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UMass: Minutemen lose again
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 11/26/2000

WORCESTER — This one figures to reverberate in University of Massachusetts men's basketball circles for some time, even though coach Bruiser Flint tried downplay the damage of it yesterday.

"I don't want our guys thinking that just because we're 1-2, the season is over," Flint said after one of the most embarrassing UMass losses of the past decade, a 78-65 setback to Holy Cross at the Centrum. "That's unfair to them, unfair to everybody. This team will win games — we'll be fine."

But the Minutemen are not fine now. Holy Cross (2-1) deserves full credit for executing a well-crafted game plan superbly, and for making the midgame adjustments that wiped out a 36-28 UMass halftime lead.

That won't stop the questions of how a supposedly improved UMass team, just off a disappointing loss at Marquette, could lose to a Patriot League that was 10-18 a year ago — and by double digits, no less.

UMass will try to rebound Saturday at Oregon. They have until then to figure out how to rebound at all.

"I thought rebounding would be a strength for us," Flint said after watching Holy Cross own the boards 52-30. Asked if it still could be, Flint said "we'll see."

Photo
Micah Brand got a good look here but finished with only one field goal.
UMass has been outrebounded 125-89 this season. Yesterday, Holy Cross center Josh Sankes had 17 boards, one more than the UMass "Big Four" of Kitwana Rhymer, Micah Brand, Jackie Rogers and Eric Williams combined.

Sankes also scored 25 points, and hard as it is to lose sight of a 7-foot, 275-pounder, UMass did so repeatedly.

"He lulls you to sleep by just standing there, then they backscreen for him and by then it's too late," Flint said. "He's not the nation's top returning rebounder (11.9 rpg. last year) for nothing. You've got to be active on him."

"A lot of the time when our guards are driving, I'd step back and they'd be looking at the guards," Sankes said. "They just lost track of me."

Holy Cross also hit 35 of 45 free throws, including 16 straight down the stretch.

But UMass doomed itself most with an offense that shot 21.6 percent (8 for 37) in the second half, and didn't score from the field for more than six minutes at the start of the half.

Monty Mack had 13 points on 4-for-17 shooting with four turnovers. Three baskets came in the final 2:20, when the outcome was all but settled, and Mack is now 8 for 30 since returning from a suspension and a practice-related ankle injury.

"I think he's pressing," Flint said. "He doesn't have to win these games by himself."

"We didn't want to give up the 3-point shot, and they didn't change their plays at all," said Holy Cross guard Jave Meade, making it clear that Holy Cross had UMass' game plan completely figured out. "He was running right into us."

"Our thing was to force Mack to get the ball farther out than he's like," Crusaders coach Ralph Willard said. "And they pushed the ball down our throats in the last six minutes of the first half, but we shut down their transition game after that. At halftime, we said it was essential to do that."

UMass guard Shannon Crooks shot 1 for 10. Among the forwards, Kitwana Rhymer had eight of his 10 points after halftime, but Jackie Rogers had all nine of his points before it.

Holy Cross opened the second half with a 15-3 run for a 43-39 lead. Forward Juan Pegues had all 13 of his points in the second half, including seven straight that put the Crusaders ahead for good.

"In the second half, the pressure started to build on UMass, and I could tell they were done," Sankes said.

Holy Cross led by as many as 16 in a victory that Willard refused to call a shocker.

"I told our guys that UMass is where we want to be, and our kids are starting to believe they can be good," he said. "We may not be up with the Top 25 teams, but we're not that far from the 30-to-40 group."

But right now, UMass is.

"We just have to come back, practice hard and keep getting after it," Crooks said, bravely if a bit hollowly. "If we get down on ourselves now, we'll be doing ourselves an injustice."


Flint: Guard may regain starting berth
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 11/26/2000

WORCESTER — The most reliable player for the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team has been a senior who entered the season as one of its question marks.

"Jonathan DePina was the only one out there playing with a cool head," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said after the 78-65 loss to Holy Cross at the Centrum. DePina scored nine points with three rebounds, three steals, three assists and only one turnover in a team-high 34 minutes, and Flint said he's considering sliding the 5-foot-9 guard back into the starting lineup.

He could do so either by going to a three-guard lineup or removing Shannon Crooks, though he may keep using DePina as an effective player off the bench, too.

For DePina, the loss overshadowed another solid individual performance.

"Holy Cross played good defense, but we were rushing our shots and then they'd get the rebound," he said. "We just need to talk to ourselves about what we needed to do better."

DePina is 11 for 22 from the floor this season, and six of 10 from 3-point range. He is averaging 10.3 ppg. with 13 assists, seven turnovers and solid defense.

Beyond that, he's often proven to be the most aggressive confident Minuteman on the floor. Yesterday he keyed a first-half surge with a fast-break layup, steal and jumper for a 30-24 UMass lead.

Another UMass player whose stock rose yesterday was freshman swingman Willie Jenkins, who hit two 3-point shots and played 16 minutes. Jenkins had played only six minutes in the first two games.

The other UMass freshman, guard Jameel Pugh, went uncalled upon for the third straight game.

STREAK ENDS:

The loss was the first for UMass at the Centrum, which took an 8-0 all-time Centrum record into the game.

At least there weren't many witnesses to the debacle. Only 3,821 attended the game, which was not televised.

LOW TIMES:

Flint compared the loss to a 63-47 home defeat to Virginia Tech in his first year (1996-97), but did so to make a point.

"I've always said that was my most disappointing loss, but we bounced back from that game to win 13 of our next 16," he said. That won't be easy this time, since UMass plays Oregon, Ohio State, Connecticut and North Carolina in the next five weeks — all on the road.

UMass is off until Saturday against Oregon in Portland, Ore.

"Me, I'd probably like to get out there right away, to keep this from lingering," Flint said.

FOUL PLAY:

UMass improved slightly from the foul line, hitting 21 of 31. But the Minutemen, a 52-percent foul-shooting team coming in, made only 10 of 17 in the second half.

For Holy Cross, 7-foot center Josh Sankes made 9 of 14.

"Coach (Ralph) Willard) told me if I made my foul shots, I'd be in his memoirs," Sankes said. "I couldn't pass up an opportunity like that."

NO BOARDS:

Flint said he's planning some new rebounding drills after UMass was again hammered on the boards.

"Sankes is a big guy, but my concern is that we're not boxing out, and we're not scoring inside," he said after UMass lost a 52-30 rebounding battle.

POINT MAN:

With 13 points, Monty Mack (1,646 career points) passed Tony Barbee (1,643) for fourth place all-time at UMass. Next up is Lorenzo Sutton with 1,731.


UMass can't bear loss: Succumbs to Holy Cross
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 11/26/2000

WORCESTER - Three games into the season and heads are already hanging and disbelieving faces are already buried in towels.

``I keep telling my guys that it's a long season,'' UMass coach Bruiser Flint said after yesterday's 78-65 loss to Patriot League opponent Holy Cross - a result that is probably the worst in his four-plus-season tenure.

A long season? The 1-2 Minutemen probably have no idea how eternal that feeling could become if their confused, unfocused play of the last two games continues to dominate their thoughts.

Flint, confident that he finally had the necessary strength up front to out-rebound teams, watched his big guys get out-boarded for the third straight game - this time by a preposterous 52-30 margin. The Crusaders finished with more offensive boards (20) than the Minutemen had on defense (19).

Holy Cross center Josh Sankes, a 7-foot strongman with little mobility, boxed out the UMass frontcourt for 20 points and 17 boards - nine of them in the offensive end.

The defense-oriented Minutemen were also victimized by an endless string of backdoor plays, lobs and back cuts.

``A lot of times when our guards drive and the big guys step up, I'll drop back,'' said Sankes. ``A lot of times they lost track of me on the baseline.''

Offense? A UMass team that boasts such a thick stack of plays couldn't adjust yesterday, as the Crusaders struck gold by sitting on the Minutemen's same old, same old - Monty Mack, curling off picks. Indeed, a pressing Mack, blanketed by HC freshman Jave Meade, scored 13 points on 4-for-17 shooting, to go along with a nine-point, 1-for-10 showing from backcourt mate Shannon Crooks.

``He's a great player with a quick release, and we wanted to force him to take the ball higher than he would have liked - as high as possible,'' Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard said of Mack. ``We were fortunate. He's a great player.''

But save for Jonathan DePina, who has once again poked his feisty game back into the picture, few Minutemen can boast anything even approaching consistency. DePina finished with nine points on 4-for-9 shooting and tied Crooks with a team-high three assists. Overall, the Minutemen managed only 10 assists and ran into yet another wall when the Crusaders, starting with a surprisingly secure 50-42 lead with 8:09 left, hit 16 straight free throws and 24 of their last 26.

But Flint was quick to angle his ``it's a long season'' view in the right direction.

``I keep telling my guys that we've been in these spots before, and we've got off to starts like this before,'' he said. ``This team will win games. This team will be fine. I told them that this was a disappointing loss, but the worst was when we lost to Virginia Tech at home (in his first year), and then we went out and won (11 of the next 12 games).''

The Minutemen play Oregon, a Pac-10 team, in Portland, Ore., on Dec. 2. Seven days is a long time to wait for an answer.


HC rips redfaced UMass
By Jennifer Toland, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette Staff, 11/26/2000

WORCESTER -- Holy Cross made it clear to UMass that the Minutemen have worn out their welcome at the Worcester Centrum.

After winning two games here in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, the building became UMass' favorite home away from home during the John Calipari era. The Minutemen went 5-0 at the Centrum under Calipari and were also victorious in two previous trips under current coach Bruiser Flint.

After yesterday, UMass won't be in any hurry to come back.

Led by senior center Josh Sankes' game-high 25 points and 17 rebounds, Holy Cross stunned UMass, 78-65, before 3,821 fans. The win was the first for HC against the Minutemen since 1989.

“We came in expecting to win,” said Sankes, who recorded his 23rd double-double in 31 games at HC. “We had confidence in ourselves, and when you have confidence there's nothing to worry about.”

Senior forward Juan Pegues (13 points), sophomore forward Tim Szatko (13) and promising freshman guard Jave Meade (10) also scored in double figures for the Crusaders, who, after dropping their season-opener at Providence, have won their last two to improve to 2-1. UMass is 1-2.

The Crusaders shot 47 percent from the field and had their highest point total of the young season, but domination of the boards and tenacious defense were their keys in downing the Minutemen. HC outrebounded UMass, 52-30. With 10 rebounds, Szatko, last year's Patriot League Rookie of the Year, had his second straight double-double effort of the season. The Crusaders had a whopping 20 offensive boards.

UMass outscored HC, 10-4, over the last four minutes of the first half to take a 36-28 halftime lead, but went cold from the floor in the second half, making just 2 of 21 shots in the first 15 minutes.

“I thought the key for us was shutting down their transition game in the second half,” HC coach Ralph Willard said. “They really hurt us at the end of the first half getting out on the break. I made a point in the locker room (at halftime) that it would be essential for us to shut down their break, and we did that. I thought we did a great job defensively.”

Holy Cross held UMass to 22 percent shooting in the second half (33 percent for the game) and baffled Minuteman guard Monty Mack, the consensus preseason Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year, who scored 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting. Starting backcourt mate Shannon Crooks fared even worse, shooting just 1 for 10 from the floor.

“Mack is a great player,” Willard said. “He's got a quick release, great range. The biggest thing for us was forcing him to get the ball out further than he wanted to get it. We knew we couldn't deny him because of his quickness, but we wanted to anticipate where he was going to go and force him to get the ball as high as possible.

“We did a great job anticipating their screens and switching on their screens, and as a consequence he got the ball deeper than he wanted it.”

HC made its hard work on defense pay off at the other end of the court, starting the second half with a 15-3 run. Pegues keyed the spurt with eight points. His pair of free throws with 12:39 to play gave HC a 41-39 lead and the Crusaders were in front to stay.

The Crusaders, who shot just 61 percent from the foul line last year, made 30 of 36 free throws in the second half, including 16 straight down the stretch. After Pegues extended HC's lead to double digits for the first time by putting back a missed jumper by Jared Curry with 2:32 to play, Sankes buried a pair of free throws to put HC up, 66-53.

“The first half worried me because we couldn't get going, but in the second half, once we got the lead, we got to a point in the game where I knew we were going to win,” Sankes said. “The pressure was building on UMass. I could tell.”

The Minutemen had no success stopping Sankes, who is the nation's leading returning rebounder, and once they turned to their full-court pressure defense to throw Holy Cross out of rhythm, it was too late.

“They played good defense, but we were rushing our shots,” said UMass guard Jonathan DePina, who came off the bench to score nine points. “We weren't making smart plays.”

Holy Cross hung with UMass in the first half. The Minutemen led by six early, but the Crusaders came back to tie it, 24-24, on a layup by Curry with 4:21 to play. An end-to-end layup and jumper by DePina and a 3-pointer by Willie Jenkins keyed UMass' late-half spurt. The Minutemen made one field goal in the first 8:45 of the second half.

“We started pressing after we missed our first 15 or 16 shots,” said Flint, who characterized the loss as one of the most disappointing of his career. “And we never made it back after that. We've got a lot of games left. Just because we're 1-2 I don't want these guys to think our season is over. This team will be fine.”


Upset is a leap forward for Crusaders
By John Gearan, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette Sports Columnist, 11/26/2000

The freshly minted Holy Cross motto, “Compete to Win,” is hardly as jazzy as UMass' famed “Refuse to Lose,” a battle cry copyrighted by John Calipari when the 35-1 Minutemen waltzed into the 1996 Final Four.

That mantra, scrawled on a Centrum blackboard at high noon yesterday by coach Ralph Willard, is a message of reserved optimism at best.

Nonetheless, “Compete to Win,” though hardly the stuff of great T-shirts, is a realistic attitude as the Crusaders begin their return trip to respectability.

Make no mistake, upsetting UMass is a giant bound forward for the Holy Cross hoop program, which dwells in a land inhabited by “The Last Amateurs,” according to author John Feinstein.

True, the Crusaders are again granting full basketball scholarships after a hiatus. But they are not yet in the same league as UMass, which schedules the likes of North Carolina.

The Crusaders competed furiously, especially on defense, and -- surprise, surprise -- they won. And going away, 78-65. HC handed UMass perhaps its worst defeat since Bruiser Flint assumed Coach Cal's mantle in 1996.

UMass had never lost in the Centrum. Recall back in January 1996, when the joint had been spray-painted raucous red as the Minutemen jolted third-ranked Memphis here. Back then, State U had won over the hearts of the Commonwealth, including Worcester, smack dab in the middle of die-hard Purple country. Yesterday they left town crimson and blue, if not black and blue.

Willard's guys played clawing and annoying defense. For half the game, freshman Jave Meade crawled all over celebrated UMass guar, Monty Mack. HC's other guards, Jared Curry and Ryan Serravalle, got up on Mack and Shannon Crooks, a duo that fizzled from the floor with a collective 5-for-27 performance.

Inside Josh Sankes, a 7-foot senior, showed why he is the nation's leading returning rebounder. He dominated UMass with size and smarts. Tim Szatko, Patrick Whearty and Juan Pegues all scrapped down low. HC had 20 offensive rebounds, UMass 11. That stat speaks volumes about the Crusaders' hustle.

Flint pointed out the painfully obvious. “We shot 21 percent in the second half,” adding “we got good shots.” He conceded that HC “tipped a lot of rebounds and got second chances.” He said UMass knew that Sankes would make it tough off the boards.

He conceded it was one of his worst losses as UMass coach. “My most disappointing loss came when we lost to Virginia Tech at home (Jan. 12, 1997),” he said. “This was as disappointing as that.”

Flint, an amiable guy, took command after Calipari, Marcus Camby and crew abandoned a UMass program shipwrecked by scandal. Its Final Four appearance has been erased from the annals of the Big Dance because of blatant corruption. That aside, in his fifth season, Flint enjoys about the same job security as the late Pat Burns did with the Bruins. He's on thin ice.

Despite back-to-back losses to Jebbie colleges, Marquette and HC, Flint is trying to convince his players that UMass can turn around things. The raw talent seems to be there. Yet something is missing. “In practice, we're doing well, and I've been harping on carrying that over to games,” emphasized Flint.

Against HC, the up-tempo UMass style, which built an eight-point halftime lead, came to a standstill. “We began rushing shots and not crashing the boards,” explained Jonathan DePina, the celebrated recruit whom Boston College rejected (at first) along with Elton Tyler. That caused their AAU pal, Worcester's Mike Bradley, to revoke his BC marriage intentions. Bradley hopped to Kentucky, won a national title, then hopped past hometown HC, transferring to Villanova.

DePina performed well, but UMass got boxed out badly and with two minutes left the Minutemen looked as if they wanted to ask for a recount. Their hanging chads just weren't dropping.

Willard, not the exaggerating kind, was clearly elated by the victory. He raved about his defense anticipating passes, forcing the UMass guards outside their shooting range, denying 3-point attempts, switching on screens and all those non-box-score efforts that bring triumph. He noted HC held Providence to 33 percent shooting, Harvard to 39 percent and now UMass to 33 percent.

But Willard did not want to allow the importance of one win to get unduly overblown. “What pleased me most was seeing our kids starting to believe in themselves,” he explained. “Understand, we are not that far away. Maybe we can't compete against Top 25 teams yet. But teams below No. 35 or No. 40 we can give trouble to.”

On the Thanskgiving weekend, with students home for the holiday, the Centrum lacked the usual atmosphere of a college game. No pep bands. No cheerleaders. No hoopla. Mostly UMass and HC alums from the area enjoying the clash that could have been an afternoon scrimmage. Just pure basketball, a treat for purists.

Things perked up mightily when UMass couldn't buy a basket, scoring a measly seven points during the first 13 minutes of the second half. With Sankes changing his free-throw shooting form at halftime to a balanced, one-hand flip, the Crusaders ran off 16 free throws in a row.

As time ran down, a major upset loomed. Old HC grads -- including the backcourt from the 1954 NIT champs, Ron Perry and sidekick Don Prohovich, a Ware native -- began to stir. Memories of the glory days erupted.

Then, with about three minutes left, came “gut-check” time, according to Willard. UMass began applying relentless fullcourt pressure. Meade, a talented freshman of great promise, was put under siege, as was composed upperclassman Serravalle. UMass, trailing, 58-49, forced several turnovers. Willard admitted he was worried. Would HC respond or cave in?

“We stayed mentally focused,” Sankes would explain.

“They double-teamed us all over. We just told ourselves, 'We got to get by it,' and we did,” Meade said.

The Crusaders passed smartly, didn't panic, and got by the pressure. They drew fouls, made crucial foul shots, rebounded and kept their composure.

In the end, they did not boast about refusing to lose. They just simply competed and won. Against UMass. At the Centrum. Perhaps not the stuff that T-shirts are made of, but a tremendous victory in the great underdog tradition of Holy Cross.


Crusaders outclass UMass men
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 11/27/2000

WORCESTER - The University of Massachusetts men's basketball team has started every season under coach Bruiser Flint 1-2, but it's never looked this bad before.

Photo
A perfect example of the Minutemen's day: out of position for the rebound.
In the Minutemen's worst defeat since a 70-69 loss to Division II Lowell in 1989, they were manhandled by Holy Cross, 78-65, at the Worcester Centrum Centre, Saturday.

The Crusaders won on inside dominance by senior center Josh Sankes, who had 25 points and 17 rebounds compared with 26 points and 16 boards by UMass' four inside players - Kitwana Rhymer, Eric Williams, Jackie Rogers and Micah Brand. Holy Cross won the overall rebounding battle, 52-30.

"Josh Sankes is a big kid, but my big concern is that we're not boxing out," Flint said. "We do rebounding drills every day. We're very concerned. Not only that, we're very concerned about our scoring inside. We're not finishing when we get the ball in the post."

Monty Mack, who has been out of sync all year, was particularly so Saturday, hitting just four of 17 shots, finishing with 13 points.

Shannon Crooks struggled even more, hitting just one of 10 from the field. As a whole, the team shot 32.8 percent from the floor.

"We got shots. We got the ball inside," Flint said. "It wasn't as if every one was bomb 3-pointer with a guy in our face. We had drives to the basket that we missed. We had lay-ups underneath that we missed."

The Minutemen return to action Saturday against Oregon in Portland at 11:30 p.m. EST.

Senior captain Jonathan DePina said the team needs to make use of the week off between games.

"It's kind of good that we have some days before this game," DePina said. "We have to talk to each other and see what we need to do to get better. We have time to practice what we're not doing well right now. We can work on almost everything we need to work on."

The Minutemen got off to a slow start, but still were able to stay just ahead of the Crusaders. After two free throws by Sankes made it 24-24 with 4:21 left in the first half, UMass seemed to find a groove. Jump-started by two fast-break layups by DePina, the Minutemen closed the half on a 12-4 run to lead, 36-28.

That momentum didn't carry over to the second frame.

"In the last three minutes of the first half, we got rebounds, we pushed it and we got easy baskets," Flint said. "We came out in the first 10 minutes of the second half, we turned the ball over and missed every shot. We missed 15 of our first 16 shots and we started to press after that."

It took the Minutemen 6:12 to score their first field goal of the second half. During the drought Holy Cross began trimming the UMass lead.

Juan Pegues mounted a 7-0 run all by himself in the middle of an 18-3 Holy Cross spurt that started the second half and put the home team ahead, 45-41.

The Minutemen never recovered as the Crusaders built their lead to double digits.

Rare positives in the struggle came from DePina and freshman Willie Jenkins.

DePina continued his strong start with nine points, three assists and one turnover, while Jenkins made a pair of 3-pointers and finished with six points.

"Jonathan DePina is probably the only person playing with a cool head," Flint said. "I thought Willie played great. He shot the ball and did the things he needs to do to help us."

Flint said he'd consider starting DePina against Oregon.

"A lot of it depends on how we practice," Flint said.


Flint: Mack's trying too hard
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 11/27/2000

WORCESTER - After missing both exhibition games and the season opener due to a suspension, and nearly two weeks of practice with an ankle sprain, University of Massachusetts senior guard Monty Mack has had a tough start to the 2000-01 season.

After averaging 19.9 points per game a year ago, he's struggled to find his shooting stroke, making just 8-of-30 shots in his first two games back.

I think he's pressing," Flint said. "He didn't think he played well against Marquette and he was trying to make up for it. He's rushing. He's going 1,000 miles per hour and he's turning the ball over. I told him, you don't have to try and win these games by yourself. Just play within us and let us win the game together."

Flint said Mack's ankle isn't back to full strength, either.

"He's not 100 percent," Flint said. "This was the first week he really got into practice and played."

RECORD UPDATES: Despite his struggles, Mack's 13 points moved him into fourth on the UMass career scoring chart with 1,646 points, passing Tony Barbee (1,643).

Next up is Lorenzo Sutton with 1,731.

Mack's 11 3-point attempts made him the all-time leader with 669, passing Carmelo Travieso (666). Mack needs to make three more to pass Travieso's 245 made 3-pointers.

Kitwana Rhymer's four blocked shots gave him 79 in his career, moving him to 10th on the school's career chart in that category.

BIG EAST REUNION: At several points in Saturday's game there were four former Big East players on the floor as Shannon Crooks (St. John's), Eric Williams (Syracuse), Jackie Rogers (West Virginia) and Holy Cross' Josh Sankes (Rutgers) all have Big East experience.

Sankes is the second of three former Rutgers players UMass faces this year.

Iona point guard Earl Johnson and Boston University swingman Billy Collins also played for the Scarlet Knights.

STATISTICAL NOTES: Mack's 13 points were the lowest by UMass' leading scorer in a game since Dec. 5, 1998 when he and Charlton Clarke both had 13 in a loss to Marshall. In the past two seasons, the Minutemen are 1-7 when their leading scorer gets 15 points or fewer.

UMass' 21.6 percent shooting in the second half was the fourth lowest half under Flint.

The worst came in 1996 against Georgetown in the Great Eight, when the Minutemen shot 18.8 percent in the first half.


Telltale tailspin for Minutemen
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 11/27/2000

WORCESTER - This was not a fluke.

This was not the "little-team-that-could" making a whole bunch of crazy 3-pointers and pulling off the unlikely upset.

No, this was a systematic dismantling, one team absolutely dominating another as the University of Massachusetts suffered a hard to watch and harder to swallow defeat at the hands of Holy Cross.

They will never say it, but when the Minutemen scheduled Holy Cross, it had very little to do with New England basketball tradition or playing in front of the fans at the Centrum. The Crusaders barely beat Harvard last week. If basketball were configured like football, the Patriot League, of which Holy Cross is a member, would be I-AA.

This game was scheduled to give the Minutemen a victory. Simple as that.

Prior to the season, when fans went through the schedule, prognosticating which games UMass would win and which they would lose, even the most pessimistic of people thought Nov. 25 would be a W.

Monty Mack shot poorly, hitting just four of 17 shots, three of them when the outcome already had been decided. But to make an excuse out of Mack's struggles wouldn't be fair.

There was a lot more wrong than that. For all of UMass' vaunted size, its big guys have been outrebounded three straight games, including a 52-30 whipping Saturday.

People hoped that the team's loss to Marquette was an aberration, the product of two games close together. But the Minutemen's loss in Worcester proved that theory wrong.

So now fans are in "here we go again" mode, and why not? What makes it worse is that there was some genuine optimism heading into this season. People truly believed that this was the team to right the ship, a vessel that appears to be taking on water right now.

Coach Bruiser Flint's teams are notoriously slow starters, going 19-24 before Jan. 1 in his career, planting all of them in a hole to dig out of if they have NCAA Tournament aspirations.

That's a lot to ask of anybody. Two early bogies puts a lot of pressure on you to make birdies down the stretch if you want a good round.

The distractions will increase as well. The people calling for Flint's job will begin increasing the volume of their demands.

Still, the coach isn't ready to write off his team.

"We have a lot of games left," Flint said. "I don't want guys thinking, 'We're 1-2, the season is over.' We've been through a lot. We've had these type of starts before. In three of my four years we've been able to turn it around and do OK. We just have to get better."

UMass had better find itself quickly. This isn't an easy schedule. While Josh Sankes is good, he's certainly no Brendan Haywood and the Minutemen have to deal with him and his North Carolina teammates this month. The Tar Heels are more than a little better than Holy Cross.

Flint likened the game to his team's 63-47 loss to Virginia Tech at the Mullins Center in his first year coaching.

"I thought the most disappointing loss I had in my coaching career was Virginia Tech at home (Jan. 12, 1997), but you know what we did after that - we won 13 out of our next 15. Guys dedicated themselves to getting better every day.

"This is as disappointing as that," he continued. "But the guys in that locker room said, "We're going to get better, we're going to work at it' and that's all we got to do. We have enough players. We have the personnel to be a good team. But we can't panic."

He doesn't think they will.

"This team will win games. This team will be fine," Flint continued. "I'm not worried about that."

Right now he may be the only one who's not.


Holy Cross trounces favored Minutemen
By Eric Soderstrom, The Mass. Daily Collegian Staff, 11/27/2000

WORCESTER - Gut check.

When you shoot 21.6 percent in the second half, get out rebounded by 22, your assumed leader goes 4-for-17 from the field (3-for-11 from behind the three point arc) and your opponent is in the double bonus with 8:09 left in the contest, you're just not going to win Division I basketball games.

And so was the case on Saturday afternoon in the Massachusetts men's basketball team's 78-65 loss to Holy Cross. All that Head Coach James "Bruiser" Flint could do was shake his head as he exited, stage ''what now?'' from the hardwood of Centrum Centre, his team now 1-2.

For UMass, the Centrum is famed for being an upset palace. In 1992 the Minutemen upset Syracuse there to move on to the Elite Eight. In 1996, they knocked off third-ranked Memphis. On Saturday, UMass was joggled for the first time at its accustomed home-away-from-home, breaking the seven-game winning streak strung together by Flint and John Calipari.

"You can't shoot 21 percent to win a game," Flint said. "And I don't think we shot 21 percent when every [shot] was a three-pointer with a guy in our face. We had drives to the basket that we missed. We had lay-ups underneath the basket that we missed. I mean 'what do you do?' "

As a team, the Minutemen shot a mere 32.8 percent from the field for the game, a stat that wasn't too lacking to the Crusaders' 37.5 shooting percentage. In the second half, however, Holy Cross shot a solid 47.6 percent to that of UMass' 8-of-37 (21.6 percent) mistargeting and drained an outstanding 30 free throws (16 consecutive down the stretch) to the Maroon and White's 10.

With 10:48 left in the second half, Holy Cross' Josh Sankes slammed it home to give his team a 45-41 lead. Two minutes later, after Monty Mack front-rimmed a wide-open three-point attempt, Sankes grabbed Ryan Serravalle's 3-point miss and dropped the ball in to extend the Crusader lead to six (48-42). Sankes dictated the middle all day. The 7-foot transfer from Rutgers scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed 17 rebounds (nine offensive). He also added five blocks and went nine-for-14 from the charity stripe.

"Josh Sankes was huge," Holy Cross head coach Ralph Willard said. "People look at him and keep wondering how he does it but he does night in and night out. It was certainly a big game by him tonight."

Sankes, the nation's leading returning rebounder, recorded his twenty-third double-double in 31 games for Holy Cross while helping his squad win its second game in a row to move to 2-1 on the season.

"Sankes doesn't move to get rebounds," Flint said. "He just sticks you underneath the basket - keeps balls alive. [He's] a big kid. But my concern is that we're not boxing out. We're underneath - we're not boxing out."

That put-back by the senior was followed up by two free throws from Jared Curry to put the Purple and White up eight. For the next six minutes, the teams traded baskets and free throws - UMass unable to create any form of potent attack.

It was a frustrating second half for the Minutemen. With 8:09 left, UMass committed its tenth foul, subsequently giving Holy Cross two chances at the line for each violation from there on in. This, combined with the fact that it seemed like the Maroon and White was shooting at a hoop similar to the one you'll find at a traveling carnival, would halt any UMass attempt to compete in transition.

"I thought we did a great job defensively in this basketball game," Willard said. "We knew that they had some really good offensive weapons - especially at the guard spots, and I thought we did a great job of shutting down their transition game in the second half."

Big contributers to the UMass meltdown were guards Juan Pegues (13 points) and Jave Meade (10 points). Both stood solid at the line, hitting a combined 13-for-15. Meade, who went a perfect 6-for-6 from the stripe was also the key defender in holding Mack to only 13 points on four of 17 shooting. Mack and the Minutemen were held to just six points in the first 10:25 of the second stanza.

"We went over so much in practice that when it came to the game, we saw that they didn't even change their plays," Meade said. "So [Mack] was running right into us and we were just staying on him."

"[Monty] didn't think he played well against Marquette," Flint said. "I told him after the game, 'you're not going to make that up. Just take your time. We'll be O.K. You're not going to win 30 games in one day. You don't have to win these games by yourself. Let us win the game together.' He's just pressing a little bit."

Besides Sankes - Pegues, Patrick Whearty and Tim Szatko (13 points) also helped control the paint for the Purple and White, combining for 23 boards including nine offensive. As a team, the Crusaders grabbed more rebounds on their offensive end (20) than UMass did on the defensive (19). Holy Cross pulled down 52 total rebounds.

"In the second half, we knew we had to step it up," Sankes said. "And I knew I had to step it up myself so once we got the lead and we got it going there was a point in the game where I just knew we were going to win. The pressure started building on UMass and I could tell they were done."

At the start of the game - just over five minutes into the first half, Mack popped out from the right side and drilled a three from the corner to give UMass the early 10-7 advantage. Forty-two seconds later freshman Willie Jenkins sank a wide-open jumper from behind the arc to put the Minutemen up six. However, with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first stanza, Sankes powered in for two and Curry drained a trey to tie the game up at 17.

UMass' Jonathan Depina provided a key spark with his entrance in the first half twice driving the full length of the court for power lay-ins and with 2:52 remaining, stripping Sankes of an inbound pass and drilling a pull-up jumper on the other end to give his Minutemen the 30-24 lead. A Jenkins trey, a Shannon Crooks lay-up and a Jackie Rogers free throw later, UMass jogged into its locker room with a 36-28 halftime lead - a lead they would lose at 13:11 of the second half on a Pegues put-back.

"I told our guys before the game that UMass is where we want to be," Willard said. "Holy Cross used to be there. We want to get there again and we want to get to a level where can go compete against anyone in the country. We're certainly not there yet but we're making strides and I told them before the game that I expected us to win this basketball game.

"I was a little angry at halftime with them - but they responded. We shut down the transition game in the second half and I think that was the key."

UMass couldn't even buy a basket. Just 19 of its 58 attempts fell through while converting on only six of 20 three-point tries. The Maroon and White's 16 turnovers weren't the killer. It was the slow pace that Holy Cross forced the Minutemen to play in. UMass just could not put together a successful run.

"Carry over - I've been harping about that all week," Flint said. "We have to carry over the things we do in practice to the games. That's the bottom line. We just have to keep working at it, working at it, working at it. Repetition is the greatest teacher."

"We just have to keep getting after it in practice," Crooks agreed. "I think if we get down on ourselves we'll be doing ourselves an injustice because we come to play hard - we just have to carry over."

Kitwana Rhymer scored 10 points and pulled down four rebounds for the Minutemen. Rogers, Crooks and Depina added nine each for the struggling squad.

"I don't want guys thinking that 'oh, we're 1-2 now, the season is over,' " Flint said. "We just need to get better - we have to understand what each guy needs to do to get better everyday at practice. This team will win games. This team will be fine. We can't panic and let people start saying, 'oh that's it. It's over.' "


Video clips
©2000 UMassHoops.com

All clips in MPEG format.
Video clip Micah Brand hits the turnaround jumper. (file size = 120k)
Video clip Jonathan DePina knocks down the outside shot. (120k)
Video clip Little Jon DePina sneaks his way through the lane for 2. (120k)
Video clip Willie Jenkins knocks down the open 3. (160k)
Video clip Kit Rhymer puts back the Shannon Crooks miss. (160k)
Video clip Kit Rhymer uses the body to draw the whistle. (128k)
Video clip Kit Rhymer cleans up his own garbage. (192k)
Video clip Bruiser can't believe what Jackie Rogers gets called for. (240k)
Video clip Jackie Rogers pays the price for going inside. (120k)


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Massachusetts Minutemen 65
Holy Cross Crusaders 78
at the Worcester Centrum

MASSACHUSETTS (65)
                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Rogers          31   3-8   3-6   2-5  0  4    9
Smith            6   0-1   1-2   1-1  1  3    1
Rhymer          20   4-6   2-3   2-4  1  4   10
Mack            31  4-17   2-2   2-4  1  4   13
Crooks          33  1-10   7-8   1-4  3  5    9
Depina          34   4-9   0-0   2-3  3  4    9
Blizzard         1   0-1   1-2   0-0  0  1    1
Jenkins         16   2-3   0-0   0-0  1  1    6
Williams        17   0-0   2-4   1-4  0  3    2
Brand           11   1-3   3-4   0-3  0  4    5
_______________________________________________
TOTALS         200 19-58 21-31 11-28 10 33   65
_______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.328, FT-.677. 3-Point Goals:
6-20, .300 (Mack 3-11, Crooks 0-3, Depina 1-2,
Blizzard 0-1, Jenkins 2-3). Team rebounds: 2.
Blocked shots: 6 (Rhymer 4, Williams, Brand).
Turnovers: 16 (Mack 4, Rhymer 3, Rogers 3,
Williams 2, Brand, Crooks, Depina, Smith).
Steals: 7 (Depina 3, Mack 2, Smith, Williams).

HOLY CROSS (78)
                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Pegues          27   3-6   7-9   3-8  3  4   13
Whearty         20   1-5   0-2   4-5  2  5    2
J Sankes        37  8-17  9-14  9-17  0  3   25
Serravalle      28   1-5   6-6   0-4  4  3    8
Curry           37   2-8   2-2   0-3  3  2    7
Wilson           4   0-1   0-0   0-0  0  2    0
Meade           20   2-5   6-6   0-0  1  0   10
G Sanchez        4   0-0   0-0   0-1  1  1    0
Mckeever         1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Szatko          22   4-9   5-6  2-10  1  4   13
_______________________________________________
TOTALS         200 21-56 35-45 18-48 15 24   78
_______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.375, FT-.778. 3-Point Goals:
1-9, .111 (Serravalle 0-3, Curry 1-5, Szatko
0-1). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 6 (J
Sankes 5, Pegues). Turnovers: 20 (Szatko 5, J
Sankes 4, G Sanchez 2, Meade 2, Serravalle 2,
Whearty 2, Curry, Pegues, Wilson). Steals: 6
(Serravalle 2, Curry, G Sanchez, Meade, Pegues).
__________________________________
Massachusetts      36   29  -   65
Holy Cross         28   50  -   78
__________________________________
Technical fouls: None.  A: 3,821. Officials: Rich
Sanfillipo, Jack Sweeney, Joe Lindsay.

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