MHERST - The Villanova-West Virginia men's basketball game went into double overtime, so last night's ESPN2 broadcast of the Massachusetts-Rhode Island contest was joined in progress.
The good news for UMass was that there was progress to be joined.
With UMass center Kitwana Rhymer breaking out of a scoring slump with a career-high 30 points, the Minutemen cruised to an 82-67 win at the Mullins Center, and stayed in the Atlantic 10 Conference title chase.
Rhymer's career high had been 19 points, but he scored 17 in last night's first half. His scoring total was the highest this season by a UMass player - a statistic dominated by guard Monty Mack, who owns the next five highest.
Shannon Crooks works the point.
The next two are on the road, at George Washington Saturday and at league-leading St. Joseph's Tuesday. St. Joseph's is 11-1 in the Atlantic 10. The Hawks are at Dayton tonight, and UMass is looking for help from the Flyers.
Rhode Island (5-22, 1-13) has lost seven straight and 14 of 15. The Rams were coached last night by Jerry DeGregorio, who will be replaced after this season and had missed the last two games for health reasons.
DeGregorio is fit again after being treated for exhaustion. His return, however, could not keep this Rams team from continuing its slide to extinction.
UMass had beaten Rhode Island 78-46 in Providence last month. This time, the game was modestly closer as the Rams had forwards Tavorris Bell (19.9 points, 5.8 rebounds per game) and Tiger Womack, who were sidelined for the first meeting.
Mack was scoreless until hitting a 3-point shot that gave UMass a 21-14 lead after 10:33. Jackie Rogers provided a lift off the bench with eight first-half points and finished with a career high 18.
Mack finished with 14 points to end his string of 20-point games at eight, but his offense wasn't needed. Instead, UMass pounded the ball inside relentlessly and led 44-31 at halftime, with Rhymer hitting 6 of 8 shots and Rogers 4 of 4.
The Minutemen shot 51.5 percent before halftime. Point guard Shannon Crooks, whose previous season high for assists in a game was five, had seven in the first half.
But the show belonged to Rhymer, when had shot 12 for 32 in his last seven games, and averaged 4.4 points per game in his last five. The 6-foot-10, 256-pound senior hadn't reached double figures since logging 14 at Temple Jan. 27.
His performance delighted the entire crowd, especially one fan who waved a sign that said "Kit Rhymer Is An Army'' behind the UMass bench.
Rhymer converted four "old-style'' 3-point plays, making the shot and the foul.
Zach Marbury led Rhode Island with 21 points. But the Rams couldn't handle either the athleticism of Rogers or Rhymer's strength.
That wasn't surprising. Rhode Island's frontcourt is filled with slender players like Womack (6-9, 210), Andre Scott (6-9, 225) and Andrew Wafula, who stands 6-10 but weighs only 195.
Speaking of muscle, 5-9 UMass guard Jonathan DePina picked up his second intentional foul in three games, virtually tackling Bell on a layup with 6:58 left and UMass leading 68-52.
The Minutemen improved to 6-3 at the Mullins Center, with only the March 3 season finale against St. Bonaventure remaining on the home schedule.
UMass has mastered Rhode Island lately. In three previous meetings, the Minutemen had held the Rams to 44.3 points per game, and had won by a 30.3 average.
MHERST - When last seen, Kitwana Rhymer was squirming on the bench - his second-half sentence for showing up in body only against Temple last Saturday.
But the UMass senior re-emerged last night, and had poor Rhode Island quivering in the paint.
Rhymer missed his first two shots - both easy layups - and then devoured his next seven. By the time he was finished, UMass had beaten Rhode Island, 82-67, and Rhymer had a career-high 30 points. Jackie Rogers added a career-high 18.
The Minutemen moved up to 12-12, including 10-3 in the Atlantic 10, pushing them back into second place behind St. Joseph's (11-1). Xavier, though also 10-3 in the conference, has lost two games to UMass.
Rhymer's hunger was not going to be satisfied, regardless of the number of touches he got.
He started off the second half with his third three-point play of the game, came back with a tip-dunk off a Micah Brand miss for a 49-33 UMass lead, and then answered an Andre Scott jumper with his fourth three-point play for a 52-35 edge with 16:40 left.
Micah Brand steps back from the double-team and puts up the shot.
But Rogers, who scored eight points on 4-for-4 shooting in the first half, muscled in with a pair of hoops during an 8-0 UMass burst for a 68-47 lead with 8:45 left.
The game was descending into a sloppy pace that was generally dictated by the Rams, but there was one problem. Even at their pace, the Rams were unable to finish off plays despite the fact that during the game's last 8:35, the Minutemen were in an offensive freeze.
With 2:01 left, a 78-60 lead in hand, and numerous opportunities squandered on both sides, the Minutemen had cemented their work.
The Minutemen opened things by falling behind the Rams by a 10-6 score, but countered with an 8-0 run that included a pair of Rogers drives.
The culprit, as usual, was carelessness with the ball. But these problems were temporary. The next time the Minutemen struck, it was with the sort of power that preceded Saturday's loss.
The ensuing 9-0 UMass run included Monty Mack's first hoop of the game on a corner trey and a pair of Rogers dunks, including an alley-oop off a Shannon Crooks pass for a 23-14 UMass lead with 8:42 left in the half.
Two Evans free throws later, Crooks drove the lane and cut a bounce pass back out to Mack in the corner for the senior's second trey and a 26-16 UMass edge with 7:54 left.
But the Minutemen went cold just as quickly.
Rhode Island came back with a 7-0 run that cut the UMass lead to 26-23 with 4:49 left, and coincided with a brutal 0-for-6 stretch from the Minutemen that included a pair of blown layups by Rhymer.
But the center would get his soon enough as he dunked a Crooks miss for a 28-23 edge, and then pushed the Minuteman lead out to 29-23 with 3:54 left.
Eric Williams maintained the cushion by wedging a trey between a pair of Rhode Island hoops and Rhymer continued to get reacquainted with the basket. The senior center went off on a personal 9-0 run.
Rhode Island's Scott finally answered with a jumper, before Rhymer spun in for another three-point play and an eventual 44-31 halftime lead.
MHERST - All Bruiser Flint had to do was look down the sideline last night to get a view of someone who had truly been ravaged by the coaching machine.
Outgoing Rhode Island coach Jerry DeGregorio coached the Rams for the first time since checking into the hospital last week due to exhaustion. He also took the floor as the Rhode Island administration, turned down by Rick Pitino, branched out its national search for DeGregorio's successor.
URI officials have admitted to contacting Bob Knight, though he apparently turned them down. The same applies to Hoftra's Jay Wright, who is reportedly holding out for a Big East job.
The latest names mentioned have included Holy Cross' Ralph Willard and UNLV's Max Good.
Flint, who has admitted to feeling stress from speculation in his own situation, can understand the pressure all too well.
``It's crazy, because a lot of the stuff is just speculation,'' he said. ``It's tough when you have to hear every day that your job is in jeopardy.
``That's why you really have a thick skin in this business. But when you go through it every day with no one stepping up on your behalf, it's tough.''
Flint has not received a vote of support from UMass athletic director Bob Marcum despite the fact that entering last night, the Minutemen were a half-game behind second-place Xavier in the Atlantic 10.
``The fans can be crazy, too,'' he said. ``I can see Jerry getting worn down from it. But I guess that's why coaches get paid what they get paid, because they have to go through this sort of thing.
``It's not just the wins and losses. It goes far beyond that.''
Monty Mack went into last night's game with 20 or more points in his last eight games - the most by a UMass player since Julius Erving ran off 11 straight at the start of his junior season in 1970-71.
St. Joseph's move into the Top 25 this week at No. 23 was long overdue, according to Flint. It also does not bode well for the conference regarding at-large NCAA tournament berths, considering that Xavier lasted just one week as a ranked team.
MHERST, Mass. -- There are some who follow Atlantic 10 basketball who feel that the University of Massachusett's Kitwana Rhymer has not lived up to his potential.
Rhymer, a 6-foot-10, 256-pounder from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, has had a solid career. But some feel he should have been a star.
Kit Rhymer missed out on this rebound to Marcus Evans, but he dropped 30 points on the Rams for a career night.
The senior center looked like the reincarnation of Marcus Camby, only with a body more like Lou Roe, as he carried the Minutemen to an 82-67 triumph over the Rams at the Mullins Center.
Rhymer poured in a career high 30 points, 25 in the first 25 minutes. He added 6 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.
"All I did was go out and try to play more aggressive," Rhymer said. While he finished 10-for-13 for the field, he missed his first two shots. "They were right there, two inches from the basket. I told myself 'I'm not missing anymore."
After that, "I didn't think I could miss anything."
Rhymer dominated the game as much as any player can, at least during one 10-minute stretch from late in the first half to early in the second, the span in which Massachusetts took control.
Among his work, Rhymer scored 10 straight Massachusetts' points during the last 2:08 of the first half. He then scored eight straight points to start the second half. Four times in that run he had three-point plays the old fashioned way, scoring and then making a free throw. At one point in that stretch, he dunked a put-back of a missed shot. The next time down he had the ball batted away from him as he went up for his shot but caught it and put it in anyway.
By the time his streak was finished, he had scored 18 of 20 points for UMass, turning a 32-27 lead into a 52-35 advantage.
All this from a player who is averaging 9 points on the season and who had averaged just 4.4 points in his team's last five games.
The Minutemen (12-12, 10-3) relied on their inside game all night, scoring an amazing 65 points in the paint. In addition to Rhymer's work, Jackie Rogers came off the bench and contributed 18 points. Monty Mack, the team's top scorer on the season, had 14 points.
Zach Marbury led URI (5-22, 1-13) with 21 points. Tavorris Bell added 11.
Massachusetts came out trying to pound the ball inside, which is a switch from the norm. Usually, the Minuteman go to guard Mack, who had 29 points in the victory over the Rams last month and is the second-leading scorer in the A-10 at 19.5 ppg.
This time, though, Mack took only one shot in the game's first nine minutes, and that was an air ball on a 3-point attempt. He did not get his first points until he hit a 3-pointer 10:30 into the game.
Instead, the Minutemen posted up their big men kicked the ball inside. Micah Brand, who averages only 9 points, took the first three UMass shots, missing two and making the third. Each of the Minutemen's first nine hoops came from inside 15 feet.
URI, on the other hand, began the night by playing exactly as it did at Xavier on Saturday -- well. Marbury and Dinno Daniels each hit 3-pointers in the first three minutes as the Rams, who had fallen behind right away so often this season, took a 10-6 lead.
It was tied at 14 before the Minutemen made the game's first run. They held URI scoreless for 3:34 as they ran off nine straight points. Rogers had two baskets in that stretch and Mack finally had his first hoop.
Down 23-14, URI tried to hang in. With coach Jerry DeGregorio back on the bench and barking out orders after missing two games due to exhaustion, the Rams came back to trail by only three, 26-23.
But then UMass returned to its inside game, this time with Rhymer taking charge. He scored 10 straight points late in the half, giving him 17, just two less than his career high. Suddenly the Minutemen had a 42-29 lead.
The half ended as the season has gone for URI. Marbury made a hoop as the buzzer sounded to make it 42-31, but Bell was called for a foul, his third, while fighting for position underneath. That sent Winston Smith to the line and he made two shots for a 44-31 advantage at the break.
MHERST - In an attempt to break out of a five-game slump, the normally boisterous Kitwana Rhymer decided to remain quiet and focused leading up to the University of Massachusetts' game against Rhode Island.
Kit Rhymer led the way to a UMass win.
"All day I was just quiet," said Rhymer whose scoring total Tuesday was higher than that of his last five games combined. "First it was classes, then it was ball. I didn't really say much to anyone. I just prepared myself mentally. Normally I might be joking around or speaking to teammates. It's going to be a pregame ritual for me now."
UMass coach Bruiser Flint was encouraged by Rhymer's effort.
"I've been asking where he's been the last four games," Flint said. "I'm glad he showed up. He's been the invisible man out there so he was due for one. It makes us a much better team. They stepped out on Monty (Mack) tonight so we have to make them pay for that and Kit did a nice job with that tonight."
The win moved the Minutemen (12-12, 10-3) into a tie with Xavier for second place in the A-10, while Rhody (5-22, 1-13) assured itself of its second consecutive last-place finish.
UMass will travel to Washington D.C. for a 2 p.m. game against George Washington Saturday.
Led by Rhymer, the Minutemen outscored the Rams 65-32 in the paint. Junior power forward Jackie Rogers had a career high game as well, with 18 points and eight rebounds.
Monty Mack gets the loose ball away from Zach Marbury.
UMass' effort ruined the return of Rams coach Jerry DeGregorio to the sideline. DeGregorio, who resigned last week, was expected to finish the season, but missed Rhode Island's last two games due to exhaustion.
He was glad to be back.
"I feel great. I was excited to coach," DeGregorio said. "I wanted to coach. How can I expect our kids to compete hard in the remainder of our season if I wasn't willing to do that myself? What lesson would I be teaching these young men if I'm on some island somewhere and my kids are still competing every night?"
The Minutemen led for nearly the entire game. The Rams led 10-6 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Marbury and Dinno Daniels, but Rogers sparked an 8-0 run that put UMass ahead for good at 14-10.
The Minutemen outscored the Rams 18-8 to close the first half ahead, 44-31. Rhymer scored 13 points in that stretch.
He picked up where he left off right after intermission, scoring nine points in a 10-4 run as UMass took a 54-35 lead and cruised the rest of the way.
"Rhymer was incredible tonight," DeGregorio said. "We tried double-teaming. We tried to go zone, but whatever defense we went, he was too strong for us."
MHERST - The game against URI will be remembered as Kitwana Rhymer's night, but lost in the shadow of the senior center's 30 points was another solid effort by Jackie Rogers.
Jackie Rogers stepped up and put in a career high 18 points.
At 6-foot-8, he appears to be undersized against taller opponents, but his long arms make up a lot of the difference. Those arms have allowed him to develop an impressive hook shot that was on display Tuesday.
"I'm excited about what I have to do to help our team win," Rogers said.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint is enjoying the luxury of having a player with double-digit scoring potential coming off the bench.
"I told Jack, when he gets in the game I'm going to run plays for him," Flint said. "Next to Micah (Brand), I think he's our second-best scorer in the post. I think he's comfortable with that. He knows he's going to get the ball when he gets in the game."
30 CLUB: When Rhymer's second free throw dropped in with 5:47 left in the game, he joined an exclusive club, as he became the just the 32nd UMass player ever to score 30 points in a game.
Those 32 players have accounted for 79 games of 30-plus points.
It was the first time a UMass player scored 30 since Monty Mack, a three-time member of the 30 club, had 32 against Xavier on Feb. 12, 2000.
It was the first 30-point game by a UMass big man since Lari Ketner dropped 34 on St. Joseph's almost exactly three years ago (Feb. 21, 1998).
The effort boosted Rhymer's scoring average from 9.0 points per game to 9.9.
ALL EYES ON OHIO: UMass will be scoreboard-watching two A-10 games in the Buckeye State tonight as St. Joseph's plays at Dayton and St. Bonaventure plays at Xavier.
If the Flyers upset the Hawks, the Minutemen would be in position to win the league's regular-season title if they win their final three games.
If Xavier beats St. Bonaventure, UMass will clinch a first-round bye in the A-10 Tournament. If the Bonnies win, UMass will be alone in second place.
LOWEST CROWD: The combination of the late start (9:30), the lowly opponent and UMass' miserable effort in Saturday's 84-52 loss to Temple led to the smallest crowd ever at the Mullins Center, 3,906.
Despite the numbers, the fans on hand were boisterous, razzing URI guard Zach Marbury throughout.
Flint praised their enthusiasm.
"The students were pretty good," Flint said. "They had little things going on. They were a good crowd."
DEGREGORIO IS PRO-FLINT: Without prompting, the URI coach weighed in on the speculation that Flint's job may be in jeopardy.
"I've known Bruiser for a long time and in the last four years, he's third in our league in won-loss record," DeGregorio said. "He's a great coach. He's a great person. He does a heck of a job recruiting. He's a family man. He represents the community well. His kids graduate and he runs a clean program. I think all this discussion of him not being here next year is nonsense. As far as I'm concerned, he's a good a coach as there is in our league."
END OF THE DROUGHT : Senior forward Winston Smith ended a three-game scoring drought with a short jumper just under two minutes into the game. Smith hadn't scored since early in the second half against Fordham (Feb. 3) and went 139 game minutes between baskets. He finished with four points Tuesday.
MISCELLANEOUS : While the Minutemen manhandled the Rams, it was actually the closest game between the regional rivals in the past two years. UMass has outscored Rhody 306-200 over that stretch, an average margin of victory of 26.5 points.
Shannon Crooks had a season-high seven assists ... UMass is now 7-3 on the season at home ... UMass alum Dave Strader was the play-by-play voice on ESPN2.
|Rhode Island Rams||67|
|at the Mullins Center|
RHODE ISLAND (67) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Bell 35 4-8 3-6 0-2 2 4 11 Scott 31 4-8 0-0 0-3 1 3 8 Evans 19 1-4 4-4 0-2 0 3 6 Daniels 31 2-7 0-2 0-4 5 3 5 Marbury 35 5-13 10-13 2-6 4 3 21 Womack 12 1-4 0-0 0-0 0 5 2 Wafula 15 4-4 0-0 1-8 0 1 8 Mello 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Jilling 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Adingono 1 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Smith 19 2-3 1-2 1-1 2 1 6 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 23-52 18-27 4-26 14 23 67 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.442, FT-.667. 3-Point Goals: 3-11, .273 (Bell 0-2, Daniels 1-3, Marbury 1-2, Womack 0-2, Adingono 0-1, Smith 1-1). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 2 (Wafula, Smith). Turnovers: 14 (Bell 4, Daniels 3, Marbury 2, Smith 2, Evans, Scott, Womack). Steals: 6 (Daniels 2, Bell, Marbury, Smith, Wafula). MASSACHUSETTS (82) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Smith 31 1-2 2-2 1-3 3 3 4 Brand 12 2-7 0-2 1-2 0 3 4 Rhymer 30 10-13 10-13 4-6 0 4 30 Mack 39 5-14 2-3 1-4 4 2 14 Crooks 34 2-7 3-4 0-5 7 3 7 Depina 10 0-2 0-2 0-0 1 1 0 Rogers 21 9-12 0-0 1-8 0 4 18 Blizzard 6 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 0 Jenkins 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Killings 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Williams 14 2-3 0-2 2-6 2 1 5 Pugh 1 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 31-61 17-28 10-34 17 23 82 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.508, FT-.607. 3-Point Goals: 3-9, .333 (Mack 2-5, Crooks 0-1, Depina 0-1, Williams 1-2). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 7 (Rhymer 5, Brand, Blizzard). Turnovers: 12 (Crooks 3, Depina 2, Rogers 2, Blizzard, Brand, Smith, Williams). Steals: 5 (Crooks 2, Smith 2, Williams). __________________________________ Rhode Island 31 36 - 67 Massachusetts 44 38 - 82 __________________________________ Technical fouls: Rhode Island 1 (Womack). Massachusetts 1 (Rogers). A: 3,906. Officials: Tom Lopes, Tim Higgins, Bernard Clinton.