AYAMON, Puerto Rico - Brian Ross was seated on the floor at the end of the Boston College bench yesterday when he turned to the press table and asked a pertinent question.
``We get that cup back, right?'' Ross said near the end of BC's stunning 83-59 blowout over UMass in the fifth-place game of the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic.
The cup he was talking about was the Governors Cup, given to the winner of the annual BC-UMass Commonwealth Classic. And the answer is, no - even though this Massachusetts rivalry game was played in a commonwealth, it was the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
What BC does get is its eighth win in 11 games, fifth place in the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic with a 2-1 tournament record, two more wins this season than all of last season and the right to start thinking of this as more than just another rebuilding year.
Meanwhile, UMass gets to fly back to the mainland with a 6-5 record that actually translates to 5-5 because its only win here was against the Division 2 host team.
``We were awful down here,'' said UMass coach Bruiser Flint.
But the Minutemen, who had beaten the Eagles five straight times in the last five seasons (including Dec. 4 at Conte Forum), still have that Governors Cup.
``We'll get it next year - they can keep it,'' Xavier Singletary said after breaking out of his shooting slump with a game-high 26 points and five rebounds to power the Eagles.
``They beat us (Dec. 4) - they whupped us. We'll beat them next year,'' said Troy Bell, who made all five of his shots in the first half and wound up with 16 points and a game-high four assists.
Jonathan Beerbohm had another big game off the bench for BC - with 14 points and nine rebounds to earn a spot on the All-Tournament team (along with Monty Mack, who paced UMass with 20 points yesterday).
Flint knew this game might be trouble - and he was right.
``I knew those guys were going to be more hyped up and be ready,'' the UMass coach said. ``How many times are you going to keep losing to us?''
BC came out and trailed only twice - 2-0 and 16-15 - before blowing open a tight game by finishing the first half on a 19-4 run that created a 20-point halftime lead (48-28). The Minutemen came out determined to come back but it just wasn't there, getting no closer than 15 points as BC had an answer for everything.
``Give those guys credit,'' said Flint.
Said BC coach Al Skinner: ``I'm very happy with the way we responded. I mean, this is the fourth game in five days and for us to come out and give that kind of effort, I have a tremendous amount of respect for this team and I'm extremely proud. We could have easily packed it up and not shown up. They toughed it out and we wanted it.
``We didn't think we played well in the first UMass game. With what was at stake, we wanted to play better in this game.''
AYAMON, Puerto Rico - Xavier Singletary felt it was coming. Even as shots weren't falling earlier in the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic, the BC junior thought he was coming around. Yesterday, he buried UMass with a barrage of long-range shots.
Singletary, 1-for-7 in BC's 74-67 loss to UMass at Conte Forum Dec. 4 and just 26-for-85 over his last eight games, was 8-for-17 from the floor yesterday, including 7-for-14 from 3-point range.
``I felt it right off the bat,'' said Singletary, who hit a trey 36 seconds into the Eagles' 83-59 rout. ``I knew the tournament should be a time for me to improve my play all-around.''
Singletary had a meeting with BC coach Al Skinner before the Michigan game and was told to keep taking his shots. Yesterday, Skinner said Singletary's early success instilled confidence in the other BC players - and the Eagles fed off that.
``That was a good breakout game for him,'' said Skinner.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint told his team in both games against BC that the Minutemen had to stop Singletary and Troy Bell. Bell had 45 points in the two games (16 yesterday), Singletary wound up with 28.
Coming of age
You may not see it on the stat sheet, but freshman Uka Agbai was huge in the game and the tournament. Yesterday, Agbai had nine points, four rebounds, two blocks, a steal and also bothered numerous shots.
``He played great,'' Skinner said of the freshman.
No one on the UMass side played great. Monty Mack had 20 points and hit 7-for-11 from the floor but was invisible for long stretches. Chris Kirkland, who had been on a roll, was 1-for-9 from the floor and compiled just two points and three rebounds in 24 minutes. Kitwana Rhymer started strong and finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three blocks in 26 minutes.
The BC bench, which outscored its Michigan counterpart 31-4 Sunday and had a 29-8 advantage on Illinois-Chicago here Wednesday, only had a 28-22 edge yesterday (Shannon Crooks had 11 for UMass but shot just 4-for-12). But Kenny Walls again provided instant offense in the first half and Jonathan Beerbohm was marvelous and was pleasantly surprised when he made the All-Tournament team.
Dwayne Pina (bruised tailbone) returned to the BC lineup and gave Skinner 15 solid minutes at the point. . . . BC sent a manager out for Alka-Seltzer late in the first half to help Singletary with nagging leg cramps.
Both teams fly home this morning and both resume play next Thursday as BC hosts Iona and UMass plays at Providence. UMass has played five straight games away from home and doesn't play at the Mullins Center until St. Bonaventure visits on Jan. 6 - the start of the Atlantic 10 schedule. BC opens its Big East slate two days later, at home against Providence.
``We've been gone for a week and we just didn't play well,'' said Flint. ``We just didn't have the focus - maybe we need to get home for Christmas.''
AYAMON, Puerto Rico - Just when it seemed like it couldn't get any worse for the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team, the Minutemen got pounded 83-59 by in-state rival Boston College in both teams' final game Thursday at the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic.
The loss matched the worst margin of defeat in Bruiser Flint's coaching career, tying it with UMass's 71-47 injury-riddled loss to Wake Forest in 1996.
"When we don't get certain things from certain people, we're not very good," said Flint, who declined to single anyone out. "Our whole is better than the sum of our parts when we play together. If we have a part missing we're not very good. There's alot of parts missing when you lose by 24."
Boston College was hot from the outset, shooting 62 percent from the floor in the first half. UMass kept it close for about 13 minutes as the Minutemen trailed 29-24 with 7:05 left until intermission.
But BC closed the first half on a 19-4 run that left the shell-shocked Minutemen trailing 48-28 at halftime.
It seemed like every time UMass made a dent in the deficit in the second half, BC's Xavier Singletary answered with a 3-pointer to stagger the Minutemen.
After shooting 1-for-7 the first time the teams met, Singletary exploded for a game-high 26 points, joining Troy Bell (16) and Jonathan Beerbohm (14) in double figures.
Flint wasn't surprised at how well the Eagles played. "This was win or die for them, and we needed to come with the same approach," Flint said. "BC played very well. They were looking for this. We've been beating those guys for the past five years and we beat them good a couple of times. At some point, they said, 'This isn't going to happen again' and we had to come out with the same approach and we didn't."
UMass guard Monty Mack scored a team-high 20, his fourth straight game with 20 or more points, giving him an even 1,200 points in his career, passing John Murphy and former Puerto Rico national team member Carmelo Travieso to move into 19th place on the school's all-time scoring list.
Kitwana Rhymer added a career-high 13 points but spent much of the second half on the bench battling the effects of heat exhaustion. Junior forward Winston Smith led UMass with seven boards and was a rare player to draw praise from Flint.
"I thought Winston played well down here," Flint said.
Among the many things frustrating Flint after the game was his team's defense, which was uncharacteristically flimsy.
"One of the things that we always do is play D, but if one person breaks down, you have to help and scramble," Flint said. "We had to help and scramble all game."
The Minutemen (6-5) will head home for Christmas before returning Saturday to begin preparation for their Dec. 30 game at Providence.
"We were awful down here," Flint said. "It was a tough trip and we didn't play well. We just have to bounce back. Last year we were 4-7 at this point."
AYAMON, Puerto Rico - In Puerto Rico, the rain comes quickly and unexpectedly. Just seconds after the skies are clear and sunny, the weather can break into a downpour, leaving the unsuspecting soaked. After success in Florida, the University of Massachusetts came to Puerto Rico and got drenched.
After the Minutemen looked impressive in their 69-60 win over Florida State on Saturday, their realistic goal in Puerto Rico was at least two wins. The thinking was that the Minutemen would beat Southern Illinois, probably lose to Tennessee and then win their third game. With some luck, an upset of the Volunteers even seemed at least possible. With the way UMass played against FSU, those expectations seemed reasonable.
But as has become too commonplace for the Minutemen, reasonable expectations disappear faster than you can say lack of focus.
So instead of two or three wins, UMass will leave Puerto Rico with just one, and a pretty weak one at that. American University of Puerto Rico is a Division II school. It would be worth mentioning that the NCAA selection committee wouldn't even consider that a win if mentioning UMass and the NCAAs together right now wasn't so laughable.
This week, it is a tossup whether UMass has gone further south literally or figuratively. Southern Illinois is a mediocre team even for a mid-major and the Minutemen beat BC in their home gym less than a month ago. Losing those two games is disastrous.
UMass hadn't lost to the Eagles since 1979, so to get blown out of the gym is an embarrassment. The loss won't sit well with UMass alumni, many of whom place more stock in the BC rivalry than they do the one with UConn.
Fact-facing time has arrived. This year's Minutemen are better than last year's, but not enough to think that any corner has been turned, or even started to be turned.
Monty Mack remains UMass' only true scoring threat every night. Chris Kirkland gets into double figures more often than not, but even if both of them have a good night, that still leaves a lot of unreliable shooters on the floor. Plus, the Minutemen seem equally capable of missing layups in the new offense as they were in their old one.
Making matters worse, UMass can't rebound either. Including Thursday, the Minutemen have been outrebounded seven times, often by smaller teams, leaving them with too many empty trips down the floor.
It won't get easier with the league schedule on the horizon, as UMass will face teams that are already used to guarding Mack. For a team that needs focus, the distraction of Flint's uncertain job security is only going to increase as the season progresses.
As quickly as the rain comes in Puerto Rico, it usually disappears just as fast, but UMass is headed back to the mainland, where bad weather tends to linger longer. The Minutemen better enjoy Christmas because unless things improve dramatically, it won't be merry in Amherst for quite a while.
AYAMON, Puerto Rico — One team wanted it, and the other team just didn't get it. One team improved greatly in 19 days, and the other team looked immeasurably worse that it had only five days earlier.
Losing to Boston College wasn't disgraceful, even though that hadn't happened to a University of Massachusetts men's basketball team since 1979. But the way yesterday's 83-59 blowout was fashioned brings back all the familiar questions about whether this UMass team has the heart, motivation, leadership, direction and skill level the schedule says it must.
Yesterday's horrible showing capped a horrible Puerto Rico Holiday Classic for UMass (6-5) at the Guerra Sports Complex. Fresh from their best effort of the season in beating Florida State Saturday, the Minutemen lost to unsung Southern Illinois, won a meaningless game against hopelessly outmatched American University of Puerto Rico, then fell flat on their faces against BC (8-3).
"Our whole has to be better than the sum of our parts, and if a part is missing, we're not very good." UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "I'm not going to point fingers. Let's just say we had a lot of parts missing."
The Eagles showed how far they've come since Dec. 4, when they lost 74-67 to UMass in Boston. That Commonwealth Classic game, complete with a cup that signifies state basketball supremacy, motivated them for the rematch.
"They can keep the cup," said BC guard Xavier Singletary, who torched UMass for 26 points and hit 7 of 14 3-point shots. "We'll get it next year."
Singletary had been held to two points on 1-for-7 shooting in the first meeting. He came into the rematch shooting 35.7 percent, but led an Eagles' attack that shot 62.1 percent in the first half and 53.4 overall.
The 24-point difference matched the worst loss in Flint's four-year coaching career. It would have been the worst, except for Shannon Crooks' meaningless 3-pointer with 6 seconds left.
Beset by injuries, UMass lost 71-47 at Wake Forest in 1996. Flint had no answers for why his team, which had a players' meeting after the Southern Illinois loss, mailed this one in two days later.
"We've got to get back home and re-evaluate what we're doing," he said. "We were awful down here. Some of BC's rebounds were balls that we actually got, only to have them take them away."
Monty Mack scored 20 points, giving him 1,200 for his career and moving him into 19th place all-time at UMass. Mack passed six former players on the scoring charts during the three-day tournament.
Kitwana Rhymer scored a career-high 13 points, even though he became overheated in the second half and was limited to 26 minutes.
But UMass never really got going, other than a brief 6-0 run that closed BC's lead to 29-24. From there, the Eagles went on a 19-4 run in the final seven minutes of the first half and led 48-28 at halftime.
"Once I hit my first 3, I felt like, oh yeah, it's going to be a long game for them," said Singletary, a transfer from Howard University. But Singletary did most of his scoring in the second half, when he scored 17 points and hit 5 of 7 3-pointers.
The other BC guard, Troy Bell, scored 16 points after collecting 29 in the first game against UMass. The Eagles also controlled the boards 39-30.
"I'm extremely proud of our players," BC coach Al Skinner said. "It was their fourth game in five days (including a Sunday afternoon win over Michigan in Boston). "We could have easily packed it up and not shown up."
The Eagles didn't, but UMass did, according to a coach who had no answer for why.
"For BC, it was either win or die," Flint said. "We didn't come in with the same attitude."
UMass is off until a Dec. 30 game at Providence, the last contest before the Atlantic 10 opener, a Jan. 6 home game against St. Bonaventure.
AYAMON, Puerto Rico — Last season, University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Bruiser Flint once called Lari Ketner "awful," later made it clear he wasn't happy with Charlton Clarke and threw Ajmal Basit off the team.
This year, he used the word "awful" again to describe his frontcourt after a loss to Marshall. And as the nation knows, let a profanity slip out — though not aimed at any specific player — in analyzing that defeat on radio.
But after a dispiriting showing in the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic, Flint took a different approach. Flint said he didn't want to single out culprits, partly because it might hurt team unity and partly because so many players could share the blame.
"Actually, I thought Winston Smith had a pretty good tournament," Flint said.
Yesterday, Smith had a season-high six points in an 83-59 loss to Boston College in the fifth-place game at the Guerra Sports Complex.
Flint's supportive words were based not on numbers, but on his contention that Smith, a 6-foot-5 junior, is one player who gives maximum effort every time out. Maybe the only one.
Monty Mack averaged 20.3 points in Puerto Rico, and at times, reserve center Anthony Oates showed some spark, particularly in Tuesday's loss to Southern Illinois. Center Kitwana Rhymer, who grew up in the Virgin Islands and experienced a Caribbean homecoming this week, scored a career-high 13 points against Boston College before leaving with heat exhaustion. But most of the players were inconsistent, the best example being forward Chris Kirkland.
Kirkland, a 6-6 senior, had scored 14 points on 6-for-6 shooting in Wednesday's 102-65 win over American University of Puerto Rico. Yesterday, Kirkland shot 1 for 9 and scored two points.
The most obvious target is the small forward spot. Flint didn't deny it, saying only the problems of Ronell Blizzard and Mike Babul didn't explain the entire team's unpredictability.
"Everybody points to the three-spot, because those guys don't hit you with big numbers," Flint said.
In four games since assuming Babul's starting spot as a way to create more offense, Blizzard has shot 3 for 10 and averaged 2.5 points.
Flint has been willing to accept little scoring from Babul, but he doesn't want the 6-6 senior to become a complete offensive nonentity who doesn't need to be guarded very closely. But that's what has happened, and other than 3-for-3 shooting against outmatched American University, he's 2 for 9 as a reserve and 10 for 30 this season.
What's worse, some of the missed shots have come on easy layups. Babul's confidence level is now an issue with UMass.
"We have to get some guys' spirits up, because they're important to us," said Flint, not naming Babul but undoubtedly thinking of him.
But for now, the coach will not single out individuals, only promise that the players — and coaches — all have to do a better job.
"We're a team, and we have to get better," Flint said. "The coaches some guys we believe in them. But I won't point fingers. We'll win or lose with them."
Boston College's 19-4 run to end the first half wasn't the worst UMass endured in Puerto Rico. In Tuesday's quarterfinal, the Minutemen — who led Southern Illinois 18-4 and 23-9 — were outscored 19-2 to fall behind 28-25.
IT'S BEEN WORSE:
Even at an unexciting 6-5, UMass has tied its best 11-game start under Flint. The Minutemen were 6-5 in 1997-98 and finished 21-11, and they started out 4-7 in each of his other two seasons.
|Boston College Eagles||83|
|Puerto Rico Holiday Classic, Third Round|
at Bayamon PR
BOSTON COLLEGE (83) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Agbai 30 4-6 1-2 1-4 1 4 9 Ross 22 1-2 2-2 2-5 2 2 4 Bell 25 7-13 1-1 2-2 4 2 16 Cotton 10 0-1 0-0 1-2 0 3 0 Singletary 27 8-17 3-3 2-7 2 2 26 Beerbohm 24 5-9 4-4 2-9 0 1 14 Pina 15 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 0 0 Harley 19 2-2 0-0 0-2 0 1 5 Walls 24 3-7 1-2 0-4 1 0 7 Millar 2 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 2 Dudley 2 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 0 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 31-58 12-14 10-37 12 15 83 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.534, FT-.857. 3-Point Goals: 9-23, .391 (Bell 1-3, Singletary 7-14, Beerbohm 0-1, Harley 1-1, Walls 0-4). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 4 (Agbai 2, Ross, Beerbohm). Turnovers: 19 (Beerbohm 3, Cotton 3, Ross 3, Agbai 2, Pina 2, Walls 2, Bell, Dudley, Harley, Singletary). Steals: 9 (Cotton 3, Pina 2, Agbai, Harley, Singletary, Walls). MASSACHUSETTS (59) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Blizzard 15 0-1 0-0 1-1 1 2 0 Kirkland 24 1-9 0-2 2-3 1 1 2 Rhymer 26 6-9 1-2 1-4 0 2 13 Depina 23 1-4 0-0 1-1 2 2 2 Mack 38 7-11 4-4 1-5 0 2 20 Oates 2 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Johnson 2 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Smith 20 3-8 0-3 4-7 1 0 6 Babul 11 0-2 0-0 0-1 1 1 0 Crooks 29 4-12 2-3 1-3 1 1 11 Brand 10 2-4 1-1 1-2 0 2 5 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 24-60 8-15 12-27 7 13 59 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.400, FT-.533. 3-Point Goals: 3-9, .333 (Depina 0-1, Mack 2-5, Babul 0-1, Crooks 1-2). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 6 (Rhymer 3, Blizzard, Crooks, Brand). Turnovers: 15 (Kirkland 3, Mack 3, Rhymer 3, Depina 2, Babul, Blizzard, Johnson, Smith). Steals: 8 (Crooks 2, Mack 2, Babul, Blizzard, Depina, Kirkland). __________________________________ Boston College 48 35 - 83 Massachusetts 28 31 - 59 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 234. Officials: Juan Figueroa, Grzywinski, Keith Herring.