MHERST — For a game that didn't seem too significant when the schedule came out, tonight's University of Massachusetts men's basketball game at Boston University seems weighted with meaning.
Has Jameel Pugh, fresh from a fairly electrifying debut, earned a longer look? Will Monty Mack ever rediscover his shooting touch? And can UMass, which has lost six straight, even consider what life will be like if it loses to BU, an America East team and one of the supposedly two easiest tests on the schedule?
These and other questions will be answered at Case Gym. And having already lost to Holy Cross, the other team that was presumably there for the plucking, UMass (1-6) can hardly take Boston University (5-2, 2-0 America East) lightly.
"We need a winning streak," UMass forward Winston Smith said. "But first, we need one win."
UMass concludes its New England rivalry tour (with the exception of Atlantic 10 opponent Rhode Island) this week. The Minutemen play Boston College at the Mullins Center Sunday, and then are off for 12 days.
Two victories would leave a sense that all is not hopeless. One win would keep the team about where it is. The Minutemen don't even want to think about the third option.
Boston University is led by 6-foot-6 sophomore guard-forward Paul Seymour, last year's America East rookie of the year who is averaging 16.9 points and nine rebounds per game.
The Terriers also feature 6-6 freshman forward Jason Grochowalski, who redshirted after shoulder surgery last year. The son of former Holyoke Catholic High School star John Grochowalski is averaging 10.6 points.
As for UMass, Mack shot 0 for 9 in Tuesday's 82-67 loss to Connecticut, the first time in his collegiate career he's gone a game without a field goal. He's shooting 28.3 percent, and is in danger of joining a fairly sizable list of recent UMass stars (including Edgar Padilla, Lari Ketner and Charlton Clarke) whose peak performances came before their senior seasons.
Mack hasn't been his usual self since missing much of the preseason with a suspension and ankle injury. The injury robbed the Minutemen of two weeks of time to practice with their star player.
For the final eight minutes against UConn, Mack sat while Pugh made his college debut. Freshman Willie Jenkins also saw some action. The young kids are raw, and UMass coach Bruiser Flint is especially nervous about their defense.
But there is no question that in the final minutes, the younger lineup gave life to a virtually lifeless team, and Pugh's confident seven-point, two-dunk performance might have opened the door for more opportunity.
MHERST - Going into the 2000-01 season, Boston University appeared to be one of the University of Massachusetts' easiest nonconference opponents. But then again, so did Holy Cross.
But with a 1-6 record, the Minutemen have no easy opponents as they try to end their six-game winless drought tonight at 7 at Walter Brown Arena.
"If you didn't learn something from Holy Cross, then you don't want to win," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "We're 1-6, we have to get ourselves ready to play. We just need a win to feel better about ourselves.
"I just want them to understand that when we start doing the things we're suppose to do, we'll start winning basketball games," Flint continued. "Stop making boneheaded plays. Start coming up with rebounds and stops when we need to."
It will be the first home game of the season for the Terriers, although it won't be in their regular home gym.
The game was moved from the Case Center to Walter Brown, BU's hockey rink, to gain extra seats for the locally flavored matchup, raising the capacity from 1,800 to 3,684.
Among those significantly responsible for the attendance hike be Minutemen Jonathan DePina, Monty Mack and Shannon Crooks, who all hail from nearby. It will be the last time playing in Boston for Mack and DePina, who won an AAU National Championship with the Boston Amateur Basketball Club and two state championships at South Boston High School.
Mack isn't getting nostalgic about it.
"I'm just going to take it as another game," he said. "I just want to play my game and do what coach wants us to do."
The three will hit up their teammates for their allotment of complimentary tickets, as DePina alone is expecting a friends and family entourage of at least 20.
"It'll be fun because I got all my family coming to the game," DePina said. "Most of them can't get out here and friends that can't get out here will see me play there for the last time."
The Terriers have been relatively successful away from Massachusetts Avenue, checking in at 5-2. They opened the season with three consecutive wins over St. Peter's, Liberty and Quinnipiac, before falling to George Washington and Harvard. But they bounced back and beat America East rivals Northeastern and Maine, the latter coming Tuesday in Orono.
Sophomore forward Paul Seymour has led the Terriers with 16.9 points, while freshman forward Jason Grochowalski has scored 10.6 points off the bench.
"They're one of those teams where all four guys can go out on the perimeter," Flint said. "They're a little small."
The Minutemen will be without junior power forward Jackie Rogers, who was on crutches at Wednesday's practice, due to an infection in his toe.
He will be re-evaluated Friday to determine whether he'll play against Boston College Sunday.
In his absence, junior Ronell Blizzard should see more action.
"Blizz will play," Flint said. "Blizz deserves the opportunity. This isn't bad because he can get out and guard them on the floor."
Flint said freshman forward Jameel Pugh, who saw his first action of the season Tuesday, could play tonight.
"It depends," Flint said. "But I'm a lot more confident to put him in."
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NOTES: Mack needs 16 points to pass Lorenzo Sutton (1,731) and move into third on UMass' career scoring chart ... Pugh's one-handed dunk against the Huskies was featured as part of ESPN's Plays of the Day feature Tuesday night ... Former UMass coach and current color commentator on WHMP/WLZX Jack Leaman will be honored at halftime by BU, a school where he starred as a player.