OSTON — A good men's basketball team receives help from many sources, especially when the stars are slumping.
Micah Brand puts his game face on.
The six-game losing streak, the Minutemen's longest in 14 years, is finally over. The win at Walter Brown Arena left UMass with a 2-6 record but perhaps more importantly, its first reason to smile in nearly a month.
"It's definitely nice to get back in the winner's circle, and I think the key was persevering and staying positive," Blizzard said. "Since I've been 14 years old, I've thought of playing for UMass. I used to dream about what I'd say to guys like Monty Mack in the locker room. This was an opportunity to do something to help."
He helped UMass feel both confidence and relief — finally.
"Me, I smile all the time, because you've got to grin and bear it," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint, who looked up at the 6-foot-8 Blizzard and gave the junior an especially firm handshake after the final horn. "But I was just happy to see players with smiles on their faces. I think this game just relaxes everybody."
Blizzard tied a career high in points, and until last night, he'd never had more than six rebounds or two blocked shots in a game. He had played only 24 minutes in the first seven games — one fewer than last night's career high.
But his inspired play off the bench helped UMass take a 30-19 halftime lead against Boston University (5-3), even as Monty Mack's shooting slump continued with an 0-for-5 half.
Mack, who shot 0 for 9 against Connecticut Tuesday, finished with seven points on 2-for-8 shooting against BU. Kitwana Rhymer scored 10 points, and Jonathan DePina — playing his last game in his Boston hometown — scored nine.
Blizzard played aggressively in mopup time against Connecitcut, providing a touch of momentum before last night.
"That's always a personal and emotional game for me, because I'm from Waterbury," Blizzard said. "I didn't want to quit, on the team or on the coaches."
"He's been doing all right, I told him his chance would come, and the other players tell me what a positive influence he's been," Flint said. "I'm kind of hard on him.
"I was a little afraid of BU's big guys, because they like to step out and shoot from the perimeter, so I knew I'd need Blizz to guard them," Flint said. "And he did a good job.
Blizzard's importance was heightened with Jackie Rogers sitting out with a foot infection.
"I wanted this game for the two Jacks, Rogers and Leaman," Blizzard said. UMass radio man and former coach Jack Leaman, a BU grad, was honored at halftime.
Blizzard's seven blocks were the ninth-highest single-game total by one player in UMass history. He had recorded only 18 career blocks prior to last night.
Mack doesn't know why his shot is off, but he says he's going to keep shooting until it starts going in. He was hoping to take extra shooting before last night's game, but when the UMass bus was rerouted in Boston traffic, the team was delayed and he couldn't.
"My ankle (injured in preseason) isn't bothering me, my shooting is," Mack said. "The first one that went in tonight felt like all the rest, except it went in. The ball has been feeling good leaving my hand, but it's just coming up short."
"Monty has had good looks," Flint said. "He'll come around."
Matt Turner scored 12 points for BU, but UMass held Paul Seymour, who was averaging 16.9 points per game, to seven on 3-of-10 shooting.
OSTON — It's been more than 41 years since Jack Leaman graduated from Boston University, but his old alma mater hasn't forgotten him.
Kit Rhymer backs up Shannon Crooks on the loose ball battle.
"Sometimes it seems like 41 years, but not right now," Leaman said. "I have such great memories from here. I met my wife (Rita) here, for one thing."
"And we had a unique group of guys," he said. "We were coached by Matt Zunic (who later coached at UMass), and I like to say we came within five points of winning the national championship, before Jerry West's team beat us."
Leaman, a Cambridge native, was a co-captain and co-MVP of the 1958 Terriers who went to the NCAA Eastern final, where they lost 86-82 to West Virginia, led by West. Leaman scored 14 points per game that year, then went on to coach such UMass stars as Julius Erving, Rick Pitino and Al Skinner.
UMass was without junior forward Jackie Rogers, who sat out with an infection in his right foot. The Minutemen hope the 6-foot-8 junior college transfer will be ready for Sunday's home game against Boston College.
Last night marked the first Boston University basketball game at Walter Brown Arena since a 1997 loss to Alabama. The Terriers, whose 5-2 start was their best under seventh-year coach Dennis Wolff, generally play in smaller Case Gym, but expected an unusually large turnout for the UMass game.
Last night's opening tip was delayed 15 minutes after the UMass team bus was caught up in traffic.
t wasn't the sort of win that later sent Bruiser Flint deep into the box score in search of clues.
The UMass coach didn't have a particular play in mind, or a great stop, or a run.
|TotalCast game stats|
``I was just happy to see guys with smiles on their faces,'' Flint said of a win that halted the Minutemen's six-game losing streak and nudged their record up to 2-6.
``I think this relaxes everyone,'' he said. ``They saw some positives tonight. They saw a guy like Blizz (Ronnell Blizzard) out there with all of his positive energy, having a positive effect.''
The little-used senior forward played in place of Jackie Rogers, who missed the game with an infected right foot, and responded with nine points on 4-of-9 shooting, 14 rebounds and seven blocks - all career highs.
``All I've been hoping for is the opportunity to play,'' Blizzard said. ``I try not to talk to the coach about it, especially when we're not playing well.''
That said, Flint obviously saw the need for fresh blood on a night when senior captain Monty Mack was again firing blanks.
Indeed, the top gun on each side - Mack and BU's Paul Seymour - managed only seven points each, Mack on 2-for-8 shooting that brought him to 2-for-17 over the last two games, and Seymour on 3-for-10 shooting.
There was clearly room for someone to move.
``I told (Blizzard) that his time would come,'' Flint said. ``And this was a good game for him, because I was a little worried about their big guys and the way they could drift out to the perimeter. We needed a big guy who could get out there on them. ``The guys see Blizz in practice, and to be honest, I'm kind of hard on him,'' Flint said. ``The one thing I tell them to do is dwell on the known, not the unknown, and we've had some guys dwelling on the unknown.''
Not last night, though. Not with that miserable streak broken, and Boston College (6-0) coming to Amherst on Sunday.
``It feels good, because I think we continued to have a positive attitude throughout this,'' Blizzard said. ``After the game we were able to say that things may seem kind of bad now, but we were able to see that positive attitude work.''
Indeed, the rest of the UMass frontcourt followed suit in a big way against the smaller Terriers.
Kitwana Rhymer, in one of his best performances of the early season, shot 5-for-7 from the floor for 10 points. In all, five Minutemen had nine or more points, and the Minutemen outrebounded their opponent for the second straight game.
Defensively, after locking up the Terriers on 30 percent shooting in the first half, the Minutemen held their opponents to 36 percent from the floor overall.
And after taking a 30-19 halftime lead that was as much due to Blizzard's solid work as anything else, the Minutemen produced a first for the season by putting the Terriers away with two runs - a 6-0 burst early in the second half and an 11-2 run that gave UMass a 50-32 edge with 12:35 left.
The Terriers (5-3) would never threaten, and the Minutemen would latch on to some particularly elusive confidence.
``All old coaches say you need games like this so that guys can get confidence in themselves,'' Flint said of the 16-point winning margin.
``We haven't had any games like this. I'm just happy that the guys stepped up.''
OSTON - Boston University proved to be just what the doctor ordered for the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team. The Minutemen took out a season's worth of frustrations on their in-state rivals Thursday, beating the Terriers 68-52 at Walter Brown Arena.
The win ended UMass' six-game losing streak. The Minutemen will try to win two straight Sunday when they play Boston College at 4 p.m. at the Mullins Center.
"I was just glad to see guys with smiles on their faces after the game," said coach Bruiser Flint, who was wearing one himself. "I'm just happy the guys stepped up and played hard. I think this relaxes everybody so guys aren't going around with knots in their stomach. We just have to keep going. We can learn from this win and get ready for BC on Sunday."
Senior guard Monty Mack agreed.
'It feels good to get a win out there,' he said. "It gives a lot of people confidence."
UMass (2-6) got an inspired performance from Ronell Blizzard, who produced a collection of career highs with nine points, 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots.
"It was fun being out there and being part of a win," Blizzard said. "I think the key tonight was being positive and persevering."
In a statistical oddity, Kitwana Rhymer was the Minutemen's only double-digit scorer, leading the team with just 10 points. The balanced UMass offense produced eight players with six or more points.
Matt Turner was the high scorer for BU with 12 points. Billy Collins had 11.
Mack's shooting struggles continued. After going 0-for-9 from the field against Connecticut, the senior guard planned to arrive at Walter Brown Arena early for extra shooting, but a closed road forced the Minuteman bus to detour all the way to Cambridge, making the team late.
In the spirit of fairness, BU pushed the game's start time back 15 minutes, enough time for the team to warm up sufficiently but not for Mack to get in some extra practice.
He missed all five shots he took in the first half, including one airball.
"My shooting is bothering me," Mack admitted. "It feels good leaving my hand, but it's been short. I just have to put some extra time in the gym that's all. I just have to keep shooting the ball."
The Minutemen started slowly on offense under Brown Arena's poor lighting, which is more designed for ice hockey and reflecting off the ice. Neither team found the range, as the Terriers led 8-6 with 12:12 to play until intermission.
A Blizzard layup tied the game at 8-8 and launched the Minutemen on an 8-0 run, their longest of the season to that point, to put them ahead, 14-8.
UMass never looked back, pushing the advantage to 11 at halftime.
Mack found the range in the second half. With the Minutemen leading 38-30, 4:34 into the second half, he bulls-eyed a 3-pointer from the corner in front of the UMass bench.
The basket produced a brief smile from Mack and jump-started a 12-2 Minuteman run. Mack drained a tough leaner in the lane during that stretch and finished with seven points.
UMass expanded its lead throughout the second half, which peaked at 67-43 with 4:12 remaining. BU finished the game on a 9-1 run against the Minuteman reserves, who saw action for the second straight game.
OSTON - After Thursday's 68-52 win over Boston University, University of Massachusetts junior forward Ronell Blizzard said all he'd been looking for was an opportunity to help.
With backup power forward Jackie Rogers sidelined with an infection in his foot, Blizzard got his chance.
Blizzard was impressive inside, using his slender 6-foot-8 frame to wriggle through for rebounds and put-backs all game long. His 14 boards were the most by a UMass player since Kitwana Rhymer grabbed 16 against George Washington last season.
Even in times when he's struggled over his career, Blizzard has shown great natural shot-blocking instincts. In a career-high 25 minutes, he turned back seven Terriers shots, the ninth-best single-game total for a Minuteman. Only Marcus Camby (six games with more than seven), Harper Williams and Will Herndon rejected more in a single game.
After the game, Blizzard preferred to talk about the team's success rather than his own.
"It feels real good because we've continued to have a positive attitude. It's good to see it finally paid off," he said. "This was a confidence builder. If we play hard and follow the coaches' instructions, we're going to win. That's all I've been hoping for is a chance to help us win."
Blizzard was one of several UMass players praised for their effort by UMass coach Bruiser Flint at the end of his team's 82-67 loss to Connecticut this week. Flint said the effort carried over to Thursday's win.
"I told him his time was going to come, Flint said of Blizzard. "He's been waiting for it. He did a great job. Seven blocked shots, 14 boards."
Flint said Blizzard has helped the team remain upbeat despite seeing spotty action over the first seven games, and despite the team's six-game losing streak.
"The team talked about how much of a positive influence Blizz has had on the team," Flint said. "I'm kind of hard on him, to be honest with you. But he's been in the locker room saying we have to keep our heads up. I was happy for him tonight."
SLOW JOURNEY - Monty Mack's scoring slump has slowed his quest for 2,000 career points. His seven Thursday gave him 1,723, leaving him eight behind Lorenzo Sutton, who is No. 3 on UMass' career scoring list. Mack needs to average 14.6 points per game to break the mark during the regular season.
NO SKATES REQUIRED: The game marked the first time in just over three years that the Terriers have played basketball in Walter Brown Arena, their ice hockey home. They fell, 61-53, to Alabama on Dec. 6, 1997.
The move turned out to be unnecessary, as the 1,735 fans in attendance would have fit in the 1,800 seat Case Center, the Terriers' normal home gym.
LITTLE JACKIE: Former UMass coach Jack Leaman was honored at halftime.
Leaman, who was called "Little Jackie Leaman" in those days, was the MVP of the BU team that went to the Elite Eight of the 1958-59 NCAA Tournament. Leaman led the team with 14.0 points per game. The Terriers just missed the Final Four that year as they were nipped, 86-82, by a Jerry West-led West Virginia team.
Boston University was coached by Matt Zunic that year. After that season Zunic left to become the head coach at UMass and took Leaman with him as an assistant.
BASKETBALL EAST: The Minutemen are now 1-1 in the Hockey East portion of their schedule. They play Boston College, another Hockey East team, Sunday at the Mullins Center.
MISCELLANEOUS: BU's Billy Collins was the third former Rutgers player UMass has played this season. Iona point guard Earl Johnson and Holy Cross center Josh Sankes also are former Scarlet Knights ... The UMass women's coaches brought their male counterparts some good luck as Joanie O'Brien and her assistant coaches, Jill Rooney and Jackie Moore, drove from Amherst to cheer on the Minutemen.
|Boston University Terriers||52|
|at BU - Walter Brown Arena|
MASSACHUSETTS (68) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Mack 27 2-8 2-2 1-2 1 1 7 Smith 25 3-6 0-0 1-2 1 0 8 Crooks 29 2-7 5-7 1-3 2 2 9 Rhymer 18 5-7 0-0 1-3 0 3 10 Brand 23 2-5 2-3 2-6 0 1 6 Depina 27 2-10 4-4 1-3 3 0 9 Blizzard 25 4-9 0-0 6-14 0 3 9 Jenkins 9 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 2 3 Williams 14 0-1 7-10 0-3 0 3 7 Pugh 3 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 21-54 20-26 13-36 7 15 68 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.389, FT-.769. 3-Point Goals: 6-22, .273 (Mack 1-5, Smith 2-4, Crooks 0-2, Depina 1-6, Blizzard 1-4, Jenkins 1-1). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 9 (Blizzard 7, Rhymer 2). Turnovers: 10 (Rhymer 3, Blizzard 2, Crooks 2, Brand, Pugh, Smith). Steals: 8 (Smith 4, Depina 2, Mack, Rhymer). BOSTON U (52) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Fitzgerald 25 2-2 0-0 0-2 1 2 5 Seymour 30 3-10 0-0 0-3 1 1 7 Dhondt 24 0-4 0-0 3-6 0 2 0 Turner 29 4-10 2-2 0-3 2 2 12 Butt 22 3-8 0-0 4-9 0 4 6 Breland 12 0-3 0-0 0-1 3 4 0 Graham 11 1-2 0-0 1-1 0 3 2 Michalek 2 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Kudlacz 3 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 0 0 Grochowalski 20 3-8 1-2 1-3 0 4 9 Collins 20 4-8 3-5 2-4 0 0 11 Rodriguez 2 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 20-56 6-10 11-32 7 22 52 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.357, FT-.600. 3-Point Goals: 6-19, .316 (Fitzgerald 1-1, Seymour 1-5, Dhondt 0-2, Turner 2-5, Butt 0-2, Breland 0-2, Grochowalski 2-2). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 1 (Turner). Turnovers: 18 (Butt 4, Fitzgerald 4, Seymour 3, Breland, Collins, Dhondt, Graham, Grochowalski, Kudlacz, Turner). Steals: 3 (Breland, Dhondt, Michalek). __________________________________ Massachusetts 30 38 - 68 Boston U 19 33 - 52 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. Officials: John Hughes, Joe Demayo, Raymond Perone.