MHERST — After Wednesday's stirring comeback victory over Xavier, University of Massachusetts men's basketball guard Monty Mack was asked about Temple, the next obstacle in the march to a possible Atlantic 10 Conference championship.
It was an interesting question because this year, Xavier is a better team that Temple, which theoretically made Wednesday's 59-49 UMass win the bigger game. But Mack knows better.
"If you can't get psyched up with Temple coming to your house, there's something wrong with you," Mack said. "We're looking forward to it."
In tomorrow's 1 p.m. game at the Mullins Center, UMass will attempt to continue what must be considered one of the most remarkable reversals of fortune in college basketball. The record shows the completeness of the turnaround: a 2-9 record in nonconference play, but 9-2 in the Atlantic 10, a game behind first-place St. Joseph's.
Tomorrow's game is expected to attract the season's biggest home crowd, and possibly a sellout. About 1,000 tickets remained, as of yesterday.
That might help ease some of the disappointment from Wednesday's attendance numbers. Only 5,247 showed up for the game against Xavier, which had been ranked in the Top 25 the previous week.
"People around campus know when the games are, but they don't come out," Mack said. "They must have better things to do. Homework, I guess."
Among Atlantic 10 rivalries, it doesn't get much better than UMass-Temple. This year, both teams are chasing NCAA tournament berths, but right now, both are on the outside looking in.
Temple (14-12, 8-4) has reached the NCAA tournament 11 straight years, but that streak is in real jeopardy. In may ways, the Owls are in the same position as UMass, with a better overall record but a worse conference standing.
That doesn't make tomorrow's test easy for UMass, which stunned Temple 65-64 in overtime Jan. 27 in Philadelphia.
"Against them, every possession counts," Mack said.
That's why UMass' eight turnovers against Xavier, which tied a season low, would seem to bode so well.
The Minutemen didn't allow a point off a turnover in the game's final 33 minutes.
"We had 19 turnovers the last time we played Xavier (a 75-64 UMass road win Jan. 9)," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "If we'd have had 19 turnovers this time, we'd have lost for sure."
In some ways, the two UMass-Xavier games were nearly identical, though the Musketeers did reverse the Minutemen's first-game rebounding edge. Xavier shot 18 for 54 in the first game, and 17 for 54 Wednesday.
UMass shot 19 for 52 Wednesday, just below its 23-for-52 showing in January.
Against Temple, UMass had advantages in size and depth even before the Owls lost 6-foot-10, 315-pound Ron Rollerson to a sprained foot in Tuesday's 71-62 loss at St. Joseph's. Rollerson will be out at least three weeks, which puts more pressure on Temple's starters.
Four of them — Kevin Lyde, Lynn Greer, Quincy Wadley and David Hawkins — played between 38 and 40 minutes each Tuesday.
Whether UMass can penetrate Temple's matchup well enough to create good inside shots is a question, but the second-half play of 6-11 power forward Micah Brand Wednesday was encouraging.
Brand tied his career high with 10 rebounds, and scored seven points — all in the second half. A monster dunk at the 20-second mark of the half set the tone for an artful player who is still incorporating aggressiveness into his style.
"In the first half, Micah and Kit Rhymer weren't ducking in on their big guys like they should," Flint said. "But that dunk looked like the (aggressive) way I want Micah to play every game, every minute."
MHERST — The first sellout home crowd of the season. Dick Vitale on the broadcast crew for a nationally televised game. Temple University as the opponent.
All those factors make today's University of Massachusetts men's basketball game at the Mullins Center something special. But for UMass, there's something even more important to it — a chance to keep control of its own destiny.
"It's in our hands," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint, whose team plays the second of three straight home games at 1 p.m. today. "Now we just have to go out and win some games."
UMass (11-11, 9-2 Atlantic 10) trails St. Joseph's (20-4, 10-1) by one game in the conference. The teams meet Feb. 27 in Philadelphia, and a win by UMass in that game — the teams' only meeting — would give the Minutemen the conference tiebreaker if the teams finish tied for first.
That means as long as UMass can stay within a game of St. Joseph's, the Minutemen control their own fate. But to do so, they have to keep winning.
"It's almost always a low-scoring game against Temple," Flint said. "We have to be careful with the ball, and probably not take a lot of 3s."
UMass hit 8 of 19 shots from 3-point range in last month's first meeting, a 65-64 overtime win at Temple. But Flint still believes that to beat Temple's matchup zone, a team must attack it smartly, as opposed to simply trying to rain 3-pointers over it.
For UMass fans, today's atmosphere is a return to the big time. The game was officially declared a sellout yesterday afternoon.
UMass has surged into postseason contention, and beating Xavier Wednesday night lifted the Minutemen to 59th in yesterday's Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).
Temple (14-12, 8-4, No. 55 RPI) is trying to reach a 12th straight NCAA tournament. But the Owls are barely hanging on, and come into this game with eight players.
Of those, center Kevin Lyde has been playing but not practicing because of an Achilles' tendon problem. Forward Rouldra Thomas missed Tuesday's 71-62 loss at St. Joseph's with strep throat, but is expected to play.
Of the Owls who play, five average double-figure scoring. That's hardly the case at UMass, where guard Monty Mack (19.5 points per game) is the only one.
But starters Lyde, Quincy Wadley, Lynn Greer and David Hawkins all played between 38 and 40 minutes Tuesday night. Greer, the point guard, is averaging a staggering 39.5 minutes per game.
"I keep demanding more from them," said John Chaney, who today will coach his 600th game for Temple. "How much more they can give under the circumstances, I really don't know."
And today, Temple will be without Ron Rollerson, a 6-foot-10, 315-pounder who suffered a sprained foot Tuesday and is sidelined for at least three weeks.
That leaves Tuesday's four ironmen and forward Alex Wesby as starters. It leaves Greg Jefferson, a 6-5 sophomore who would not see significant time under normal conditions, as the sixth man.
And it leaves Thomas and Mamadou Cellou Barry, each 6-8 and each with fewer than 50 minutes played all season, as the only other reserves.
Will UMass fans feel sorry for Temple in its undermanned condition? Not likely.
"I hope the fans come out," Flint said on his weekly radio show Thursday. "Be as loud as you can. Give (Temple coach) John Chaney heck if you can."
Chaney and Flint are friends, and Flint might have been half-jesting. But friendship didn't stop Chaney from giving the referees heck after the first meeting.
The Temple coach was reprimanded by Atlantic 10 commissioner Linda Bruno for protesting a "non-call" after he thought Hawkins was fouled on the game's final play.
After today, UMass has home games against Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure, and road games at George Washington and St. Joseph's. The first-place Hawks play Fordham at home and also face three road games (Dayton, Duquesne and in-city rival La Salle), as well as the home showdown with UMass.
MHERST - As the University of Massachusetts men's basketball players began trickling in to the Curry Hicks Cage just after 2 p.m. Friday for their 3 p.m. practice, the old fieldhouse was unusually busy.
Snowdusted students formed a line up the stairs to the ticket office to pick up their passes for Saturday's game against Temple, as the game's projected attendance approached sellout status.
After obtaining their tickets, a few students wandered into the gym hoping to see Dick Vitale.
To their disappointment, neither the bubbly, bald, cultural icon nor his partner Brent Musburger was at practice, but they will be at the 1 p.m. Saturday game when the Minutemen renew their rivalry with Owls on ABC.
The presence of Temple always sparks extra attention in UMass basketball circles, but it's even more so right now.
"This is Temple," senior guard Monty Mack said. "If you can't get psyched up for Temple there is something wrong with you. If you're a team in the A-10 and you have Temple coming to your house, you know it's going to be a big game. It's a rivalry. There's going to be a lot of excitement and we're just looking forward to it."
At 9-2 in conference play, the Minutemen (11-11 overall) are just a game behind first place St. Joseph's in the Atlantic 10 and need to win to keep pace. Temple, at 8-4 (14-12 overall) is struggling in its quest for a bye in the A-10 Tournament.
UMass is trying for its first season sweep of Temple since 1997, Flint's first season.
The Minutemen won this season's first meeting 65-64 in overtime at the Liacouras Center, behind 20 points from Monty Mack and 14 points and 11 rebounds from Kitwana Rhymer.
It's been a long year with a short bench for the Owls and it got worse earlier this week when junior (very) big man Ron Rollerson came down - all 300-plus pounds of him - on his left foot. He could be out as long as five weeks with the sprained foot, and will definitely be out Saturday.
Furthering the Temple's woes is that junior forward Kevin Lyde hasn't been practicing with his own lingering Achilles injury, but he is expected to play.
That leaves the Owls with a lineup as short as their bench. With the guard trio of Lynn Greer (6-1), Quincy Wadley (6-4) and David Hawkins (6-4), on the floor, only Lyde is a true interior presence at 6-9. Alex Wesby, who is usually a swingman, moves to power forward at 6-foot-6.
The bench is left with just three reserves, players coach John Chaney might rather not use. The combination of Greg Jefferson (6-5), Rouldra Thomas (6-8) and Mamadou Cellou Barry (6-8) all average fewer than nine minutes per game and have combined to average 2.7 points per game.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint said the Owls are actually more difficult to match up against without Rollerson.
"They're tougher to guard without Rollerson," Flint said. "They're quicker and they trap a little bit more."
Flint said Temple's depth problems will be erased by the rivalry.
"This is us," he said. "This is UMass-Temple and they're going to be hitting shots they haven't made in a month."
The Minutemen will employ their regular starting five, with Micah Brand and Kitwana Rhymer inside, but small forwards Ronell Blizzard and even Winston Smith could both see time at power forward if Wesby's quickness becomes a defensive matchup problem.
Flint used Blizzard at the power forward spot late in the last game with Temple.
"I'm comfortable at either position," Blizzard said. "Last year I played the four (power forward) and this year I'm getting the opportunities to play the three. For me the positions are similar. I think the most important thing for me is defense."
By end of practice the student line was gone. Saturday's game was a sellout.
Chaney vs. Flint
Saturday marks the 11th time John Chaney and Bruiser Flint have faced each other.
Following are the results of the previous 10.
1/25/97 UMass 78, Temple 66
3/1/97 UMass 59, Temple 53
2/3/98 Temple 61, UMass 47
3/1/98 Temple 74, UMass 66
1/23/99 Temple 65, UMass 57
2/28/99 UMass 57, Temple 49
2/1/00 Temple 75, UMass 48
2/26/00 Temple 72, UMass 54
3/10/00 Temple 54, UMass 47*
1/27/01 UMass 65, Temple 64 (OT)
* Atlantic 10 Tournament
here's no sense in masking the emotion that a visit from Temple creates.
``Of course this game scares me,'' UMass coach Bruiser Flint said yesterday. ``Anytime you play them you're going to feel that way.''
Especially at a time like this. Today's nationally televised game at the Mullins Center (Ch. 5, 1 p.m.) represents a chance for the Minutemen to give their 9-2 Atlantic 10 record a serious push into the home stretch.
Though 11-11 overall, the Minutemen are in second place in the conference, a game behind St. Joseph's, and miles beyond the discombobulated state that led to their 2-9 start.
Wednesday night's win over Xavier gave UMass a two-game series sweep of the only A-10 team to crack the Top 25 this season. A win today would give the Minutemen a sweep of Temple for the first time since the 1996-97 season.
It would also help their surging RPI, which dropped to 59 following the win over Xavier. UMass' brutal nonconference schedule - considered a prime reason for the bad start - is also rated as the seventh toughest in the nation at the moment.
``This all sends out a message that we're ready to play - for real,'' said guard Shannon Crooks.
Flint can only wonder why the results didn't come before Jan. 1.
``They believe that we can win games, but I think they have always believed that we can win games,'' he said. ``But once the winning started, it built confidence. Our bench has been making plays. Jackie (Rogers), Eric (Williams) and Ronnell (Blizzard) have made some very important contributions. . . . It all goes back to the fact that it feels good to win games.''
Feeling good, however, is not part of the Temple mantra for now. The Owls (14-12, 8-4) stand a good chance of missing their first NCAA tournament in 12 seasons.
Temple also has a pair of injuries at center. Ron Rollerson will miss 5-6 weeks with a severe foot sprain, and Kevin Lyde has not been practicing due to a sore Achilles tendon.
here are not many rivalries bigger than this.
And even though both the Temple Owls (14-12, 8-4 Atlantic 10) and the Massachusetts men's basketball team (11-11, 9-2 A-10) have had better seasons in the past, a game between these two squads is always hard-fought, always physical and almost always goes down to the wire.
For this reason, the William D. Mullins Center will be almost assured of its best crowd of year on Saturday, as the second place Minutemen will do their best to avoid getting swept up by the fourth place Owls and carried back toward the middle of the conference pack.
"We know what it is going to like on Saturday," UMass Head Coach James "Bruiser" Flint said. "They are struggling a little and they might not get up for other teams, but this is us. It's Temple vs. UMass, and they are going to scratch, claw and probably make shots they haven't made in a month."
To find a classic game between these two teams, one does not have to look far into the past. On January 27 of this year, the Minutemen defeated the Owls, 65-64 in overtime at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia.
It was a contest that contained everything usually found in games between the A-10 rivals and more. The play was hard-nosed and physical, the ending came down to the final seconds, and as has been the case more often than not, the game was masked by controversy that somehow manages to find its way into more than its share of UMass-Temple games.
However, no one could deny the fact that the game was indeed fun to watch. With 26 seconds left in OT, Massachusetts center Kitwana Rhymer (14 points, 11 rebounds) took a pass from Monty Mack (20 points) and laid the ball into the hoop. Temple's David Hawkins was then fouled with four ticks remaining on the subsequent possession, but he missed the second of two free throws to allow the Minutemen to escape with the one point win.
Controversy came, though, when Hawkins somehow managed to grab his own rebound off the missed free throw, and then attempted another game winning shot. The attempt was blocked as time expired, but Owl's coach John Chaney then erupted, arguing that his player had been fouled on the final possession.
"It takes courage to make that call," Chaney said after the game. "The officials are lost out there, lost between what the rulebook says - call every foul - and cleaning up the game. My kids had courage; there were three people out there who didn't."
Nonetheless, UMass was able to escape the Liacouras Center with a win, setting up tomorrow's rematch. If the Maroon and White plan on picking up a regular season sweep of the Owls, than it will have to do another fantastic job of taking care of the ball, as it only lost 10 turnovers to the opposition three weeks ago.
"In the Temple game, we know that if we are sloppy with the ball than they will be tipping and deflecting it everywhere," guard Shannon Crooks said.
"When you play Temple each possession counts," Monty Mack added. "So if you give up turnovers it is going to lead to easy baskets for them."
Tip off will take place at 1 p.m.
ee how they run.
Following Temple's 65-64 overtime loss to Massachusetts on Jan. 27, Owl coach John Chaney referred to officials Larry Lembo, John Moreau and David Day as "three blind mice." The ancient skipper blasted the zebras for their no-call on the game's final shot, accusing the three of not having the collective courage to put TU freshman David Hawkins on the free-throw line for a chance to win the game.
Needless to say, the Owls will have revenge on their minds when they take to the new hardwood in the William D. Mullins Center tomorrow. Chaney's profanity-laced tirade after the teams' showdown in Philadelphia left little question that the coach felt cheated by the officiating, something that could provide a dangerous fuel to an already formidable team in the rematch.
But there was more to the Hawkins incident that a question of contact. Just ask Mickey Crowley, Supervisor of Men's Basketball Officials for the Atlantic 10, and he'll tell you there are other factors that come into play in such a situation.
"What we try to say, coming down to the wire, is let the players determine who wins and who loses," Crowley said. "Don't let a Mickey Mouse foul put someone on the line."
That mentality is a time-honored tradition in organized basketball. In any game that comes down to the final possession, the whistle is only going to be blown if there is absolutely no question that a foul occurred "beyond any reasonable doubt," to borrow a legal phrase.
Of course, Crowley had a duty to review the controversial final play from the OT thriller. He has a special video playback system at his disposal that can slow down a videotape to "as slow as you can get." He has studied the play in question, and as the refs from another sport might say, the ruling on the field stands.
"In my opinion, it looked like a good defensive play on the UMass player's part," Crowley said. "I never profess to be right or wrong, but at least I give an honest opinion."
That said, there was another factor at play in that game that probably had a lot to do with the lack of a call: precedent. All a coach or player ever asks for is consistency from the officials, and the crew at the Liacouras that afternoon was calling a fairly physical, free-flowing game. Owls Kevin Lyde and Ron Rollerson got away with a tremendous amount of rough stuff in the paint, and UMass coach James "Bruiser" Flint suggested afterward that had a few more calls been made along the way in regulation, the extra set and its dynamite ending may have been avoided altogether.
The former point guard attributes the silent-whistle trend to the age and experience of the conference's refs; ironically, Flint thinks these officials have seen a little too much action.
"Why are all the guys I see on Classic Sports still reffing in the A-10?" Flint said. "They didn't blow their whistles then, and they aren't blowing them now."
Crowley contends that missed calls are essentially par for the course, and should receive no more blame than the other intangibles within the sport in the face of a loss.
"No player shoots 100 percent in every game, and no coach wins every game he coaches," Crowley said. "No referee has ever gotten every single call right either. Officials are just a necessary evil."
So despite the sour grapes, calls will be made and missed in tomorrow's game. Here's hoping that the contest will inevitably be decided by the guys in the baggy shorts and hi-tops, not the ones in stripes.