Coverage from:
The Daily Hampshire Gazette
The Mass. Daily Collegian

UMass seeks to even record
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 2/3/2001

AMHERST - Monty Mack never got to try his would-be game-tying 3-pointer on that Monday night and the University of Massachusetts walked off the court at the Bradley Center, a 68-64 loser at the hands of Marquette.

The Nov. 20 loss made the Minutemen 1-1. Seventy-five days have come and gone and the UMass hasn't been at .500 since.

By Saturday evening, that could have changed. The Minutemen (9-10, 7-1 A-10) will try to even their overall record at 10-10 Saturday at noon, when they play Atlantic 10 rival Fordham (11-9, 3-5) at the Mullins Center.

Senior captain Winston Smith said the formula for extending their success is basic.

"We're just coming in and working hard every day in practice and doing all the right things we've been doing," Smith said.

The Rams are getting closer to .500 themselves, but they're moving in the other direction.

After beginning the season 7-4, a stretch that included a 68-67 upset of St. John's at Madison Square Garden, Fordham has gone 4-5 since New Year's. The Rams are 3-5 in A-10 play and have lost three straight, including a 68-59 loss to lowly La Salle Wednesday.

The Rams' major problems have come on defense: they've allowed an average of 75.6 points per game against league foes, which ranks them ninth in the Atlantic 10.

They'll have to try to score against a Minuteman unit that has been stingy against conference opponents, giving up just 60.5 points per A-10 contest.

Fordham doesn't appear to be lacking for weapons, however.

"They can score now. That's the big difference," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "They can put five guys on the floor that can all score."

In fact, if it were legal, they could put more than that on the floor. Six Ram players are averaging 8.9 points per game or more, led by senior guards Bevon Robin (15.4 ppg) and Jason Harris. (11.3 ppg).

Robin has always been a strong scorer, but according to coach Bob Hill, his game is far more complete now.

"His attitude has really changed about the game," Hill said. "He's not afraid to work hard. He keeps the ball in the middle of the floor and gets the ball to shooters where he is supposed to. I'm really proud of him. He's made great strides."

Freshman center Jeff McMillan has emerged as one of the Atlantic 10's brightest young players, averaging 10.3 points and 7.9 rebounds.

"He's not a great athlete, but a good athlete," Flint said. "He's strong, with wide shoulders, and really gets position inside. He does a great job of getting into position for offensive rebounds."

Despite recent slips, the once-perennial cellar dwellers are now a middle-of-the-pack A-10 team.

"We're fighting for our existence in the middle of the pack now, which is good because Fordham is used to being near the bottom," Hill said.

NOTE: UMass recruit Jeremiah King has transferred to the Philadelphia Christian School to complete his senior year of high school. He left the Winchendon School following a disagreement with coach Mike Byrnes.

UMass Basketball: Coming together
By Jesse Greenspan, The Mass. Daily Collegian Staff Writer, 2/3/2001

For once, a team that ventures up to Massachusetts from the Bronx won't actually be favored to win.

But that does not mean that the Fordham Rams are incapable of beating the Massachusetts men's basketball team when they visit the William D. Mullins Center this Saturday. It merely means that if the Minutemen continue playing like they have of late, then they should be able to continue their five game winning streak and at the very least, hold onto their share of first place in the Atlantic 10.

However, a letdown would be costly, as the Maroon and White (9-10, 7-1 A-10) squad can ill afford to lose many more games if its season is going to continue well into March.

"We have to protect our home court and these are the wins you have to have going into the A-10 tournament," UMass point guard Shannon Crooks said.

Head coach James "Bruiser" Flint agreed: "We don't have a good enough record to be losing focus," he added. "We've got to be ready to play at all times."

The last time these two teams squared off, a season ago, UMass was able to hand the Rams an 81-72 defeat behind a career-high 29 points from Shannon Crooks. This was all accomplished without leading scorer Monty Mack, who was out sick for the game.

This time around, though, both Mack and Crooks will be in the starting lineup, and they will be matched up against Fordham's two leading scorers, guards Bevon Robin (15.4 ppg) and Jason Harris (11.9 ppg).

"I had a pretty good game last year, but I know I'm not going to be able to shoot as much as I did in that game because I played the two then and now I am going to be at the one," Crooks said. "So I am going to get Monty the ball. He is the shooting guard and it is his last game against Fordham, so he is really going to go at them. I am just going to play my position, not force anything and my time will come when I can put up some shots."

The Rams will obviously try and key on Mack, but lately the UMass two-guard has been getting his points despite the fact that opposing coaches have designed defenses to stop him. He has been able to knot 20 or more points in nine of his last 10 contests, and his teammates will attest that this is not an easy thing to do when you are always at the forefront of an opponent's game plan.

"If they double on me, I don't think it takes any pressure off Monty at all," center Kitwana Rhymer said. "They are still going to be on him."

However, it has not been the play of Mack alone that has allowed the Minutemen to dominate conference play. Rhymer (10.1 ppg), Crooks (9.6 ppg) and Micah Brand (8.6 pgg) have all proven that they can score when needed, and have shown that UMass is far from a one-man team.

"Teams are doing a lot of the same things on us [as they were doing at the beginning of the year]," Crooks said. "They are running some box-and-ones on Monty, they show some zone at us and are switching a lot of defenses, but we seem to adjust to them."

While the Rams will be concentrating on Crooks and Mack, the Maroon and White guards will be looking to stop their counterparts, Robin and Harris. Last year they did an outstanding job of this, holding Harris to 1-of-10 shooting from behind the arc in two meetings, keeping Robin around his scoring average.

Crooks and Mack both played excellent defense against the Rams last year, but it was the play of backup point guard Jonathan DePina that really helped shut down Harris' perimeter game.

"Last time we played Harris we had Jonathan crowd him and not give him any open looks," Crooks said. "And he did a real good job with him."

This time around, the Minutemen will have to do much of the same if they plan on leaving the Mullins Center with their eighth conference win in nine attempts.

"They're really good offensively and they're a much better team than last year," Flint said. "This game is on national TV, on ESPN, so everybody should be pretty pumped up. The key for us is we can't let their guards get off. We need to try to keep them in the half-court and not let them get a lot of easy transition baskets."

Other weapons for Fordham include 6'9" center Duke Freeman-McKamey and Jeff McMillian, one of the conferences best freshman. For one reason or another, the Rams have also used an uncanny ability to play better in the second half as a weapon, but as Mack pointed out, "we have been a second half team, too."

Tip off is slated for noon.

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