won today."

Despite a difficult night offensively by Mack (13 points), the Minutemen were able to match the Wildcats down the stretch. Mack made a self-proclaimed "prayer," a banked 3-pointer, to tie the game at 36-36 with 7:35 left, ( 1.29mb AVI) and hit a floater in the lane to put UMass ahead, 38-36.

Villanova answered with a 7-0 run, but the Mullins Center crowd of 6,643 kept the home team in it and the teams went back and forth as the clock dwindled. A put-back, an alley-oop and a lay-up by Kirkland tied the game at 47-47.

Allen hit one of two free throws with 1:19 left to give the Wildcats their final lead of the contest. Kirkland rebounded a Crooks miss and was fouled trying to put it back in. He made both free throws to give UMass a 49-48 lead.

Villanova missed a chance to regain the lead when Lynch made only one of two from the line on a Winston Smith foul with 49.5 seconds left.

UMass pushed it up the floor and called a time-out to call the play that went pleasantly awry.

Kirkland can only watch this one get away from him.
Villanova dominated inside in the first half, exploiting its size advantage. Allen scored 14 of his team-high 19 before intermission.

"UMass did a much better job defending Malik in the second half," said Nova coach Steve Lappas. "They got a lot more physical as well. If Malik is out of our offense for long periods that is obviously going to be tough for us."

With UMass trying to recover from the early deficit, Mike Babul didn't play in the second half. Flint used a forward rotation of Kirkland, Smith and Ronnell Blizzard and was happy with the results.

"Blizz made some big baskets for us," Flint said. "He rebounded the ball and played defense. When you're struggling on offense, you have to go with your best offensive players and those guys are better offensively than Mike. That's why I stuck with them. It's about winning."

On paper, Crooks' 2-for-13 shooting performance capped by a game-winner looked like some of the nights that made former UMass guard Mike Williams legendary.

"At least Shannon defended," Flint said. "Mike might have made the last shot, but he wouldn't have guarded anybody."

Mack's teammates come through
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 12/7/1999

AMHERST - After missing three consecutive free throws early in the second half, University of Massachusetts senior guard Monty Mack punched his chair in frustration as he headed to the bench and tossed a towel over his head.

Chris Kirkland got stuffed here, but he had the last laugh, leading all scorers with 22.
In three years in a UMass uniform, Mack has been as steady as he's been brilliant on the court. As likely as he is to drop 20 points on an opponent, he's just as likely to come away with a long rebound in a crucial spot or force an opponent to turn the ball over. He does the big things, and the little ones.

Last year, on a team whose heart was questioned at every turn, Mack's desire was never in doubt. Even after losses mounted, Mack never let up, playing just as hard when the season was already out of reach.

But the personal accomplishments rang pretty hollow. Mack hated the losses.

So, after Mack missed those free throws with the Minutemen trailing by a dozen at the time, the prospect of contributing to what looked like another aggravating loss clearly got to him.

"I got frustrated at myself today honestly because I missed three free throws in a row," he said. "I don't think I've ever done that in my career."

But those missed freebies turned out to be the end of Mack's frustration for the night.

That heart and character that were so elusive a year ago showed up in full force in his teammates. Mack still struggled to find second-half offense other than two key shots against Nova's box-and-one defense, but his teammates picked up the slack, hustling, scrapping and eventually returning to contention in the contest.

As they battled back, the Minutemen were far from perfect. In fact, some of the off-target shots were so bad that they left bystanders holding their noses.

But those same onlookers saw a desire and intensity from the Minutemen that was lacking last year, and they loved it. The 6,643 at the Mullins Center sensed how much UMass wanted to win and they fed off it. The fans on both sides of the court were standing, trying to will the Minutemen to victory. ( 47k WAV)

Mack has been the hero in close games before, but Monday night that honor belonged to teammate and longtime friend Shannon Crooks, who sank a late game-clinching 3-pointer. As long as they won, Mack was more than happy to hand off the laurels.

"I was nothing but proud for him," Mack said. "He's been struggling and that's a big shot."

Video clip: Pre-game in the UMass tunnel. (no audio)
1.40meg MPG
Courtesey: espn2
The bench chair wasn't the only punch by Mack. When teammate Winston Smith forced a Villanova turnover with UMass back within four points, Mack delivered another punch. This one cut the air slowly in celebration, as a smile flooded his face.

"I think everybody's emotions changed," Mack said. "Guys started doing the little things and we got back in it."

Crooks' last-second shot gives UMass win over 'Nova
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 12/7/1999

AMHERST - It was a game decided on a struggling shooter's long jumper, which finished off a play that was nothing like what was planned.

But last night's 52-51 win over Villanova proved that while the University of Massachusetts men's basketball sometimes must still beg for baskets, the Minutemen are not quitters. The 6,643 who witnessed the game at the Mullins Center left without knowing whether to be thrilled, relieved or a bit bewildered at what this team is all about, so they chose to be all three, but especially the first two.

The winning basket came from sophomore guard Shannon Crooks, whose 22-foot jumper broke a 49-49 tie with 15.3 seconds left. Crooks had missed 11 of 12 shots before that one, which he hadn't expected to take in the first place.

The play first began unraveling when center Kitwana Rhymer momentarily juggled a pass from shooting guard Monty Mack. UMass reworked the play for Mack, but he fumbled the ball, which rolled out to Crooks beyond the 3-point arc with 4 seconds left on the shot clock.

Shannon Crooks picked the right time to hit a long-distance shot.
"I heard (coach) Bruiser yelling to shoot it, so I shot it," Crooks said. "I thought it was a regular 3-pointer."

But UMass wasn't safe yet. Villanova's Gary Buchanan banked in a shot with 2 seconds left, but Buchanan was just inside the 3-point line, and Jermaine Medley had to foul Crooks with 1.3 seconds left.

Crooks missed both, but missing the second one left Villanova with a rebound, but not enough time to set up a decent shot.

UMass (4-2) won't be home again until Jan. 6 against St. Bonaventure. Six games at neutral or road sites come first, starting with Saturday's game at Detroit, but coach Bruiser Flint took a moment to enjoy the comeback victory first.

"We've lost so many games like this one," Flint said. "A ton last year, Marshall this year. But if you guard and rebound, you've got a chance."

UMass did that against Villanova (2-1), which went 8:43 without scoring in the second half. That allowed the Minutemen to piece together a 10-0 run that brought them within 33-31.

If Crooks was the last-minute hero, Chris Kirkland was the savior. The 6-foot-6 senior forward scored 18 of his 22 points and had seven of his nine rebounds including all five off the offensive glass in the second half, when UMass rallied from a 12-point deficit.

"Chris stepped up big we won this game because of defense and him," ( 14k WAV) said Mack, who scored 13 points.

Mack became the secondary option in the second half, when Kirkland found the seams in Villanova's box-and-one defense against Mack.

"The middle was open," Kirkland said. "I just had to make harder cuts."

In the last two games, Kirkland has scored 30 of his 38 points after halftime, ( 49k WAV) and last night, he rescued a team that takes a three-game winning streak into its road trip.

Until he got hot, Villanova seemed to have the game well in hand, leading 31-21 at halftime and dominating the boards with a 24-13 first-half margin that included eight offensive rebounds.

Malik Allen, the Wildcats' 6-10 center, scored 14 of his 19 points before the break. But in the second half, the UMass defense did a better job at denying Allen the ball in good scoring position, and the Minutemen also managed a 22-17 second-half rebounding edge.

They finally took a 38-36 lead when Mack scored with 6:26 left. Villanova regained a 43-38 lead, but Kirkland scored eight straight UMass points, and UMass led 49-48 before Brian Lynch (15 points) hit a free throw to tie it with 50 seconds left.

Crooks rescues UMass: Late bomb downs 'Nova
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 12/7/1999

AMHERST - Poor Steve Lappas.

Shannon Crooks had his best moment as a Minuteman thusfar.
A little-known entity named Shannon Crooks drifted off the Villanova coach's radar screen two years ago when the UMass guard transferred from St. John's. He blipped back into view last night with a 25-foot game-winner that broke a 49-49 tie with 16 seconds left in the game and three seconds left on the shot clock.

The result was a 52-51 UMass win over Villanova that not only woke up the Mullins Center crowd, but also sent Lappas off in search of some nasty pills.

``Yeah, I remember him (from St. John's),'' the edgy Villanova coach, apparently not in the mood to dwell on Crooks, snapped last night. ``He left there because he wasn't playing much, right? Yeah, I remember him.''

Virtually forgotten by all except UMass coach Bruiser Flint, and perhaps Crooks, was the fact that the guard was 1-for-12 from the floor when Monty Mack lost control of the ball with the shot clock dwindling during the late-game possession.

``I knew the play they were going to run,'' said Villanova forward Brian Lynch. ``It was going to be a double screen down for Monty Mack, and I managed to knock the ball off his leg. The next thing I saw was the ball rolling to Crooks. Then I saw his shot in the air and said, `No, please.' ''

The shot followed one of the most significant streaks in the streaky offensive history of UMass forward Chris Kirkland, who scored 18 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, including the seven points that preceded Crooks' bomb.

Kirkland looks for help through the defense.
With Kirkland leaping over the trees for his late-game flurry, which included a pair of backdoor alley-oops off Crooks lobs, and with Mack fighting off the shackles of box-and-one coverage, someone was going to have to deliver the offense.

Mack lost the ball with four seconds left on the shot clock.

``The ball started rolling, and I heard Bruiser shout, `Shoot it,' '' said Crooks. ``It felt like a regular 3-pointer when I shot it.''

It didn't look that way to his coach, of course.

``That was a big shot for Shannon, and he was 1-of-12 before that, too,'' said the coach.

The Minutemen (4-2) were forced to protect that mortal 3-point lead over the next 16 seconds - through a line-touching two-pointer from Gary Buchanan as well as two Crooks misses from the line with a second left.

Glossed over, thankfully for the Minutemen, was an abysmal first half that left them staring at a 31-21 deficit that grew to 33-21 with 19:19 left in the game.

This is also when the floor started to give way for Villanova (2-1), thanks to a significant increase in UMass' defensive tenacity. The Wildcats scored one point over the next 10 minutes while somehow holding onto the lead.

Mack put an end to that with 6:29 left, when he converted a fast-break layup after Kirkland stripped the ball from Wildcats forward Brooks Sales. The result was UMass' first lead of the game at 38-36.

Mack always the marked man
UMass Notebook
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 12/7/1999

AMHERST - With the possible exception of Villanova's Malik Allen, who scored 14 first-half points before the Minutemen turned a more aggressive hand to defending the 6-foot-10 center, Monty Mack was the most frustrated player on the floor last night in UMass' 52-51 win over Villanova at the Mullins Center.

Winston Smith's stuff won't show up in the box score, but his effort contributed to the UMass victory. ( Audio clip of this play. 74k WAV)
Now that teams expect the senior guard to go off in search of his mandatory 20 points each night, Mack is being hit with a steady diet of junk defenses, including the box-and-one put on the floor by Villanova last night.

Mack finished with 13 points on a rather forced 6-of-15 shooting that included a bizarre 30-second stretch when Mack missed a short jumper, a layup and three free throws after getting fouled by Brian Lynch beyond the arc.

That's right. Three straight missed free throws. ( 41k WAV)

``I remember the first time I faced one of those, against UNC-Charlotte my freshman year,'' he said. ``I was very frustrated by that, and it was the same way tonight. I missed three straight free throws. I don't think I've done that in my entire life.''

Mack also knows that he can count on more of the same treatment.

``We've played six games so far this year, and we've seen it four times now, including a little bit of it from UConn,'' said UMass coach Bruiser Flint.

Crooks adjusting

A good portion of Shannon Crooks' early season has been devoted to trying to feel at home.

As the new guard in town, not to mention the one who will probably draw a lot of the playmaking responsibility for UMass down the stretch, the fit hasn't always been comfortable.

But that's where last night's 25-foot, game-winning trey in the win over Villanova is expected to add some warmth to the process.

``It made me feel good to hit a shot like that,'' said Crooks, who finished with six points on 2-for-13 shooting to go along with six assists and two turnovers. ``I've been a little down. But I'm just trying to take it easy, go with the flow, and let it come to me.''

That's three in a row

This statistic is more reflective of how uneven the Minutemen were last year than anything they have changed now, but last night's win marked last season's longest winning streak.

That would be three games.

The Minutemen won three straight once last season, with wins over Duquesne, Kansas and St. Joseph's.

UMass' 4-2 record is also the best start by a Flint-coached team over the last four years.

UMass is 2-1 against Big East teams this season.

Video clips
1999 espn2

All clips in AVI format.
Chris Kirkland lays Shannon Crooks's feed up and in. (1.73mb)
Kirkland shows how it's really supposed to be done. (0.97mb)
It was this kind of play that got UMass back into the ballgame. (3.62mb)

Audio clips
1999 espn2

All clips in WAV format.
Commentary on Bruiser's recent self-suspension. (file size = 134kb)
Analysis of Micah Brand (99kb), Jonathan DePina (107kb), Kitwana Rhymer (65kb), and the UMass inside game (65kb).
Bill Raftery speaks with Chris Kirkland and Bruiser Flint after the game. (334k, 2min:50sec long)

1999 espn2

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Villanova Wildcats 51
Massachusetts Minutemen 52
at the Mullins Center

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Sales           31   2-8   1-4  7-12  1  3    5
Lynch           33  5-11   3-4   1-9  1  3   15
Allen           34  9-15   1-2   3-4  1  3   19
Medley          27   1-6   1-3   0-0  0  2    4
Smith           34   1-8   0-0   2-4  5  2    2
Wright          16   2-3   0-0   0-5  1  2    4
Sullivan        10   0-1   0-0   0-0  1  1    0
Buchanan        15   1-3   0-0   0-1  0  0    2
TOTALS         200 21-55  6-13 13-35 10 16   51

Percentages: FG-.382, FT-.462. 3-Point Goals:
3-12, .250 (Lynch 2-5, Medley 1-4, Sullivan 0-1,
Buchanan 0-2). Team rebounds: 6. Blocked shots: 5
(Sales 2, Allen 2, Wright). Turnovers: 12 (Lynch
4, Sales 3, Allen 2, Medley 2, Smith). Steals: 4
(Smith 2, Sales, Sullivan).

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Kirkland        32  9-17   4-5   5-9  3  1   22
Babul           11   1-1   0-0   1-1  1  2    2
Rhymer          30   0-0   1-4   3-8  0  4    1
Depina          11   0-2   0-0   0-1  0  0    0
Mack            36  6-15   0-4   1-3  1  2   13
Blizzard        11   3-4   0-0   2-3  0  3    6
Smith           22   0-1   0-0   0-2  3  2    0
Crooks          34  2-13   1-4   0-2  6  0    6
Brand           13   1-3   0-0   1-2  0  0    2
TOTALS         200 22-56  6-17 13-31 14 14   52

Percentages: FG-.393, FT-.353. 3-Point Goals:
2-13, .154 (Kirkland 0-1, Mack 1-7, Blizzard 0-1,
Crooks 1-4). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 6
(Rhymer 4, Kirkland, Babul). Turnovers: 10
(Rhymer 4, Babul 2, Crooks 2, Blizzard,
Kirkland). Steals: 9 (Kirkland 4, Mack 4, Rhymer).
Villanova          31   20  -   51
Massachusetts      21   31  -   52
Technical fouls: None.  A: 6,643. Officials: Jim
Burr, John Cahill, Tom Lopes.

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