HILADELPHIA The 2001 version of the Miracle of Massachusetts fell one agonizing game short of becoming reality last night.
Kitwana Rhymer and Kevin Lyde battled all night.
UMass is left to sit by the phone tonight, and hope for a call from college basketball's consolation prize, the NIT. That's still worth something to a team that suffered through a 2-9 start, but it's not what the Minutemen wanted, since a win Saturday night would have earned them the A-10's automatic NCAA bid.
"I think we'll be in the NIT," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "Temple deserved to be (A-10) champions. But my guys are champions, too, and I'm very proud of them.
"When we were 2-9, we never gave up on ourselves," Flint said. "A lot of people didn't care about us. But we cared."
UMass (15-15) qualifies for the NIT by the barest of margins, the minimum .500 record. The fourth-seeded Minutemen's first appearance in the A-10 final since 1996 - and coach Flint's first visit - raised the possibility that Flint might be back for a sixth year in 2001-02.
That decision won't be known until after the NIT, assuming UMass is picked for what would be Flint's fourth postseason appearance in five years. In a poignant moment, Flint hugged seniors Monty Mack and Jonathan DePina for several moments, as both seniors came out in the final seconds.
By comparison, third-seeded Temple (21-12), which has lived on the NCAA tournament bubble, assured its 12th straight visit to the Big Dance.
Temple held Mack to 12 points. The senior guard had hit 19 of 29 shots in the first two games of the tournament, including 13 of 20 3-pointers.
But Mack was only 2 for 10 against Temple, and 1 for 5 on 3-pointers.
Lynn Greer and Quincy Wadley scored 20 points each for Temple, and neither guard ever took a breather in this tournament, playing 120 minutes each in three days. Greer was named the tournament's most outstanding player.
UMass trailed 21-9 in the first half, but led by as many as five (41-36) after a 19-4 run. The Minutemen led 53-51 when center Kitwana Rhymer (15 points, 10 rebounds) was called for a personal foul with 9:47 left, and then a technical after slamming his hand on the floor.
"I thought the technical was the turning point," Flint said. "I told the ref (Donnee Gray) that Kit was mad at himself, not him."
"Donnee is a good ref," Flint said. "But it's a championship game, and emotions are going to be high."
The sequence gave Rhymer his second and third fouls, and he eventually fouled out. It was costly because UMass wanted to pound the ball inside on Temple center Kevin Lyde, who scored 18 points with 11 rebounds despite playing the final 4:15 with four fouls.
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Lyde, who played 111 minutes in three days on an injured foot that's hobbled him for six weeks, hit two free throws with 49 seconds left to make it 70-65. The Owls went 8 for 8 from the line in the final minute.
UMass missed 15 of its first 19 shots, But DePina scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half, and a 9-0 UMass run to end the half cut Temple's lead to 32-31 at the break.
HILADELPHIA Shannon Crooks admits it won't be easy to get fired up for the National Invitation Tournament, where the University of Massachusetts expects to be headed after last night's 76-65 Atlantic 10 Conference men's basketball championship game loss to Temple.
Shannon Crooks keeps track of Lynn Greer step for step.
"I didn't have any doubt we'd win this game," said the UMass guard, knowing a win last night would have sent UMass to the NCAA tournament. "But we were basically on Temple's home floor, and different little things happened.
Like many of his teammates, Crooks said UMass was trying to win for coach Bruiser Flint, whose status for next season in unclear. Senior guard Monty Mack agreed.
"When I came out in the final seconds, I told Bru I was sorry," Mack said. "We wanted to win it for him so bad. In the huddles, we'd tell ourselves to win it for the coaches instead of ourselves, because no one wants to see them go."
Mack says UMass will try to refocus on the NIT.
"It's someplace I didn't want to go," said Mack, whose career will finish in the NIT if UMass is picked. "But it's our last option."
Flint says the Minutemen, who lost 66-65 to Siena in last year's first round, will be ready for what is expected to be a first-round NIT road game.
"I'll tell the players we should just win the tournament we're in," he said. "They'll start realizing they're still playing, and a lot of dudes aren't."
Mack and UMass center Kit Rhymer were named to the all-tournament team. They were joined by the Temple trio of Quincy Wadley, Kevin Lyde and tournament Most Outstanding Player Lynn Greer.
PROUD OF THEM:
Flint said the way his players battled back from a 2-9 start was tremendously rewarding.
"Watching them grow as people, it makes you feel good about what you're doing as a coach," Flint said. "People may think it's just a line, but that's more important than wins and losses. That was especially true this year."
Last night marked the sixth time since 1990, but the first since 1996, that UMass and Temple squared off for the Atlantic 10 title. UMass won four straight meetings from 1993-96, but in some regards, last night's game had more in common with the 1990 game that Temple won 53-51.
In that game, as in last night's case, UMass was trying to establish itself as an NCAA tournament entity. The 1990 loss sent the Minutemen to the NIT.
Last night marked Temple's sixth all-time Atlantic 10 tie, breaking a tie with UMass for the most in the A-10's history.
Winston Smith had eight points in 26 minutes. Flint praised the UMass forward, who was replaced by Jonathan DePina in the starting lineup before the A-10 tournament began but responded with one of his better games yesterday.
Temple was an impressive 19 for 21 from the line . . . With three assists, DePina has 301 in his career, the 10th UMass player to reach 300 . . . UMass had a season-low four turnovers, only one off the school record. But the Minutemen's streak of blocking at least one shot ended at 95 games . . . Despite rumors that Temple which has been ousted by the Big East in football might consider an all-sports move to Conference USA, sources say the school will contest the proposed 2002 ouster.
HILADELPHIA Maybe it was fitting that last night at the First Union Spectrum, a vastly under- appreciated team was led by a vastly underappreciated player.
With the Owl defense sticking to Monty Mack like glue, Jonathan DePina stepped up and put in 14 points to lead the three guard offense.
DePina knows he's been first runner-up to coach Bruiser Flint on the fans' Gripe-O-Meter. That may be why there hasn't been enough credit given to the fact DePina became a solid player for a team that wound up relying on him more down the stretch than ever before, and now awaits a bid to the NIT.
"We're a team that doesn't give up," DePina said. "If we're in the NIT, we'll be ready for the NIT."
Kitwana Rhymer and Micah Brand shared the A-10's most improved player award, but in truth, DePina was probably the most improved player on the team. He spent all summer hearing about how Jarret Kearse was going to play point guard, or Anthony Anderson, or maybe Monty Mack would take a whirl at it when Shannon Crooks was resting.
The message was hard to ignore: anybody but Jonathan. DePina never complained, helped by the knowledge that longtime friends Crooks and Mack knew his value to the team.
Kearse and Anderson didn't qualify academically, and Kearse, a junior college transfer, never even made it to campus. Mack remained at shooting guard, the better to come off screens.
DePina, meanwhile, went from being a risk in the clutch to becoming one of the Minutemen's best pressure players, especially this past week.
At the start of the A-10 tournament, Flint put him in the starting lineup, and it was one of Flint's best moves of the season. In the semifinal against St. Joseph's, DePina retrieved a key loose ball with 1:10 left, and called a timeout while still on the floor.
And when the insurance points in the 75-70 victory were needed with 1.5 seconds left, DePina was the insurance agent, calmly hitting two from the line.
DePina never really liked playing at the Mullins Center, where he knew his game was scrutinized and criticized. His biggest home cheer ever came last week, when he was introduced as part of Senior Day pregame ceremonies just before scoring a career-high 16 points.
He has never been too talkative, at least to the outside world. Among his teammates, though, he was considered a leader.
"His play spoke for itself," Flint said. "Jonathan has been very special to me."
From the moment Boston College broke the promise of a scholarship to DePina in 1997, he has been getting attention for all the wrong reasons. Accepting his value has interfered with preconceived notions, so it has been easy for fans to keep singing the same outdated song.
Last night, he had 12 points in the first half, almost single-handedly keeping Temple from blowing out UMass.
"We knew they'd be watching Monty Mack," Flint said. "Kit Rhymer was kicking the ball back out, and I told Jonathan to be shot-ready. He did a great job."
Last week, DePina had personally promised Flint that UMass would win this tournament for its coach. That didn't quite happen, but the effort was second to none.
DePina's dedication to Flint and the team are, too.
"He's a great coach, and we still made postseason play," said DePina, who assumes an NIT bid is forthcoming. "When we were 2-9, we knew we were better than that. We worked hard as a team, and everybody cared. That's what a team is."
HILADELPHIA On the last day of the regular season, as the rest of the UMass Minutemen drooped off the floor after a disappointing loss to St. Bonaventure, Jonathan DePina pulled up in front of coach Bruiser Flint.
Jackie Rogers and Lynn Greer try to track down the loose ball.
``Coach, don't worry, we're going to win the tournament for you,'' DePina said to Flint, tugging on the coach's sleeve, knowing that his UMass tenure was endangered.
It came down to last night in a noisy Spectrum, with the Minutemen sweeping the floorboards in a grinding, all-out attempt to beat Temple in the A-10 tournament's championship game.
But Temple was desperate, too. The Owls needed the 76-65 win they eventually squeezed out against the Minutemen last night. Without it, Temple (21-12) was in line to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in 12 seasons.
The Minutemen (15-15) now get to wait for a call from the NIT committee tonight. But Flint also will get a call from UMass athletic director Bob Marcum, who will review his performance in a season that included a 2-9 start and a 13-6 run from Jan. 6 to last night. But Flint, with no margin for error, has been under siege the entire time.
DePina had one of the finest stretches of his career in this tournament. Flint let him run the offense for three games, and in last night's first half, the 5-foot-6 guard kept his team afloat with some hell-bent playmaking and shooting in the first half as part of his 14-point, three-assist performance.
But they weren't able to fulfill the promise.
``When I said that to him, I knew we had a great shot at winning this,'' DePina said. ``It was just a feeling I had. I wanted to give an all-out effort for him. He's a great person. He doesn't just care about basketball. It's also your classes that he cares about, and how you're doing. It felt special playing for him. But we can still play in the postseason.''
The NIT is obviously not the team's first choice. As of last night, hitting the road for another NIT bid had the appeal of a junket to Beirut. But even now, Flint's players feel there is something they can do for him.
``To be honest, we'll play as hard as we can in the NIT for coach,'' Shannon Crooks said as several teammates, choking back tears, quickly dressed. ``To be honest, I don't particularly want to play in the NIT, and I think all of the guys feel that way right now. But these guys have a lot of heart. Everyone came together. We got this far. But this game hurts a lot.
``I just think he's a great coach,'' he said. ``We all know about the things that are going on with him right now. That's the business side of college basketball, and I wanted to win this tournament for him more than I wanted it for myself.
``I don't want to see another coach come in here. But it's out of my hands.''
HILADELPHIA There's nothing like desperation to make the anticipation leading to the final game of a conference tournament almost unbearable.
Micah Brand and David Hawkins battle for the rock.
In the case of the Minutemen (15-14), a win last night at the Spectrum represented the only way they could possibly squeeze into the field of 65.
But Temple was another story. The Owls, thanks to their narrow win over George Washington in the semifinals Friday night, improved to 20-12 - one less win than A-10 rival Xavier, which had been thought to be an NCAA lock until the Musketeers were upset by George Washington in Thursday's quarterfinals.
But Temple coach John Chaney, understanding the possibility that Temple would miss its first NCAA tournament in 12 seasons, turned to soothing his anxious troops yesterday.
``I don't know about our chances,'' he said. ``I'd much rather not guess. Somebody might hear me.
``I've always thought we've had a good ballclub. But things happen. The kids can never look in your eyes and see that they've lost a game. I've never lost confidence in any of them.''
No such protectiveness was necessary on the UMass side last night.
The Minutemen, who have aimed for last night's game since they emerged from a 2-9 start with their determination somehow intact, knew the consequences.
``I think we'll be disappointed if we don't win this whole thing,'' junior guard Shannon Crooks said. ``We're not thinking about the NIT. Our focus is to win the Atlantic 10 championship.''
Chaney hasn't had any choice but to milk his lineup almost dry over the last two months.
Injuries and the early season expulsions of forwards Ronald Blackshear and Carlton Aaron left the Owls with a seven-man rotation heading into last night's game.
But the starters have been absorbing the largest hit.
Lynn Greer, the point guard who has been the Owls' saving grace all season, led the nation in minutes played this season with a 39.5 minutes-per-game average. He had logged 40 minutes in more than half of his games this season, including Friday night against the Colonials.
Quincy Wadley and center Kevin Lyde, despite biting pain in his left ankle, also put in that much time.
Both Lyde and backup center Ron Rollerson spent yesterday with their injured feet in air casts as a precautionary pregame measure.
But Lyde, who played 40 minutes against George Washington and 36 minutes during Thursday's quarterfinal win over Dayton, has more than earned his Willis Reed medal this season.
``We've had to face injuries,'' Chaney said. ``We've had to go with everybody. And I said to them, `Be ready.' ''
HILADELPHIA Until now, Bob Marcum's goal of bringing a new basketball coach to UMass was almost as elusive as his dream of planting a Division 1-A football program in Amherst.
But UMass, after a turnaround that has been hailed by just about everyone except the athletic director and his restless cronies, lost last night in the championship game of the Atlantic 10 tournament to Temple.
If the NIT doesn't come calling, Bruiser might be clearing his office soon.
The Minutemen will play in the NIT, and then if Marcum gets his wish, he will be allowed to pull the trigger. They didn't let him do it last spring. But after Flint's team got off to a 2-9 start over the nonconference portion of the harried, red-eyed schedule that Marcum slapped together with money - not his basketball team - in mind, the margin of error was too thin.
Even the Minutemen's 13-6 run since Jan. 6 wasn't enough.
And last night, everyone seemed to know it. Marcum, whose relationship with Flint has deteriorated to the point where the two rarely speak, walked up to Flint last night and said, simply and coldly, ``See you when you get back.''
Then Marcum, who has been heard to say, ``I can handle Bobby Knight,'' in a hypothetical kind of way, walked away.
Then the parade of friendly faces started. Flint spent more time returning hugs than words. Temple guard Quincy Wadley grabbed him in a bear hug, and then Lynn Greer. Flint is, after all, a Philly guy to the core. Then came Temple assistant coach Nate Blackwell, and John Chaney Jr., known as ``Squirrel.''
Even the old man came out.
``You did a helluva job, Bruiser. Thank you,'' Temple coach John Chaney said, speaking words that Flint hasn't heard from his own athletic director in a long time. ``And Bruiser, when you get a chance, call Speedy.''
There was a bit of humor in this, considering that Chaney was referring to Speedy Morris, who was fired Friday after 15 seasons as La Salle's basketball coach.
And that may very well be where the hunt begins, if Marcum has his way, Chancellor David Scott approves his recommendation this time and Flint is set free with a remaining year's sum of approximately $150,000.
La Salle is sure to have Flint on the search list in upcoming weeks, as will Drexel, which also has an opening.
Flint may even have a chance to remain in state, considering that Northeastern officials are now reviewing whether to retain men's basketball coach Rudy Keeling.
But not just yet, of course. There is still the NIT. Marcum, asked last night if he favored sending the team to that tournament, responded with a cheery, ``Keep playin'. Programs like ours don't quit playin'.''
No way. They simply collapse from exhaustion.
he lead strayed back and forth, and the usual tortured expression stayed plastered to John Chaney's face. After it was over, when Temple's coach had stepped up a ladder and cut down a piece of the net that went to the Atlantic Ten champions, his look had turned to pure bliss. He couldn't get the smile off his face.
Kevin Lyde took it right at UMass centers Micah Brand and Kit Rhymer.
About 20 hours after maybe the most miraculous win of his career - he called it "lucky" - Chaney's Owls got past UMass, their greatest A-10 rival, 76-65, last night at the First Union Spectrum to capture the A10 tournament title and an automatic NCAA bid.
A night after his savvy and his free-throw shooting had pulled the Owls back from the grave, Lynn Greer poured in 20 points and was named outstanding player of the tournament. His backcourt partner, Quincy Wadley, had 20 points of his own.
For the second night in a row, Owls center Kevin Lyde - a one-out-of-two kind of free-throw shooter - stepped to the foul line in the last two minutes and hit the net with two crucial shots. This time, Lyde hit two with 49 seconds left to give Temple a 70-65 cushion. Wadley had set up that play with a drive and a nifty feed to Lyde, who got fouled to save a dunk.
There were other plays that seemed like difference-makers. With less than five minutes left and Temple up by 63-59, Lyde blocked a shot and then set after the ball, ripping it away from a UMass big man.
A minute earlier, Owls forward Alex Wesby had blocked a three-point try by UMass sharpshooter Monty Mack to preserve a one-point Temple lead. Wesby then grabbed the ball as he tiptoed along the sideline.
After both blocks, Greer ended up at the foul line and dropped in two free throws to extend Temple's margin.
In the second half, there were seven lead changes and four ties. Temple took the lead for good with 7:24 left. But that lead was tenuous for a long time. After Wesby had fouled Mack, giving him three free throws, UMass was within 68-65. That's when Wadley drove and Lyde hit his free throws.
UMass had started the season with just two wins in its first nine games, but last night, the Minutemen were playing for a bid, and possibly for coach Bruiser Flint's job. Their fight last night wasn't surprising. What was interesting was how the Minutemen (15-15) spread around their offense as Temple focused on Mack.
After he had wiped away his own tears, Owls assistant coach Nate Blackwell talked of how this "has been probably the most unusual John Chaney team," more oriented toward offense than usual, but still sharing a basic toughness.
"Guys leaving the team, kicking guys off the team, going through that seven-game losing streak, bouncing back," Blackwell said. "Expectations being high, then being low. The kids stayed with us."
There was no chance last night could match the drama of the night before. Picture the two locker rooms on Friday night right after Temple had come from 10 points down in just over three minutes, and three points down with 26 seconds left, and two points down with 2.9 seconds left.
There was a hole punched in the chalkboard in the George Washington room.
Over in Temple's room, "Guys were crying," said someone who was in there, describing the scene right after the game, just before Chaney went in. "Then he walks in and goes to the board and starts drawing stuff, talking about plays, yelling at a couple of guys."
Twenty years from now, when Greer is inducted into Temple's Hall of Fame, they will probably begin his introduction talking about what Greer pulled off Friday night, how he jumped into George Washington's Patrick Ngongba out past the three-point line, got a foul called, and hit nothing but net with three free throws with 2.9 seconds left.
"That's something all kids dream about," Greer said later.
An alternate view from Ngongba: "Whoever made that call should be arrested. I mean it. I thought it was robbery."
Greer had walked out of the building Friday night with a boot on his left foot, because of a strained muscle on the top of the foot he had suffered a couple of days before. Lyde and Ron Rollerson both had their usual between-games casts on their feet from their lingering injuries.
Last night, David Hawkins, Temple's fierce freshman, whose eligibility to play may have saved their season, crumpled to the floor in the last seconds and limped over toward Temple's bench.
A transcript of the ensuing conversation, courtesy of Chaney:
"Coach, I just sprained my ankle."
"Goddamnit, look at the clock!"
After the game, Hawkins was the first Temple player out of the locker room. Owls trainer Cary Huggard was looking for him.
"If he was still here, he'd walk out in a cast," Huggard said.
Early on, it was no surprise that Temple had a 21-9 lead just over 10 minutes into the game, for this reason: Mack hadn't scored yet. He had taken four shots, mostly contested baseline jumpers. Temple wasn't in a box-and-one type of matchup on him, as it had gone to the last time the Owls played UMass. The Owls were just passing him off from one to another in the zone. When Mack ran the baseline from one side to the other, Wesby yelled to Hawkins that he was on his way.
Mack hit his first three with 8:51 left in the half when the Minutemen rushed the ball upcourt after a Temple basket and he got a look before the Owls set up their defense.
So how was UMass within 32-31 at halftime? One reason was that Minutemen point guard Jonathan DePina filled it up while the Owls were focusing on Mack. He drove three times for scores and hit two three-pointers at the top of the zone.
Temple had made five of its first 10 three-pointers, but missed its last five of the first half. Lyde also sat down for the last five minutes of the first half after the Owls had taken a 28-19 lead. Chaney was saving his one good leg, and more to the point, his fouls, for the second half. Lyde ended up playing the last 4 minutes and 15 seconds of the game with four fouls.
He had tried to lobby his way back into the game in the first half, but knew it would be to no avail.
"Coach has been doing that for 18 years here," Lyde said. "And probably 20 years before that."
he jackals have been after him all year, ganging up as they do when they sense something is weak or wounded.
The old man's done and is too stubborn to give it up, they brayed.
And so they gleefully piled on.
John Chaney hardly needs defending. But he sure is entitled to a sip from the cup of vindication.
Last night, one of the more extraordinary streaks in sports was extended for another year when Temple defeated Massachusetts in a Tong War of a basketball game for the championship of the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament.
The Owls thus qualified to lace on their dancing shoes. Temple in the NCAA tournament? Yes, and the grass turns green every spring, and water is wet.
Twelve NCAA appearances in a row for Chaney's program. Seventeen waltzes around the floor in his 19 years in charge. Folks, the only schools with numbers like that have corporate logos alongside their names - North Carolina, Arizona, Indiana, UCLA, Kansas.
Under the old man, Temple has taken its place with the bluebloods of hoops, and has done so with considerably more modest resources. And John Chaney is the reason.
Philadelphia has not always realized, or appreciated, what it has. It may be a clichι, but it is true - when he is gone, there will be no one to match the shadow he casts.
Yes, he is cantankerous and profane, mulish and volcanic, and there are times when he makes you cringe. But there has never been suspension or scandal in his tenure, not even investigation, and every March he has a team that no one else wants as a dance partner.
This year might be his most rewarding. With defections and expulsions and injuries, the Owls don't even have enough bodies to scrimmage. To go five-on-five in practice, Chaney himself would have to play. He has threatened to do just that, even though his knees are 69 and click like castanets when he bends.
There was a stretch around the holidays when the Owls lost seven in a row. The jackals drooled all over themselves.
Since then, Temple is 17-5. They have won their last seven. The only way they could get into the NCAA tournament again was win their way in, so they proceeded to do just that in the conference tournament, the key game being the semifinal 77-76 escape from George Washington, when Lynn Greer didn't just make three free throws, he cut the heart out of the netting with all three.
Chaney overscheduled. He does every year. That fearlessness has earned the Owls admiration and respect. The old man will play anybody, anywhere, any time. It is also why they routinely reach double digits in defeats. It is also why they are always so tough in March, and why the selection committee always feels compelled to include them.
Last night, Chaney said he may have to re-think that strategy now because he was hearing for the first time how the Owls only had one win against the big powers.
"Should I schedule the tough ones anyway, or schedule the easy ones just to get in?" he asked.
"The formula has changed because the talking heads say it's so."
He may grumble and grouse and make threatening noises about switching from a diet of tough steak to cupcakes, but you doubt he really will. It would be against his basic nature. There's a part of him that glories in the suffering. And he always has thrived on adversity.
The Owls won a brutal game last night. They and Massachusetts were playing for the same thing, the chance to play another day. They both will - UMass, even though 15-15, deserves an NIT berth.
So they were two desperate teams, and they played like it.
This is how desperate:
With 19.1 seconds left, David Hawkins limped to the Temple bench and, according to Chaney, said: "Coach, I've sprained my ankle."
Chaney said he replied: "Look at the time."
And Hawkins, looking at the clock, said: "Oh yeah. It's NCAA time."
The recuperative powers of victory are astonishing.
The Owls lost three starters and a high-impact sub from last year's team, around which Final Four expectations had swirled. But they went out early. Nonetheless, the expectations were high again this year.
"They're always high," Chaney said.
Of course, for that he has no one to blame but himself. Go 12-15 and see how high the expectations are the next year.
This is not one of Chaney's best teams, but it is resilient. It gets scorched for far more breakaway baskets than most of his teams. Its defense is not as voracious, though it came on late in last night's game.
The bench is practically bare, and the center, Kevin Lyde, is basically playing on one leg. Let it be noted that the one-legged center played himself proud last night - he had 18 points and 11 rebounds in 35 limping minutes.
Greer is a fearless slasher - though Chaney wishes he would pull up rather than trying to force-drive through the trees. He and Quincy Wadley are the two perimeter guns in the long-range offense Chaney always has preferred. Last night, they shot 11 for 23 and split 40 points.
The Owls' victory capped a tumultuous week for college basketball in Philadelphia. St. Joseph's was knocked off by Massachusetts, though the Hawks will be in the NCAA tournament. The Minutemen are coached by Bruiser Flint, himself a former Hawk.
Drexel fired Steve Seymour and La Salle cut Speedy Morris adrift.
In the hallway last night, the old man cupped an affectionate hand on the back of Bruiser Flint's head and suggested that the Owls had been fortunate to get where they were, meaning the GW win, while Flint's team had worked holes in its sneakers.
"Bruiser, you did a hell of a job," the old coach told the young coach.
"Bruiser, one other thing..."
"When you get a chance, call Speedy."
HILADELPHIA People came by to offer their condolences, best wishes, and any other words of encouragement.
Kit Rhymer goes with the finger roll. Rhymer led the Minutemen with 15 points.
It wasn't, though. Temple beat Bruiser Flint's University of Massachusetts team last night, 76-65, in the Atlantic 10 tournament final.
The victory sent the Owls into the NCAA Tournament. The loss sent the Minutemen back to Amherst to await an expected ticket to the National Invitation Tournament.
But it also sent Flint home to ponder his coaching future, which will be decided in the next few weeks, if not days.
Almost no one expects Flint to be back next season, which is why last night's loss was so painful. Sources close to the situation say it is merely a matter of working out the timing on his dismissal. An NIT bid muddles the process because it would likely postpone the inevitable.
''We played so hard for [Flint],'' guard Shannon Crooks said in a nearly empty locker room. ''And we'll play hard in our next game, but the truth is, I don't want to be in the NIT.''
A win last night would have put the Minutemen into the NCAA Tournament and it would have been a national feel-good story about a team that overcame a 2-9 start, dealt with a swirl of uncertainty around its coach, and would have made it difficult for the UMass administration to make a coaching change. The NIT is different. It doesn't mean as much. UMass athletic director Bob Marcum emphasized last night that the Minutemen would go into the NIT with enthusiasm. ''When you have a program like ours, you don't quit playing,'' he said.
Last night, the Minutemen (15-15) didn't quit playing until the final whistle.
They overcame an 11-point first-half deficit with some tenacity on offense and defense and battled the Owls (21-12) evenly until the final few minutes, when the skills of Quincy Wadley (20 points), Lynn Greer (20 points), and Kevin Lyde (18 points, 11 rebounds) were too much to overcome.
UMass weathered a 12-4 Temple run in the second half to get within 68-65 with 2:53 left on three free throws by Monty Mack (2-of-10 shooting, 12 points). But the Minutemen didn't score again.
''We gave everything we had out there,'' said Flint, shaking his head. ''It wasn't enough.''
Now Flint and UMass must decide when enough is enough. He has dealt with his uncertain future for a couple of years. And while an NIT bid will mark the Minutemen's fourth postseason appearance in Flint's five seasons, there are other factors that point to an imminent divorce.
Flint said he will coach until there are no more games to coach. ''We've got games,'' he said. ''Let's play. But nothing's changed. I've still got to look out for my family and for my future.''
The future could go in several directions. Flint, who grew up in Philadelphia, is aware that in the past few days, coaching openings in the city developed when Drexel fired Steve Seymour and La Salle fired Speedy Morris.
There are also vacancies at Rhode Island and Old Dominion. And in the next few days, there will be an opening at Northeastern. Sources close to the situation say Huskies coach Rudy Keeling will be fired, with an announcement coming perhaps as soon as tomorrow. If that happens, Flint would immediately become a leading candidate for the job.
''I know what's going on,' Flint said with a smile. ''But right now I want to concentrate on coaching this team. We still have games to play.''
Indeed. And both on and off the court. Flint rode back on the team bus this morning and will talk with Marcum today, not only about the present, but about the future.
Flint has a year left on his contract. An extension is unlikely.
All Marcum would say before heading back to Amherst last night is that he would have a talk with his coach. ''When he gets back, I'll sit down and talk with Bru and the chancellor [David Scott] and see what we want to do,'' he said.
''Hey, I think I've done a good job,'' said Flint, whose record at UMass is 86-72. ''I've graduated my kids, we've had no major problems with anyone.''
No doubt the Minutemen will regroup the next few days and focus on getting to the NIT Final Four in New York, with perhaps a reunion with his predecessor, Memphis coach John Calipari, somewhere down the line.
''I just hope we get in,'' said Marcum.
But all of that is window dressing on a program that is about to undergo some major changes.
HILADELPHIA - With the game out of reach, University of Massachusetts coach Bruiser Flint took seniors Monty Mack and Jonathan DePina out so UMass fans could salute them one last time, as the Minutemen were on the short end of an exciting Atlantic 10 title game Saturday.
UMass dropped a 76-65 heartbreaker to Temple in a game that was closer than the score might indicate.
Kit Rhymer (left, hugged by a friend), Bruiser & Monty Mack shared a moment after the game.
Flint was emotional after the game.
"He's been like a son to me," Flint said. "We've had our special moments together. We've been through a lot. He was one of the best players to ever play at UMass. I got a chance to coach him."
Junior guard Shannon Crooks echoed Mack's sentiments.
"We tried our hardest to win it for coach," Crooks said. "A lot of things didn't go our way."
The loss finished the UMass season at 15-15, as the Minutemen did not receive a bid to the NIT.
Guards Lynn Greer and Quincy Wadley each had 20 points for the Owls (21-12), and Greer earned the tournament's most valuable player award. The two Temple guards, Kevin Lyde, Kitwana Rhymer and Mack comprised the All Tournament Team.
Rhymer led UMass with 15 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out. Jonathan DePina added 14, while Mack had 12.
The Minutemen led 57-56 with 7:51 remaining, but Lynn Greer scored nine points in a 12-3 Temple run to put the Owls ahead 68-60. UMass couldn't recover.
A driving basket by Shannon Crooks and three free throws by Mack made it 68-65. UMass had a chance to tie it, but DePina's three was off the mark.
With 49 seconds left and the shot clock running down, Quincy Wadley drove the baseline and then dumped the ball to Lyde. He leapt up and was fouled by Rhymer, sending him to the bench with five fouls. Lyde made both free throws to put the Owls up 70-65.
Temple made their free throws down the stretch to hold on to their second straight Atlantic 10 title. The Owls will face Texas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Owls opened a 21-9 lead midway through the first half on the 3-point shooting of their guards as 12 of those 21 came from behind the arc. But the Minutemen battled back to get within striking distance. Led by DePina, who scored 12 points in the first half, UMass closed the half on a 9-0 run to trail by just one, 32-31, at intermission.
The teams went back and forth until midway through the half. With the Minutemen leading 55-53, there was a battle for a rebound. Rhymer nearly grabbed it, but missed and then tripped over a Temple player and was called for a foul. When he fell to the floor, he slammed his hand on the ground in frustration, without saying a word.
Referee Donnee Gray whistled Rhymer for a technical foul, sending Flint into a frenzy on the sideline.
Greer hit the ensuing free throws and Wadley followed with a 3-pointer, giving a surge of energy to the Owls, who had seemed to be dragging.
"I thought that was the key point in the game," Flint said. "They got a five-point play and Rhymer got his third foul. I said to the referee, 'The kid was mad at himself; he wasn't mad at you.' It's a championship game. You know emotions are going to be high."
Four straight free throws by Mack put UMass back ahead at 57-56, setting up the Owls' final push.
Because of Flint's insecure job status, Temple coach John Chaney apologized to him after the game.
"I'm sorry Bru," Chaney said. "If I had my wish, I wouldn't have even coached in the game. I wish it would have been different."
Flint praised his team after the game.
"We have a great bunch of guys," Flint said. "Everybody talked about us being 2-9 and how we were dead. We came to the conference tournament and knocked off the No. 1 seed. It just shows what kids of character my guys have. I'm very proud of them.
"My last two groups were unbelievable," Flint said. "I love 'em."
ith mounting evidence that the Bruiser Flint era is at an end, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach was to meet today with Athletic Director Bob Marcum.
After falling to Temple on Saturday in the finals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, Flint defended his record and reiterated his desire to remain the UMass men's basketball coach.
"Do I think I should still be the coach here? Most definitely," Flint said. "I've graduated my kids. We haven't really had any incidents."
Contacted Sunday, Marcum didn't directly deny reports that he had already decided to fire Flint.
"People say a lot of things," Marcum said. "I'm not even going to go down that avenue. When people say things like that, end of conversation."
Marcum said he planned to speak with Flint early today.
Marcum has been less than publicly supportive of Flint during the past two seasons, and reports of the coach's departure have been persistent. The Boston Herald reported Saturday that Marcum wanted to oust Flint after last season when the Minutemen finished 17-16, but he was blocked by Chancellor David K. Scott, who decided to keep Flint, a report Marcum disputed.
Scott, who will step down from his post on July 1, was not available for comment Sunday night. Any decision made by Marcum or Scott could be overturned by UMass system president William Bulger. Bulger's office today referred all calls on Flint to the Athletic Department.
Flint has one year remaining on his contract. UMass would reportedly have to pay $130,000 to buy him out.
Flint said in February that he thought his team needed to make the NCAA Tournament for him to avoid being fired. With the loss to Temple, UMass lost an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament that would have come with the Atlantic 10 Championship. With a 15-15 final record, UMass also lost a bid to the National Invitation Tournament.
Flint, who was an assistant at UMass from 1989 to 1996, followed John Calipari, who left UMass to become the head coach of the New Jersey Nets after leading the Minutemen to the 1996 Final Four. Calipari is now with Memphis.
In five years Flint was 86-72 as a head coach and trails only Calipari (193) and Jack Leaman (217) on the school's career victory list.
Flint has coached under the long shadow of Calipari, who restored interest in a moribund program. "I'm the third-winningest coach in the history of the school. There's only one person that in five years had a better record than me. The only unfortunate thing is I followed him," Flint said.
Flint confirmed that he will meet with Marcum today, but he said he'd be proactive in fighting to keep his job, both with Marcum and other administrators.
"I'm not going to just sit around and say, OK, fire me," Flint said. "I'm going to make some calls." If Flint is not retained, there reportedly is already interest in him elsewhere. His name has surfaced as a candidate for vacancies at La Salle and Drexel, both in his hometown of Philadelphia. Boston's Northeastern, which is expected to dismiss coach Rudy Keeling this week, is also rumored to be interested.
"You have to keep your options open," Flint said. "If I'm not the coach here I have to find myself another job."
|Massachusetts Minutemen (4 seed)||65|
|Temple Owls (3 seed)||76|
|Atlantic-10 Tournament Final|
at the First Union Spectrum,
MASSACHUSETTS (65) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Crooks 36 5-14 0-0 2-4 1 1 11 Brand 16 0-5 2-4 1-6 1 4 2 Rhymer 30 5-11 5-7 3-10 3 5 15 Depina 39 6-15 0-0 1-3 3 2 14 Mack 39 2-10 7-7 0-2 1 1 12 Rogers 7 0-0 0-0 0-1 0 1 0 Blizzard 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Jenkins 1 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Smith 26 4-7 0-0 1-2 0 1 8 Williams 4 1-1 1-2 0-2 0 3 3 Pugh 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 23-64 15-20 8-30 9 18 65 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.359, FT-.750. 3-Point Goals: 4-21, .190 (Crooks 1-5, Depina 2-9, Mack 1-5, Jenkins 0-1, Smith 0-1). Team rebounds: 7. Blocked shots: None. Turnovers: 4 (Brand, Crooks, Rhymer). Steals: 2 (Mack, Williams). TEMPLE (76) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Wesby 35 3-8 2-2 0-6 1 2 10 Hawkins 40 4-10 0-1 1-5 1 2 8 Lyde 35 7-14 4-5 3-11 1 4 18 Greer 40 6-13 7-7 0-4 7 1 20 Wadley 40 5-10 6-6 1-8 2 1 20 Jefferson 5 0-0 0-0 0-2 0 1 0 Rollerson 5 0-0 0-0 1-1 0 3 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 25-55 19-21 6-37 12 14 76 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.455, FT-.905. 3-Point Goals: 7-19, .368 (Wesby 2-7, Hawkins 0-2, Greer 1-3, Wadley 4-7). Team rebounds: None. Blocked shots: 5 (Wesby 3, Lyde, Rollerson). Turnovers: 8 (Greer 3, Rollerson 2, Hawkins, Lyde). Steals: 2 (Greer, Hawkins). __________________________________ Massachusetts 31 34 - 65 Temple 32 44 - 76 __________________________________ Technical fouls: Massachusetts 1 (Rhymer). A: 11,240. Officials: Donnie Gray, Joe Demayo, Reggie Greenwood.