HILADELPHIA — For a full half, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team kept its championship dreams alive by playing like champions.
But the regular-season banner will fly over Hawk Hill. St. Joseph's believes it's a team of destiny, and wiped out a 19-point deficit to clinch the title with a 84-69 victory at packed Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
Ronell Blizzard and Bill Phillips watch the loose ball head out of bounds.
St. Joseph's, a preseason sixth-place pick in the A-10, wrapped up the title with its 10th straight win. The win by the 18th-ranked Hawks (24-4, 14-1) means UMass (13-13, 11-4 A-10) must win Saturday at home against St. Bonaventure to have a chance at finishing second.
The Minutemen are now in third, but would capture second by a tiebreaker if they win Saturday and Xavier (12-3) A-10 loses at Dayton Sunday.
Had UMass won last night and Saturday, St. Joseph's would have had to win its final game Saturday at La Salle to keep the Minutemen from winning the regular-season title on a tiebreaker.
Marvin O'Connor's 21 points led St. Joseph's. N'aim Crenshaw had 17 and Jameer Nelson scored 16, and all three guards delivered crucial baskets in the comeback.
Monty Mack scored 15 points, Shannon Crooks added 13, Jackie Rogers had 12 points with 11 rebounds, Micah Brand scored 12 points for UMass, which had its highest-scoring first half of the season. The Minutemen led 45-26 after 17 minutes, and it was 49-33 at halftime.
But St. Joseph's shot 68 percent (17 of 25) in the second half, and UMass shot 20 percent (6 for 30). The Hawks roared out of the locker room with a 23-6 spurt and took a 56-55 lead on Bill Phillips' 3-point shot with 10:02 left.
Brand followed with a dunk, but O'Connor hit back-to-back 3-pointers, and suddenly the Hawks had a 62-57 lead.
Mack missed his first eight shots of the second half, and finished 4 for 17.
"I tried to make something happen, but today I couldn't throw it in the ocean," Mack said.
With 2:21 left, UMass coach Bruiser Flint — who was honored at halftime as part of the 1985-86 St. Joseph's team that went to the NCAA tournament — was hit with a technical foul. St. Joe's led 74-65 at that point.
In the first half, the Minutemen — whose only higher-scoring half was a 51-point second half against George Washington Jan. 6 - shot 50 percent and pounded the ball inside, with 25 points in the paint.
"I told our guys at halftime that we hadn't had an experience like that this year, and it was a good experience for us," St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said. "They treated our big guys like we weren't there. They kicked our butts."
But in the second half, UMass started missing inside shots, and when Mack tried to take over, that didn't work.
"We've got to stick with what's hitting," said center Kitwana Rhymer, suggesting that UMass deviated from its game plan too quickly.
"We missed a few inside, and then Monty started taking threes," Flint said. "We got the ball where we wanted, but we've got to finish."
HILADELPHIA — At his best, Micah Brand remains one of the top young men's basketball players in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
The 6-foot-11 University of Massachusetts sophomore power forward admits his game hasn't yet become synonymous with consistency, even though he came out of a slump to some degree in last night's 84-69 loss to St. Joseph's at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
Brand scored 12 points with eight rebounds, but he could have had more. He shot 5 for 13, and almost all of his shots were right around the basket.
"At the beginning of the year, I thought I was progressing, but then I hit a slump," said Brand, who averaged 3.7 points and 2.3 rebounds in his three previous games. "I don't know what it is, but it's not that I'm being overpowered. It's just a matter of needing to concentrate more."
Brand's slender frame wore down as a freshman, and he missed the Atlantic 10 tournament with pneumonia. At 243 pounds, he says he's now strong enough to finish well.
UMass freshman Raheim Lamb, a 6-5, 190-pounder from Boston English High, is allowed to practice but not play this year due to academic rules.
"His perimeter shooting is better than we'd expected," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "He has to do some lifting, get stronger and work on his ballhanding. But in time, he'll be OK."
UMass' first Atlantic 10 tournament game will be a Thursday, March 8 quarterfinal at the First Union Spectrum.
If UMass finishes in second place in the regular season, the Minutemen will play that night at 9. The third-place team plays at 7 p.m.
Flint and UMass associate coach Geoff Arnold were among the players from the 1985-86 St. Joseph's NCAA tournament team honored at halftime last night. They could not participate because they were in the locker room with the UMass team.
St. Joseph's outscored UMass 40-12 in the first 17 minutes of the second half, turning a 49-33 deficit into a 73-61 lead . . UMass has lost seven straight to ranked teams. The last win over a ranked team came Feb. 28, 1999 against Temple, and the last win over a team ranked as high as 18th-ranked St. Joseph's came Jan. 16, 1999 against No. 15 Kansas. A Flint team has never beaten a team ranked as high as 18th on the road, and the last road win against a Top 25 club came Feb. 8, 1998 over No. 21 Xavier.
HILADELPHIA — This was the unkindest of teases.
UMass led the best team in the Atlantic 10 by 16 points at halftime last night. They also fell under the glare just as quickly when St. Joseph's showed why it has the most dangerous offensive attack in the Atlantic 10.
Winston Smith gets the defensive position against Frank Wilkins.
And all the Minutemen know is that they want to keep playing. Considering that 11-4 UMass, which dropped back to 13-13 overall, has already clinched a first-round bye in next week's Atlantic 10 tournament, there is an urge to keep playing this morning.
The Minutemen can clinch second place with a win over St. Bonaventure Saturday, coupled with a Xavier loss to Dayton.
Every road from that point is likely to come back through St. Joe's.
``We played our hearts out, even if we lost,'' said forward Jackie Rogers, who certainly held up his end with 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes. ``I know that we can beat this team once we get them off their home court.
``We're going to get another piece of them in the tournament, and it will be a different story.''
The problem last night was a St. Joseph's team that has an overpowering case of self-belief.
After shooting a meager 35 percent from the floor in the first half, the Hawks erased UMass' 49-33 halftime lead with a 27-6 run over the first 10 minutes of the second half for a 62-57 lead.
That run would ultimately extend to 40-12, when St. Joe's point guard Jameer Nelson split the lane and drew the foul on Micah Brand for a three-point play and a 73-61 St. Joe's lead.
Monty Mack, tracked by Na'im Crenshaw, didn't score a point over the first 17 minutes of the second half.
And the Minutemen, whose inside power trio of Kitwana Rhymer, Rogers and Brand made that first-half edge possible with their incessant pounding, simply went cold in the second half.
They shot 20 percent from the floor (6-for-30) over that stretch, while the Hawks were shooting 68 percent (17-25) at the same time.
Marvin O'Connor, being pushed by coach Phil Martelli as the conference's player of the year - an honor that is likely to come the junior guard's way - scored 21 points, with Nelson chipping in 16 points and Crenshaw another 17 off the bench.
But those numbers are business as usual for the Hawks. Their path to victory this time around wasn't as standard.
``At halftime I told the team that this was an experience we hadn't had all year, and it was absolutely worth the experience,'' said Martelli. ``We got our asses kicked for 20 minutes. They treated our big guys like they didn't even exist.''
It wouldn't last, though. The Minutemen barely knew what was streaking past them until it was too late.
``We knew they weren't going to shoot the same way in the second half,'' said Bruiser Flint. ``When they realized we couldn't make shots in the second half, they went off on us.''
everal times during the second half, it was apparent Marvin O'Connor was near exhaustion. After a free throw, it looked as if he was about to fall over from the mere follow-through, and he kept clutching at his rib cage in obvious pain, wincing from the cramps.
But to the St. Joseph's Hawks and to O'Connor, their driven leader, every ache and bead of sweat last night was worth it.
Seemingly buried under an avalanche of first-half rebounds by Massachusetts' dominating big men, some of whose players were preening as the visitors built a 19-point lead, St. Joe's made a memorable comeback for an 84-69 victory over the Minutemen (13-13 overall, 11-4 conference) to clinch the Atlantic Ten regular-season championship in front of a jam-packed crowd last night at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
The win was the ninth in a row for the 18th-ranked Hawks (24-4, 14-1) and their 18th in the last 19 games. They ended the regular season undefeated at the Fieldhouse at 11-0.
Jameer Nelson gets past Jon DePina.
"You can never minimize the character of this team," St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said after a wave of jubilant students and fans washed over the floor following the final horn. "This team is not lacking in confidence."
It was O'Connor, the hell-bent 6-foot-4 junior guard, who set the tone for the amazing second-half comeback. He scored 11 of his 21 points during the final 20 minutes, when he also dished out four assists. He also pulled down five rebounds, but it was something that doesn't show up on the score sheet that may have been his most significant contribution: his refusal to give up, evident as he dove after just about every loose ball.
"I was cramping up every time I lifted my arms," O'Connor said when asked if he thought he couldn't go on. "I thought, 'Should I come out? But I trusted my teammates and I finally did [come out]."
O'Connor got plenty of help from freshman point guard Jameer Nelson and Na'im Crenshaw. Nelson scored 16 points even though he played only 27 minutes because of foul problems. Crenshaw, the reed-thin junior who has been the team's ace off the bench, scored 17 points, hounded UMass guard Monty Mack at crunch time, and was significant in the remarkable second-half comeback.
And when the victory was assured, the normally subdued Nelson raised his index finger into the air and walked in circles, nodding his appreciation to the roaring crowd.
The Hawks walked into their dressing room at halftime down, 49-33, but wasted no time chopping away at UMass's lead.
"We never gave up," Crenshaw said. "I know this team's got heart. At halftime, we just felt like we had to keep playing and we'd be all right."
O'Connor initiated the comeback by bolting down the lane twice and feeding Bill Phillips for easy baskets. In between Phillips' two field goals, Nelson made a dazzling move for a layup. Crenshaw popped in a pair of three-point shots and, with 10 minutes, 3 seconds remaining, the Hawks grabbed the lead when Phillips barely beat the shot-clock buzzer by hitting a deep three-pointer to make it 56-55.
So, in less than 10 minutes, St. Joe's had wiped away one of the most impressive first halves the Minutemen had played all season, and the roof was ready to rise from the cozy old Fieldhouse as the Hawks kept scoring at an amazing pace.
Even though Nelson picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench with 14:12 remaining and St. Joseph's down, 53-48, the Hawks never sputtered as Tyrone Barley, also a freshman point guard, took his place.
"Tyrone just came in and ran the team," Martelli said.
After Phillips gave St. Joe's the one-point edge with his first three-pointer in three games, O'Connor hit back-to-back three-pointers, Alexandre Sazonov followed a missed shot, and O'Connor led Barley with a perfect pass on a fastbreak to make it 66-59 with 7:03 to go. The Minutemen never came closer than seven points.
The sellout crowd in the steamy Fieldhouse had sat in stunned silence as the Minutemen battered the Hawks on the backboards and held St. Joe's to 35.7 percent shooting to take a 16-point halftime lead, by far the largest deficit at the break the Hawks had faced all season.
The game plan for UMass was simple - attack the middle of St. Joe's defense, which has occasionally shown vulnerability against meatier, mobile big men. And the Minutemen have a stable of them: 6-11 Micah Brand; 6-10 Kitwana Rhymer; and 6-8 Jackie Rogers, a brawny, quick-footed forward.
Rogers and Rhymer did the most damage, combining for 17 points. Rogers was virtually unstoppable after he came off the bench as he hit 5 of his 7 shots for 10 points and pulled down eight rebounds in only 11 minutes. Rhymer had 7 points and Brand 6 with four rebounds.
ore than just its leading scorer, Marvin O'Connor has been the heart and soul of the St. Joseph's basketball team all season long.
Start to finish, regardless of whether he's scoring, he goes full throttle. He throws his body around with abandon, not unlike another cornrowed guard in this city, sometimes choosing to bang bodies inside instead of relying solely on his sweet shot from the outside.
Fittingly last night, it was O'Connor who carried the Hawks to their first Atlantic 10 regular-season crown since they won the East Division in 1997. His team-high 21 points notwithstanding, it was his tenacity and sheer will that helped St. Joe's claim an unbelievable, 84-69 come-from-behind victory over UMass and secure the conference title as well as the No. 1 seed in next week's A-10 Tournament.
"He plays to win and that's never changed," coach Phil Martelli said. "The fact that he dribble-drives and passes, that's him. I don't expect him to take a guarded shot because he doesn't have to. He's more of a scorer than a shooter, but he's a basketball player and I'm just delighted with the way he plays and to have him on my team."
With St. Joe's in the worst trouble it has faced all season, staring at a season-high 16-point halftime deficit, O'Connor simply took over. The Hawks outscored UMass, 10-4, to open the second half and to take a chunk out of that lead. On those five baskets, O'Connor simply scored one and assisted on three others.
After rimming out a wide-open three, he came back to knock down a jumper for the Hawks' first points. After Micah Brand hit one free throw for UMass, O'Connor came back and drove the lane, dishing to a wide-open Damian Reid underneath for two. One possession later, he drove baseline, this time catching Bill Phillips for an easy bucket.
After Jackie Rogers and Jameer Nelson traded points, O'Connor drove baseline again and found Phillips one more time. Just like that a seemingly insurmountable deficit turned into a scalable 10-point hole.
From there, it was just a sprint to the lead and the conference title.
"I know I can do a lot of things as a player," O'Connor said. "I knew those guys were getting open and it was good to get them going on offense because they did a helluva job on defense."
Not long after his streak to start the half, O'Connor was doubled over on the bench, done in by cramps. He came out because he felt like he couldn't play defense. Though some medicine from the athletic trainer helped to ease some of the pain, he still prayed he wouldn't need to shoot any more free throws. Every time he lifted his arms over his head it sent a soaring pain down one side.
And yet he returned, returned with an exclamation point.
After a Phillips three-pointer on the shot-clock buzzer gave St. Joe's a 56-55 lead, its first since 2-0, O'Connor followed up with back-to-back three-pointers, the second of which he banked home.
With St. Joe's now leading 62-57 and with the sold-out Fieldhouse in a frenzy, O'Connor finally allowed himself a smile, chuckling at the bank and perhaps just the whole situation as UMass was forced to call timeout.
"We didn't panic," O'Connor said. "Coach lied when he said there wasn't any yelling at halftime. There was yelling, but it was positive yelling, not pointing fingers. We just played with a lot of heart. We were relentless."
A year ago, O'Connor was an All-Atlantic 10 third-team selection, the team's most valuable player. But his team was 13-16, an afterthought in the big picture.
It wasn't what he envisioned when he took the leap of faith and transferred to St. Joe's from Villanova, hoping to secure more playing time and a winning record. So over the summer he redirected his thoughts.
He knew his team had added the missing link in point guard Nelson. O'Connor rededicated himself, not to becoming an even better scorer, but an even better player.
"Because of the way he directs his energy, I'm able to coach my team," Martelli said. "Last year it had to be situations. We need to add this or that. Now it's all about coaching my team and that's because of Marvin, the way he's grown up as a player."
HILADELPHIA - In a 10-minute stretch Tuesday night, the University of Massachusetts' game with No. 18 St. Joseph's went from what looked like UMass' finest hour to its most disappointing defeat.
After a brilliant first half in which they led 49-33, the Minutemen came apart. The Hawks opened the second half on a 23-6 run, capped by a Bill Phillips' shot-clock beating 3-pointer, that put the home team ahead, 56-55.
With momentum on their side the Hawks (23-4, 14-1) rolled to an 84-69 win to clinch the Atlantic 10 regular-season title.
The Minutemen (13-13, 11-4) need to beat St. Bonaventure, Saturday at noon to clinch at least the third seed in next week's conference tournament.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint shook his head.
"We shot 20 percent in the second half," Flint said. "We got the ball in the same places we got it in the first half, but in the second half they didn't fall. We started pressing when we missed shots and they got on fire. Everything they shot was going in."
Marvin O'Connor paced the St. Joseph's comeback with 11 of his 21 points in the second half. Na'im Crenshaw (17 points) and Jameer Nelson (16) also cracked double digits for the Hawks.
"Some shots fell for them and the momentum with the crowd behind them, they got the win," junior guard Shannon Crooks said. "They deserve it."
After intermission, St. Joe's negated Monty Mack and Jackie Rogers, who had dominated with 11 and 10 points, respectively, in the first half. Mack missed 10 of the 11 shots he attempted in the second frame and finished with 15 points.
"In the second half I couldn't put the ball in the ocean," Mack admitted. "It was a tough night. We played well in the first half and in the second half we played horrible."
Mack wasn't alone in the shooting drought. UMass shot 6-for-30 (20 percent) including a dismal 9.1 percent from 3-point range.
Rogers managed just three shots (one made) in the second half and finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds as the Minutemen couldn't re-establish the inside scoring presence that carried them in the first half. The UMass big men scored 23 points in the first frame and just nine in the second.
"In the first half they treated our big guys like they were invisible men," St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli said. "My biggest fear is that we can't play big. We changed our defense on the wings. We started to sink off the wings except for Mack and we tried as often as possible to front the low post."
The Minutemen looked as good as they had at any point this season in the first half. They opened the game with a 12-6 spurt and kept the Hawks at bay throughout.
A Jonathan DePina three put UMass ahead, 34-24, with 9:32 left. The trey was part of a 16-2 run that brought the Minutemen's lead to its zenith at 45-26 with 3:05 left in the half. The Hawks outscored UMass 7-4 in the final three minutes to make it 49-33 at intermission.
"At halftime I told my team that this was an experience that we hadn't had," Martelli said. "It was worth the experience. We asked them to play it four minutes at time and do the best they could."
After the Hawks' opening 23-6 run, they put together a 17-6 run and the rout was on.
"We knew what we had to do to win the game, we just didn't do it," Flint said. "We're disappointed. We knew we had this game in hand, but we didn't carry it over."
HILADELPHIA - As the University of Massachusetts tried to put Tuesday's 84-69 loss behind it, the Minutemen were hoping for another shot at St. Joseph's in next week's Atlantic 10 Tournament.
"Definitely. I'm pretty sure we're going to see them down the road in the A-10," Crooks said. "I'm pretty sure it's going to be another battle."
Senior guard Monty Mack hope so, too.
"They're a good team you have to expect good things from," Mack said. "I just hope we get a chance to play against them again."
Despite Tuesday's loss, University of Massachusetts coach Bruiser Flint thinks his team would stand a good chance in a rematch.
"We know we can play with anybody in the league," Flint said. "I think we've proven that."
Crooks' said Saturday's game against St. Bonaventure is important to set momentum heading into the tournament.
"It's very important for us to finish the season on a positive note," Crooks said. "It's our seniors' last home game and we want to send them out on a positive note. too."
STANDINGS WATCH: The loss leaves UMass (11-4) just a half game ahead of Temple for third place in the Atlantic 10 standings. The Owls can move into a tie tonight when they play host to La Salle, but the Minutemen hold the tie-breaker edge and would get the higher seed if the two teams finish with the same record.
UMass can clinch at least the third seed Saturday if it beats St. Bonaventure at home at noon, or if the Owls lose either of their last two games (La Salle or George Washington Saturday) The Minutemen can get as high as the second seed if they win and Xavier falls at Dayton.
FLINT, ARNOLD HONORED: At halftime, the Hawks honored members of their 1985-86 Atlantic 10 Championship team, which included UMass coach Bruiser Flint and assistant Geoff Arnold.
NELSON PASSES FLINT: Hawk freshman point guard Jameer Nelson passed Flint on the Hawks' single-season assist leaders list. Flint's 171 assists in 1986-87 had been the fifth best year for a St. Joe's player in that category, but Nelson's three assists Tuesday gave him 173, good for fourth place on that list and pushed Flint to sixth. Nelson is just three behind Matt Guokas Jr.'s record of 176 in 1965-66.
RANKED RESULTS: With the loss, UMass now has lost seven straight against ranked opponents. The Minutemen's last win vs. a team in the top 25 was almost exactly two years ago, when they defeated No. 24 Temple, 57-49, on Feb. 28, 1999.
UMass is 0-3 against ranked teams this year with blowout losses against North Carolina and Connecticut and 2-3 against teams currently ranked (UNC, Boston College, St. Joe's and Xavier). The Minutemen are 4-6 against teams that have been ranked at some point this season, with two wins over the Musketeers and one each over Temple and Dayton and losses to the Hawks, Owls, UConn, UNC, Temple, Dayton, Providence and BC. UMass is 6-18 vs. ranked teams under Flint.
|St. Joseph's Hawks (#18)||84|
|at St. Joseph's|
MASSACHUSETTS (69) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Smith 23 0-0 0-0 1-3 4 3 0 Brand 30 5-13 2-2 2-8 2 4 12 Rhymer 23 2-8 4-6 2-3 0 4 8 Mack 31 4-17 3-4 1-4 3 2 15 Crooks 39 5-10 3-3 0-4 2 3 13 Depina 19 2-4 2-2 2-3 4 4 7 Rogers 25 6-10 0-1 3-11 3 5 12 Blizzard 6 1-2 0-0 2-2 0 2 2 Jenkins 1 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Williams 2 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Pugh 1 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 25-68 14-18 13-38 18 27 69 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.368, FT-.778. 3-Point Goals: 5-18, .278 (Mack 4-14, Depina 1-2, Jenkins 0-1, Pugh 0-1). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 6 (Rhymer 2, Rogers 2, Blizzard, Brand). Turnovers: 15 (Crooks 4, Mack 3, Rhymer 3, Rogers 2, Blizzard, Depina, Jenkins). Steals: 7 (Crooks 3, Depina, Rhymer, Rogers, Smith). ST JOSEPHS PA (84) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Wilkins 14 0-2 2-3 0-3 0 1 2 Phillips 35 3-9 1-2 0-12 5 4 8 Reid 17 4-6 0-2 2-4 0 2 8 Oconnor 33 7-18 4-9 2-5 4 2 21 Nelson 27 4-6 8-10 0-2 3 4 16 Miller 1 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 3 Farrelly 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0 Martelli 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Barley 12 1-1 0-0 0-1 1 0 2 Crenshaw 29 5-8 5-6 1-4 1 0 17 Woods 6 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Sazonov 23 2-2 3-6 2-5 0 4 7 Ngounou 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 27-53 23-38 7-36 15 18 84 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.509, FT-.605. 3-Point Goals: 7-17, .412 (Wilkins 0-1, Phillips 1-5, Oconnor 3-8, Miller 1-1, Crenshaw 2-2). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 6 (Sazonov 4, Phillips, Barley). Turnovers: 12 (Nelson 2, Phillips 2, Reid 2, Wilkins 2, Barley, Martelli, Oconnor). Steals: 4 (Oconnor 2, Crenshaw, Phillips). __________________________________ Massachusetts 49 20 - 69 St Josephs Pa 33 51 - 84 __________________________________ Technical fouls: Massachusetts 2 (Brand, Bench). St Josephs Pa 2 (Phillips, Sazonov). A: 3,200. Officials: Jim Burr, Ed Corbett, Frank Scagliotta.