ETROIT - The matchup featured premier scorers for each team, and it ended with one of them on the bench and the other at the foul line.
For Detroit's Rashad Phillips, the foul line was the best place to be, and his free-throw reliability provided enough offense for the Titans to capture a 63-59 win over the University of Massachusetts at Calihan Hall.
The game lifted Detroit (5-2) to its 31st home victory in the last 32 games and came before 6,152 fans, nearly double what Detroit had been averaging at home. Beating UMass (4-3) is still a big deal, and while Phillips' 27 points looked big in the box score, the 5-foot-10 senior knew this game was decided by defense.
"It came down to the defense and the intangibles," he said, looking at a box score which showed he had shot 5 for 17 from the floor, but 15 for 17 from the line. "Monty Mack, Desmond Ferguson and myself — we all pretty much cancelled each other out."
Ferguson scored 10 points for Detroit (five below his average) on 4-for-11 shooting. Mack, who was averaging 20 points per game for UMass, missed nine of 11 shots, finishing with four points, and was benched by UMass coach Bruiser Flint for the final 3:33.
After the game, Mack was not made available for comment while Flint tried to downplay the situation, but said it had nothing to do with an injury.
"It wasn't an argument," he said. "Monty will be back in there next week."
UMass, which is off until playing Florida State in the Orange Bowl Classic Saturday, outscored Detroit 10-7 in the final 3:33. But Flint said he had been dissatisfied with Mack's overall play, and the player and coach were seen exchanging words on the sidelines.
It was 56-49 when he left, and Ronell Blizzard's 3-point shot cut Detroit's lead to 62-59 with 5 seconds left. But Phillips was fouled with 1.7 seconds to go, made the first free throw to provide insurance — then missed the second on purpose to keep the ball in play and the clock alive.
"I take pride in my free-throw shooting," said Phillips, who entered the game averaging 26.3 points per game and was locked in a tie with George Washington guard SirValient Brown for the nation's scoring lead. "But I have to give the UMass defense credit. They trapped me the whole game and made me take tough shots."
Even after missing yesterday's final attempt on purpose, Phillips has made 51 of 54 free throws this season.
"We played good defense, but that kid keeps going to the basket, so he gets fouled and he makes every one," Flint said after UMass had seen its three-game winning streak snapped. "That kills you."
UMass trailed 27-26 at halftime and went more than seven minutes without a field goal in the second half. A 15-4 Detroit run gave the Titans a 42-34 lead, and UMass didn't really get close enough to challenge for the lead until Blizzard's late basket.
Chris Kirkland led the Minutemen with 17 points, but missed seven of 11 shots. UMass shot 38.5 percent. That wasn't a big surprise against a Detroit team that ranked third in scoring defense and second in field-goal defense in the nation last year.
"We played pretty well, but we had some lapses," Kirkland said. "Against good teams, you can't do that."
Guard Shannon Crooks scored 13 points, but had six turnovers and no assists. Center Micah Brand continued to show improvement with 11 points. But UMass lost a 39-34 rebounding battle, as Detroit's big men shone defensively. Mike Harmon, a 6-11 forward, came off the bench to provide five blocked shots in 17 minutes.
"That's what Mike does, but it was impressive that he did it against a front line like UMass has," Detroit coach Perry Watson said. "We knew UMass would challenge us, and we'd see if we had the intestinal fortitude for this game."
"It's an honor to beat anybody, but especially a national team like UMass," Phillips said. "We circled this game on the schedule. And we never lose at Calihan Hall."
ETROIT - This was a game that probably shouldn't have been scheduled and bordered on the unwinnable, but still ended with a decision that leaves us wondering if it could have been won, anyway.
The 63-59 University of Massachusetts men's basketball loss to Detroit is one of those that the really big programs don't have to worry about. It came against a team most people never see on TV, but one that is 55-14 in the regular season since 1997, is on a 31-1 run at home and has beaten St. John's and UCLA in the last two NCAA tournaments.
So here came UMass, frozen in time to the days of playing "any time, any place, any team," and getting beaten by a very good team the UConns of the world will never play — certainly not on the road. For this, you can either blame athletic director Bob Marcum, the final word on scheduling, or accept the explanation of Bruiser Flint, who handled the why were you here questions with loyalty, even as he knows many fans will look at this as another game UMass used to win, and still should.
Flint says the problem is this: UMass doesn't have the money to pay a guaranteed fee (usually about $35,000) to bring in cupcakes for easy home wins. Boston University is the only team UMass is paying to appear this season, a far cry from the Big East tradition of one lamb after another.
Last year, UMass lost a game with Wagner when UConn offered the Seahawks nearly twice as much appearance money. UConn won 111-46. Desperately looking for a game, UMass agreed to a home-and-home series with one of the most underrated teams in the nation, and had to come to Detroit because the Titans wanted two games, instead of just taking the appearance money for last year's game in Amherst.
Four years after the Final Four, the UMass schedule is loaded with teams like Marshall, Iona and Detroit — teams that can beat you and, if it's at their place, probably should. That's fine if you're a Final Four team, which UMass is not.
The best scheduling wizardry came Dec. 23, 1997, when UMass played UConn in Hartford — which UMass, in its hunger for this game, agreed to treat as a neutral site — after flying back from a Dec. 20 game in Las Vegas. The Minutemen had no chance that night, and no fair chance yesterday.
Or did they? Now the spotlight shifts from Marcum to Flint, whose determination to send strong messages resurfaced yesterday with 3:33 left.
With UMass down 56-49, he benched Monty Mack, his best player. "It's between me and Monty, but it's no big deal," the coach said. Mack was not made available for comment.
Flint also said he wanted to avoid problems like last year when a general breakdown of discipline occurred. This makes it sound as if Flint worried that Mack was becoming the new Lari Ketner or Ajmal Basit, which seems — at least to me — pretty unfair to Mack.
Flint also said Mack was letting his frustration at 2-for-11 shooting affect his entire game, especially defense. But either Flint decided UMass had a better chance without Mack than with him, or that this was an appropriate time to send a message. He should not be shocked if that decision is met with skepticism. Marcum should not be surprised about questions over a schedule that treats his team as a Top 25 club, when everybody knows it's not.
UMass actually played fairly well yesterday. But losses like this are bound to happen when you schedule a game like this in the first place, then decide your best chance to win it is without having your best player in at the end.
ETROIT - The defensive work couldn't have been much better on Detroit's Rashad Phillips, whose 27 points came despite the best coverage he's faced this season.
The 5-foot-10 senior guard missed 12 of 17 shots as he was hounded by UMass guards Jonathan DePina and Shannon Crooks in the Titans' 63-59 victory at Calihan Hall. Phillips shot 1 for 9 from the field in the first half, but scored 19 points in the second half.
He hit four of eight shots after intermission and connected on two 3-pointers — one with three UMass defenders preparing to set up defensively, and no Detroit player to help Phillips on the break.
Phillips had been shooting 63.3 percent on two-point tries until yesterday, when he was 3 for 9 from inside the arc and 2 for 8 from outside it against UMass. DePina and Crooks alternated defensively against Phillips, who entered the game with a 26.3-ppg. scoring average and was tied with George Washington's SirValient Brown for the nation's Division I lead.
Crooks had four of UMass' 12 steals, and the Minutemen press occasionally gave the Titans some trouble. DePina started the game at point guard and kept Phillips off the scoreboard for the first 10 minutes.
DePina eventually fouled out with 32 seconds left in the game, and junior JoVann Johnson replaced him. It was the first appearance in four games for Johnson, and it came because UMass coach Bruiser Flint had decided to bench Monty Mack for the final 3:33 — a move apparently caused by Flint's dissatisfaction with Mack's attitude, and not helped by the senior's 2-for-11 shooting.
HOT AND NOT:
UMass reserve center Micah Brand scored 11 points with four rebounds in 22 minutes, showing signs of progress even as starter Kit Rhymer still struggles with foul trouble.
"Micah has improved every game," Flint said. "I'd like him to get a little better on his rebounding. But as he gets better, we'll get better, and a game like this will help him."
On the negative side, forward Mike Babul struggled again on offense. In 22 minutes, he was 1 for 3 and missed a couple of wide-open opportunities under the basket.
"Mike's a tough guy, though, and he'll bounce back," UMass forward Chris Kirkland said.
Babul has taken only 21 shots in 160 minutes this season and made eight, and his lack of scoring production has jeopardized playing time he'd otherwise earn for his defensive excellence.
With UMass trailing 62-59 and five seconds left, the Minutemen guarded Phillips well, but didn't stay with forward Terrell Riggs, who freed himself for the inbound pass. Phillips later wound up with the ball and was fouled with 1.7 seconds left, and made the clinching free throw.
"We took Phillips away, but we forgot about Riggs," said Flint, who thinks his team learned from the experience of yesterday's game before 6,152 hostile fans.
"I think we played good defense, and this is one of those games that will toughen you up," Flint said. "This is a tough place to play, and their big guys stepped up."
Detroit coach Perry Watson complimented the UMass frontcourt, bypassing the fact that the Minutemen have been outrebounded in five of their last six games, including 39-34 yesterday.
"They defend very well, and they rebound the heck out of the basketball," Watson said.
But Detroit's inside game had the edge, and blocked seven shots.
Flint said UMass may play in the Black Coaches Association Classic in Arkansas next year. The Minutemen have also been negotiating with Michigan, a matchup that nearly took place this season.
The Minutemen are also looking into a basketball trip to Italy in the summer of 2000.
ETROIT - This one was scheduled at the last minute, UMass coach Bruiser Flint said after the midwestern chill had put his team under for good yesterday.
The Minutemen agreed to play yesterday's 63-59 loss to Detroit, in one of the toughest little road gyms imaginable, as a last-minute plug to fill out the 1999-2000 slate.
That was hard, but apparently not hard enough for Flint to pull his best player out of the game with 3:33 left, and UMass trailing by a 56-49 margin.
Monty Mack, the assigned target in yet another smothering defensive game plan, had four points on 2-of-11 shooting at the time he was benched.
Though the Minutemen rallied briefly, with Ronell Blizzard and Chris Kirkland each burying a 3-pointer in the last 10 seconds, this one was cooked.
Rashad Phillips, the wriggling 5-foot-9 Titan scorer who is locked in a chase with George Washington's SirValiant Brown for the early season Division 1 scoring lead, finished with a 27-point effort that included a 15-for-17 performance from the free-throw line.
The Minutemen were 16-for-20 from the line as a team.
But Flint, who said Mack was benched for his play on defense and refused to elaborate any further, was willing to try to win this one without his one true weapon.
``Don't worry. It's not a big deal. The kid will be back for the next game,'' said Flint.
Mack was not available for comment after the game.
``We played well - we just had some lapses on defense,'' said Kirkland, a senior forward who was the leading UMass scorer with 17 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
Indeed, once the Titans (5-2) were able to get the ball in Phillips' hands down the stretch, the rest appeared to take care of itself.
That's why Detroit coach Perry Watson wasn't particularly alarmed at the sight of first Kirkland and then Blizzard squaring up for their bombs.
``We had (a six-point lead), and we can always get the ball in Rashad's hands,'' he said. ``And then they have to foul him. We know he's going to make his two (free throws) in those situations.''
Both teams suffered from poor shooting. The Titans were 20-of-55 (36.4 percent) and the Minutemen made 20-of-52 (38.5 percent).
UMass, often the dominant first-half team, began to unravel after Phillips put Detroit in the lead for good with a baseline jumper that created a 32-30 edge with 17:03 left. The hoop was part of a 17-4 run.
UMass finally got in the way with six straight free throws, including four from Kirkland, but the respite was brief. Swingman Desmond Ferguson, who buried three treys in the last 10:34, hit the first of these for a 47-40 Detroit lead.
By the time UMass freshman Micah Brand's layup cut the Detroit lead to 50-43, the Minutemen had gone 7:31 without a field goal.
Their offense - a difficult process even when Mack is on his game, much less in the game - could not make up the difference.
Shannon Crooks added 13 points and Brand scored 11 off the bench for the Minutemen (4-3), who return to action next Saturday against Florida State in the Orange Bowl Classic in Miami.
ETROIT - Bruiser Flint said he didn't want a ``big deal'' made out of yesterday's benching of Monty Mack, even if the UMass coach made his unorthodox decision with yesterday's 63-59 loss to Detroit still on the line.
``The kid will be back in the next one,'' Flint said, while allowing that there indeed was an underlying message behind the move.
``One thing, I don't want what happened last year to happen this year,'' Flint said in reference to the 1998-99 Minutemen - a squabbling group that got worse as the season wore on.
Flint wasn't trying to lump Mack in with the likes of Ajmal Basit, Charlton Clarke and Lari Ketner. But after watching Mack play what he considered to be subpar defense yesterday for the 4-3 Minutemen, Flint made his move at a particularly odd time.
``What I was disappointed in was what Monty did in the defensive end,'' said Flint. ``So I sat him down. I know he was disappointed because he wasn't making any shots. But that was my thing to him - if you're not making shots, you still have to keep playing, because you have to help us in other areas.''
Flint and Mack had a brief exchange of words when the coach delivered the news during a timeout with 3:33 left and UMass trailing, 56-49. Mack briefly sat down with a towel over his head, following a cool-down talk with associate coach Geoff Arnold.
Mack was not available for comment after the game.
``It's not a big deal,'' Flint repeated, knowing few would agree.
Phillips fills it up
Detroit guard Rashad Phillips, one of the nation's leading scorers with a 26.3 average that received a slight boost from yesterday's 27-point performance, spent most of his time yesterday up-faking Minutemen.
UMass defenders never did find a comfortable groove against the 5-foot-9 guard.
``He's certainly one of the best I've ever had for creating a shot,'' said Detroit coach Perry Watson. ``Put in the fact that he's so small, and you have to consider it pretty incredible, considering what he has to face in every game.
``It's the same as what Monty Mack has to go out and face every game - box-and-ones and chasers. Rashad has to put up with the same thing in every game. But he doesn't try to panic.''
There's a reason that few teams agree to play the Titans in Calihan Hall.
``What are they, 32-1 in their last 33 games here?'' said Flint.
Actually, it's 31-1 after yesterday's win, including a 4-0 record this season.
The Titans also have been tough in the NCAA tournament, pulling off upsets each of the past two seasons. They beat UCLA in the first round last year after knocking off St. John's in 1998.
ETROIT -- The coaches and players at Detroit Mercy learned a little bit more about themselves Saturday.
Even with Rashad Phillips suffering through a dismal shooting game, the Titans found out they could beat a good team from a major conference.
Detroit led by 10 points with 5:30 left, then held on in the final seconds for a 63-59 victory over Massachusetts before 6,152 at Calihan Hall.
Detroit's Rashad Phillips scoots under Chris Kirkland.
"It came down to intangibles," said Phillips. "Me getting to the free throw line was the difference. I take pride in my free throw shooting. I take pride in all of my shooting, that's why I'm so disappointed.
"But this isn't golf or tennis. This is a team game. My hat goes off to (Mike) Harmon and Walter (Craft) with the blocks and the putbacks they had."
Led by Harmon, Craft and Terrell Riggs, the Titans' front line played their best game of the season. Harmon had five blocks and five rebounds in 17 minutes, Craft had seven points and six rebounds and Riggs had six points and six rebounds.
"Mike, right now, is a shot-blocker and defensive player," said UDM Coach Perry Watson. "It was impressive he was able to do that against a front line like that of UMass.
"This team is evolving. We have givens. Rashad is a great player. Terrell will be a great player. Willie (Green) will be a great player."
UMass (4-3) led 30-27 with 18:30 left in the game before Detroit went on a 17-4 run to take control of the game. Green started it with a three-point basket and Harmon's putback with 13:02 left ended it. In between, Harmon had one of his blocks and an offensive rebound by Riggs led to a three by Phillips.
UDM's lead appeared safe when Phillips made two free throws with 32 seconds left to give the Titans a 62-53 lead. But consecutive threes by Chris Kirkland (17 points) and Ronnell Blizzard cut the lead to three points with six seconds left. A free throw by Phillips put the game away four seconds later.
"This is a tough place to play," said UMass Coach Bruiser Flint. "Detroit's big guys did a good job for them.
"They made a couple of plays when the game is in the balance and we didn't. The kid takes 17 free throws. What can you say?"
Double big men
For one of the few times this season Watson used two of his centers at the same time. And he did it twice. With 11:52 left in the second half, Craft and Harmon played together for a minute. Then, with 7:45 left, Harmon and Marc Mazur were in together for a four-minute stretch.
First of many
Green, a freshman, made his first start and had eight points and five rebounds in 31 minutes.
Unexpected bench time
Monty Mack, the Minutemen's leading scorer at 20 per game, was benched by Flint for the final 3:33. Mack finished with four points and hit 2 of 11 shots.
"That's between me and Monty," said Flint. "He'll be all right. The kid had a tough night."
Leave a message for Tom Markowski at (313) 223-4633.
hat did he do? What didn't he do? Did he say anything?
And was it necessary to bench Monty Mack at this moment, and under these conditions?
University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Bruiser Flint thought so, because he sat Mack down for the final 3:33 of Saturday's 63-59 loss at Detroit. Mack wasn't made available for comment after the game at Calihan Hall.
And yesterday, Flint denied a media request to speak to the senior guard.
"It's over," Flint said. "I'm the coach, and I made the decision. He'll be fine, and he'll be back out there next week."
UMass (4-3) is off until Saturday, when the Minutemen play Florida State (3-4) in the Orange Bowl Classic.
Mack has been bothered by a hamstring problem, but Flint said the benching was performance-related and had nothing to do with an injury. He noted that Mack, who took a 20-point scoring average into the game, was not having a very productive afternoon.
Mack scored four points in 33 minutes on 2-for-11 shooting, and missed all four attempts from 3-point range. He had five rebounds in 33 minutes, all off the defensive boards, where he led the team.
But in Mack's 69 games at UMass, only once has he scored fewer points — a two-point outing at Virginia Tech in his first season.
But he also rarely comes out for any reason. Mack set a UMass record for sophomores by averaging 35.1 minutes in 1997-98, and last year he averaged 37.8, the most by any UMass player since Julius Erving's 38.1 in 1970-71.
As Mack sat for the final minutes Saturday, he did not appear to pout, and UMass also outscored Detroit 10-7 after he was pulled. But the decision was noteworthy because it came with UMass trailing 56-49, and left the Minutemen to make their comeback without their leading scorer.
Flint didn't even call on Mack after Jonathan DePina fouled out with 32 seconds left, instead calling on JoVann Johnson, who had not played in nearly four games.
Detroit's determination to shut down Mack's offense had paid off.
"The first name we circled on our blackboard was Monty Mack's," said Titans coach Perry Watson, whose team ranked third in the nation is scoring defense last season.
Villanova held Mack to 13 points in Monday's 52-51 UMass victory. That game spotlighted opponents' growing respect for Mack, the Minutemen's only proven outside threat.
After that game, Mack said he's not frustrated by box-and-one or other gimmicky defenses, and Flint said he liked how Mack didn't force shots and kept up his overall game.
The coach didn't leave the same impression Saturday, even while calling the benching nothing more than a one-game decision.
"He didn't have it going for him," Flint said. "You can't keep keeping guys in like that. And I was disappointed in his defense."
Since scoring 26 points in a tremendous effort against Boston College, Mack is 8 for 26 from the floor, and 1 for 11 on 3-pointers. But removing Mack not only eliminated one of the nation's top 50 scorers — albeit one who was being held in check — it eliminated a player who was bound to attract defensive attention, his shooting slump notwithstanding.
Last year, Flint made similar decisions to bench seniors Lari Ketner and Charlton Clarke. But this was the first time he had done so with Mack, a decision more dramatic because it came with less than four minutes left in a game that was still reasonably close.
Overshadowed Saturday was a strong defensive effort in which UMass held Detroit to 36.4-percent shooting. Other positive signs included center Micah Brand's solid play (11 points, four rebounds in 22 minutes) and 4-for-4 foul shooting by Shannon Crooks, who had missed 15 of his first 19.
Crooks also played solid defense (four steals), but struggled offensively with 4-for-12 shooting, six turnovers and no assists.
ETROIT - For the final 3:33 of Saturday's 63-59 loss to Detroit, senior guard Monty Mack sat on the University of Massachusetts bench with a towel draped over his head.
Despite the fact that UMass trailed and Mack was the team's leading scorer before the game at 20 points per game, he remained on the sideline. Even when Jonathan DePina fouled out, UMass coach Bruiser Flint inserted seldom-used reserve JoVann Johnson instead of Mack, clearly sending a message to his star guard.
Mack had struggled, shooting 2-for-11 before getting benched. He was bothered by a mild hamstring injury, but Flint said neither of those was the reason that his best shooter wasn't part of the team's comeback bid. During a timeout prior to the last 3:33 Mack and Flint appeared to exchange angry words on the bench. After the game, Flint was unwilling to discuss the move.
"That's between me and Mont," Flint said. "He'll be all right. He'll be back in there next week."
When pressed, Flint talked about Mack's performance but remained vague about the benching.
"You are all making something out of this that you all shouldn't," Flint said. "The kid had a tough night tonight. That's all... One of the things I don't want to happen is what happened last season. I was disappointed with what Mont did on the defensive end, it had nothing to do with offense. I think he was disappointed because he didn't make any shots. You can't keep guys in there, because they get down in other areas because they're not making any shots. You gotta keep playing and help in other places."
The media was denied access to Mack after the game.
Rashad Phillips works it past Shannon Crooks.
"I knew my jumper wasn't falling so I had to get to the free-throw line," Phillips said. "UMass did a good job of defending me."
"We did a good job defending," Flint said. "They shot 36 percent, but they made a couple shots when the game was in the balance."
Phillips led Detroit with 27 points, including an impressive 15-of-17 at the foul line.
"UMass had a definite game plan to come out and take him away, but with Rashad, that's easier said than done," said Detroit coach Perry Watson. "If you make him give up the ball, when he gets it back, he's going to put so much pressure on you that you're either going to have to open up the gates or foul him. He did a really good job of getting those guys to foul him. That's the cleverness of Rashad and he's a great free-throw shooter."
"It kills you because he makes every one," Flint said of Phillips' free throws. "Every time we played good defense and the shot clock goes down... bang, he gets fouled and he knocks down two."
Kirkland led UMass with 17 points and six rebounds. Shannon Crooks scored 13, while freshman center Micah Brand had a career-high 11.
"I think we played well," Kirkland said. "We just had some lapses on defense."
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak. The Minutemen (4-3) return to action Saturday in Miami to take on Florida State as part of the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic.
After falling behind 7-2 in the first four minutes, UMass reeled off an 11-2 run, led by four points from DePina. The Minutemen led for most of the first half, but never by more than five. Detroit scored the last four points of the half to lead 27-26 at intermission.
The Titans carried that momentum into the second half, opening the final 20 minutes on a 14-6 run that gave them a 44-34 lead. The Minutemen got within four once and five twice, but Detroit had an answer each time.
Flint thinks his team can benefit from the game.
"This is going to be one of those games that toughens you up," Flint said. "Because we're going to play games like this in our league in front of crowds like this in arenas like this. We just have to be ready. We can't make the same mistakes again."
ETROIT - For the University of Massachusetts men's basketball program, difficulty of schedule has always been a source of pride.
"Any team any time, any place."
That was the slogan. From 1992-1998 the Minutemen played North Carolina, Kansas, Maryland, DePaul, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Arkansas, Louisville, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Memphis, Virginia, Georgetown, Purdue, and Connecticut. Only Wake Forest played in the Mullins Center during that stretch.
They would lock horns with anybody and they won a lot of games. It gave the program an identity and helped turn UMass into a national power. But that motto was not intended to include teams like Detroit.
Playing a talented team from a mid-major conference is a no-win situation, one UMass had to face Saturday at Calihan Hall. If you win, people assume you should have. If you lose, people wonder how you could lose to a team from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.
Make no mistake about it, Detroit is good. The Titans have made it to the last two NCAA Tournaments and have delivered first-round upsets both times. After dispatching St. John's in 1998, they upended UCLA last year. Senior point guard Rashad Phillips has hovered around the national scoring lead all season.
Phillips isn't alone. Detroit has a collection of talented players and is very well-coached by Perry Watson. With the Titans' talent and their track record, nobody wants to draw them in the first round of the tournament.
For the same reason, few established schools will play Detroit in Calihan Hall because there is nothing to gain.
Detroit does little for opponents in terms of RPI standings, either. (RPI is another measure used to determine a team's strength.) With the exception of Michigan, the Titans don't really play anybody of note. So unless the game is on national TV, there isn't much reason to play.
But UMass doesn't shy away from these challenges and the Minutemen find themselves lacing up their high tops for a lot of these games, as trips to the likes of Marshall, Iona and Detroit are becoming commonplace. Courageous? Sure. Admirable? Maybe. Smart? Not very.
UMass still should try to schedule top opponents, but recognizability is important. Detroit is probably better than, say, many schools with name recognition this year, but to Joe Fan and, more important, to Joe Prospective Recruit, playing the likes of Seton Hall or Clemson, even though both are having down years, has more value that playing Detroit.
To UMass' credit, having Providence, Villanova, Boston College and Florida State on the schedule all fits into that line of thinking. But if you can't get more of those teams, it's better to schedule a team that's a guaranteed win. During some of the John Calipari tournament-bound years, Central Connecticut State, Holy Cross and Hartford often were featured on UMass' early schedules.
To play any team, a school has two options. Agree to some form of home-and-home series or pay that team. It usually costs between $20,000 and $50 thousand to entice a team to come to your campus one time with no return game. UMass paid Boston University for such a game this year, but that was the only one. The Minutemen tried to pay Wagner for a game last year, offering the New York school 25 grand for a one-time engagement, but the game fell through when Connecticut, a regular consumer of muffin opponents, outbid UMass and paid Wagner 42 thousand for the game.
Financially, UMass trails other schools in terms of being able to buy games. Lack of a lucrative TV contract that some conferences enjoy hurts and the absence of fan interest in a game against a team like Vermont or Yale lessens the gate receipt for those games and makes it financially difficult for the Minutemen to play them.
"We don't have a lot of money to guarantee games," Flint said. "It comes down to finances... You have to have three or four that you bring to your gym give them some money and get some wins, but the bottom line is we don't have that luxury. I think you need to play some of those teams. Especially if you have some young guys, to get some confidence."
Scambling to replace the Wagner game late in the process last year, UMass scoured the country, but found most teams with already booked schedules. The Titans would play, but without a return game that season. They stipulated that UMass had to play at Calihan Hall this year, where the Titans have now won 32 of their last 33 games.
"We were somewhat desperate," Flint admitted. "That's one reason we got this game."
The results have been lousy. Last year's win in a sub-.500 season was meaningless and this year's loss could be costly. Even a home-and-home with Harvard, while doing nothing for schedule strength or RPI, might be better than risking a loss.
Flint said a game like Saturday's could toughen his team for later in the season.
If there were just one game like this, his point would be a strong one, but with Marshall and Iona already on the schedule, this game was little more than a land-mine.
The immediate goal has to be getting back to the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis. With UMass' league schedule, 20 wins likely would be enough to get invited. That's a tough number to reach when the nonconference games are difficult. And a game like Saturday's doesn't help.
Next year's schedule is still open. The Minutemen might play in the Black Coaches Association Tournament, which also would include Arkansas, Oregon and Rice. Other games are also in the works.
"I want to get a few more home games, but it comes down to how much money we have," Flint said.
For now, Flint just has to hope Detroit does well in its league and that this can be looked at as a "good loss."
Mass' loss to Detroit on Saturday was punctuated by the lavish praise of Titans coach Perry Watson and his star, Rashad Phillips, for their visitors.
They were, of course, very grateful.
Not many teams - especially those with the national reputation of a school like UMass - agree to play a road game in a small snakepit like Calihan Hall.
And yet there was UMass on Saturday, still striving to live up to the ``any team, any place, anytime'' philosophy that was developed by John Calipari roughly 10 years ago.
Over the years, the UMass search for non-conference iron would lead to games against teams such as Kentucky, North Carolina and Arkansas, with a surprisingly high degree of success. This sort of scheduling was easy with players such as Lou Roe and Marcus Camby in the program.
The Minutemen, however, haven't had that caliber of player since 1996. And though they still are traveling to play just about anyone who will agree to the matchup, they now find themselves in places like the University of Detroit - an up-and-coming program that is not well-known outside its own conference.
When Watson and Phillips talk of ``a program like UMass,'' they are talking more about reputation than what is out there on the floor - a 4-3 team that is struggling to regain some of the substance behind that reputation.
``You have to play these games,'' UMass coach Bruiser Flint said of the Detroit home-and-home series that started with a win in the Mullins Center last season.
The idea, according to Flint, is to have enough money to pay these up-and-comers to play in Amherst, without having to get into a home-and-home swap. But the only team in that category this season was Boston University, for $35,000.
``We don't have a lot of money right now to bring in these teams,'' said Flint.
Detroit, a last-minute fill-in before last season when Wagner turned down UMass for a more lucrative appearance offer from UConn, insisted on a home-and-home series rather than the money.
And until the Minutemen again reach a level where they will be in high demand for the TV-organized matchups that are usually scheduled in the spring, the Minutemen will continue to visit blood bucket gyms.
``With Marcus Camby you could play anyone, but I haven't had that luxury (since he became head coach),'' said Flint. ``Plus, now our league is better. Before you could really play these tough games outside the conference, because you knew you were going to go 10-2 in the league, at worst. Is it smart to play so many of these tough (non-conference) games now? Not really.''
MASSACHUSETTS (59) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Babul 22 1-3 0-0 2-2 2 2 2 Kirkland 37 4-11 8-9 2-6 2 3 17 Rhymer 15 1-1 0-0 0-2 0 3 2 Depina 19 2-4 2-2 0-2 2 5 6 Mack 33 2-11 0-0 0-5 0 0 4 Oates 3 0-0 0-0 0-1 0 0 0 Blizzard 6 1-1 0-0 0-2 1 3 3 Johnson 1 0-0 0-0 1-1 2 0 0 Smith 12 0-1 1-2 1-1 0 1 1 Crooks 30 4-12 4-4 2-4 0 3 13 Brand 22 5-8 1-3 1-4 0 1 11 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 20-52 16-20 9-30 9 21 59 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.385, FT-.800. 3-Point Goals: 3-10, .300 (Kirkland 1-2, Mack 0-4, Blizzard 1-1, Crooks 1-3). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 2 (Kirkland, Rhymer). Turnovers: 16 (Crooks 6, Kirkland 5, Babul, Brand, Depina, Mack, Rhymer). Steals: 12 (Crooks 4, Babul 3, Depina 2, Mack 2, Kirkland). DETROIT (63) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Riggs 27 3-6 0-0 2-6 3 4 6 Ferguson 32 4-11 0-0 1-5 1 0 10 Craft 19 3-5 1-2 3-6 0 1 7 Phillips 39 5-17 15-17 2-5 2 1 27 Green 31 3-8 1-1 1-5 1 0 8 Harmon 17 1-3 0-0 0-5 0 3 2 Van Dyke 5 1-1 0-0 2-2 0 0 2 Belin 18 0-2 1-4 0-0 0 3 1 Mazur 12 0-2 0-0 1-2 1 2 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 20-55 18-24 12-36 8 14 63 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.364, FT-.750. 3-Point Goals: 5-17, .294 (Ferguson 2-7, Phillips 2-8, Green 1-2). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 7 (Harmon 5, Craft, Riggs). Turnovers: 16 (Phillips 5, Ferguson 3, Craft 2, Green 2, Riggs 2, Harmon, Van Dyke). Steals: 6 (Belin 2, Green, Harmon, Phillips, Riggs). __________________________________ Massachusetts 26 33 - 59 Detroit 27 36 - 63 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 6,152. Officials: Eugene Crawford, L Memminger, Jerry Sauder.