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UMass not good enough: Minutemen lose to OSU
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 1/10/2002

AMHERST - They are good enough to come back and fall just short. They are good enough, when the head coach gets steamed enough to bench his starters, for the reserves to come in and play with passion.

But UMass, in falling to 6-6 with last night's 70-62 loss at the Mullins Center to nonconference opponent Ohio State, is playing like half a team at the moment. The Minutemen generally get the job done defensively, but are getting nowhere near enough offense.

Perhaps coach Steve Lappas should invest in a hard hat. Lappas' work in progress may be of Big Dig proportions, especially if any postseason flames still burn within his team.

``That Saint Joseph's game was the worst of the season,'' forward Micah Brand said of last Saturday's 63-38 loss, a loss that magnified everything that ails the Minutemen. ``That gave us a whole game film of things you cannot do. But I thought we did a lot of things (against Ohio State) that we had done early in the season, and we have to continue to work on those things.''

Shannon Crooks goes in strong for the bucket.
The loss to the 11-2 Buckeyes wasted a positively willful 22-point performance from Shannon Crooks - the only regular starter to start.

Lappas held to a promise to shake up his lineup. And though he eventually worked the uneven Brand back into the lineup, center Kitwana Rhymer continued to log more time on the pine than on the court. The center remained on the bench down the stretch and finished with just two points, off a dunk, for his only basket during the team's current three-game slide.

Instead, normal backup Eric Williams started, drained a 3-pointer, and finished with seven points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes. Rhymer played 14 minutes.

Lappas, who said he opted for Williams' offensive capabilities down the stretch, went with a late-game lineup of Crooks, point guards Anthony Anderson and Kyle Wilson, Brand and Williams against Ohio State's seasoned perimeter-oriented attack that included a 19-point effort (5-for-10 shooting) from swingman Boban Savovic. The Serb hit two huge treys for a 51-33 lead midway through the second half.

Crooks scored 14 points over the last 7:45, including a runner followed by a baseline drive that cut the Ohio State lead to 64-57 with 1:20 left. A Brand 3-pointer cut the edge to 65-60 with a minute left.

When Willie Jenkins disrupted the ensuing inbounds play and forced a turnover, the Minutemen appeared to have hope. But Williams, apparently forgetting that he could catch the inbounds pass in the backcourt, attempted a leaping save of a ball that ended up in Ohio State hands.

The Buckeyes, despite shooting 7-for-16 from the free throw line in the final two minutes, managed to salt away the victory.

Starters take a seat
UMass Notebook
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 1/10/2002

AMHERST - Say this much about the bench. It can instill a tremendous amount of anxiety - a feeling that four demoted UMass starters vividly experienced during last night's 70-62 loss to Ohio State.

Micah Brand, Kitwana Rhymer, Anthony Anderson and Raheim Lamb all came off the bench. Rhymer also started the second half on the bench, played only four of his 14 minutes in that stretch, and sat out the last eight minutes.

Sean Connolly keeps watch on Willie Jenkins.
Though UMass coach Steve Lappas believes that the bench may have taught a valuable lesson to his underachievers last night following an embarrassing loss to Saint Joseph's last Saturday, it appears that Rhymer may need some extra help under the coach's new offensive system.

The senior center, after exploding over the first month of the season, has scored two points - courtesy of a dunk last night - in his last three games.

``I felt that we needed points when we got down, and Eric Williams was capable of making points for us,'' Lappas said of his stretch-run reasoning.

As for his starting lineup, the juggling may not be over.

``I changed what I had for a starting lineup three times in the last three days,'' said Lappas. ``I couldn't tell you right now what it will be (for the next game). But it's almost like this is a starting point for us right now.''

Freebies nearly prove costly

Beyond its inside game, Ohio State's main weakness appears to come from the free throw line - a harsh reality for a team that is sure to face a lot of tight results this season. The Buckeyes shot 7-of-16 from the line in the last two minutes last night, in addition to 22-of-34 overall.

``We shot free throws terrible,'' said Boban Savovic. ``If we shoot a decent percentage, (UMass) would not have been in it. We won the game but feel like we lost. We have to stay in practice and shoot more free throws.''

A bump in the road

Peabody native and former Bishop Fenwick star Sean Connolly is off to a wonderful start in his second season with the Buckeyes. But he hit a bit of a pothole last night with two points on two free throws and 0-3 shooting in 18 minutes. He also had five rebounds.

Shakeup not enough for UMass
By Mark Blaudschun, The Boston Globe Staff, 1/10/2002

AMHERST - The message that University of Massachusetts coach Steve Lappas sent to his team and to the crowd at the Mullins Center was hardly a subtle one.

Something had to change. And change quickly. With five losses in their last seven games, including Saturday's embarrassing 63-38 setback to St. Joseph's, Lappas knew he had to find a way to make the Minutemen far more competitive.

The vehicle Lappas chose to ignite the change was not new. He benched four starters - Micah Brand, Raheim Lamb, Kitwana Rhymer, and Anthony Anderson. Only guard Shannon Crooks started in last night's nonconference game against Ohio State.

The fact the benchings were as much symbolic as substantive mattered little to the Minutemen, who played with more passion and enthusiasm against the Buckeyes.

And although the Minutemen, who trailed by as much as 18 points in the second half, closed to within 6 in the final minute, the end result was the same: A 70-62 Ohio State victory that left UMass at .500 as the Atlantic 10 season resumes Saturday at Fordham.

Emotions and strategies aside, the game eventually returned to form. Ohio State (11-2) came into last night's game with four consecutive wins, including triumphs in its first two Big Ten games.

The Buckeyes, who were not on the radar screen among the Big Ten leaders in the preseason, played with a combination of poise and patience. They jumped out to a 28-18 halftime lead in a game that looked strikingly similar to UMass's performance againt St. Joe's, at least offensively.

The Minutemen (6-6) were sharper in the second half but woeful in the first, making only 8 of 29 shots in the first 20 minutes.

Ohio State was not much better, making only 11 of its shots, which prompted a response from coach Jim O'Brien.

''Isn't this is a gem?'' he said with a smile and a shake of his head as he came out of the locker room at halftime.

O'Brien was not pleased with the overall effort of his team. ''We didn't play very well,'' he said. ''We were very, very lucky to win this game.''

For O'Brien, the game marked a milestone of sorts. It was the first time the former Boston College coach returned to Massachusetts professionally since leaving the Heights five years ago.

Behind the Ohio State bench, several of O'Brien's friends and relatives made the trek from Boston to Amherst to see his return.

''How's Bledsoe doing? You know my heart's never too far away from Boston,'' said O'Brien.

For Lappas, it was another evening of frustration. ''We've tried everythig we can,'' said Lappas, shrugging his shoulders. ''Changing lineups, pressing, pushing the ball upcourt. I don't think it can get any worse.''

Crooks, who scored a game-high and season-high 22 points, also hoped the worst was behind the Minutemen.

''It's measurably better than it was,'' said Crooks. ''We took a big step in the right direction.''

Lappas, however, doesn't quite know which direction the Minutemen are heading.

''We're back to square one,'' said Lappas. ''So we go from here and see what we can do.''

Buckeyes steer clear of roadblock at UMass
By Bob Baptist, The Columbus Dispatch Sports Reporter, 1/10/2002

AMHERST, Mass. -- The best thing that can be said about this one is that when -- or if -- the NCAA Tournament committee looks at Ohio State's performance sheet, free- throw percentage won't be on there.

Just wins, baby. Just wins.

"We just came here to win,'' guard Brent Darby said last night. "It was a tough win, but we came out with it.''

The Buckeyes, starved for more than a year for a road win outside the Big Ten, managed to hold on and beat Massachusetts 70-62 in the Mullins Center. They built an 18- point lead with 11:15 left, then saw it dwindle to five in the final minute as they strained what they've acknowledged all along is their Achilles' heel this season: free throws.

Ahead by 13 points with less than four minutes left, the Buckeyes were not permitted another field-goal attempt by UMass, which fouled them instead. They made only 9 of 18 free throws, turned it over on five other possessions against a trapping, full-court press and were fortunate that the Minutemen themselves missed four shots and had a turnover in the last minute.

"I shudder to think if there was more time left in this game,'' Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien said. "They backed us up, we were playing on our heels and they were clearly the aggressors. They just ran out of time.

"But the point we can't overlook is, we won a game on the road. We're in a stretch now where we're playing three of four games on the road, the one game on the road was against (then-No. 9) Iowa, and out of the first three we've won all three. So who should be happier than me right now?''

Connolly draws the double-team of Crooks and Jenkins.
Ohio State (11-2) won its fifth game in a row and its first on the road against a nonconference team since it beat Florida State in its first game of the Great Alaska Shootout last season. Since then, the Buckeyes had lost to Syracuse and Valparaiso, also in Alaska, at Alabama, to Utah State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and at Louisville last month.

Boban Savovic scored 19 points, Brian Brown 17 and Brent Darby 13 as the Buckeyes' three experienced guards weathered a tough game in which the officials winked at most hand checks and forearms. Massachusetts native Sean Connolly enjoyed the win but not his play, finishing with two points and four turnovers.

Guard Shannon Crooks led all scorers with 22 points for UMass (6-6), but 6-foot-11 Micah Brand with 15 was his only teammate in double figures. The Minutemen lost for the sixth time in their last eight games.

"To me, the bottom line was we were playing against perimeter players who are very experienced,'' UMass coach Steve Lappas said. "Our experienced perimeter player, Shannon Crooks, played tremendous, but our other guys are in their first year and they're not ready.

"I thought the kids played hard. We just got beat by a better team, a more experienced team. That's why they're better, because those kids have played a lot of basketball together.''

As happened last year in their first meeting in Value City Arena, both teams played rugged defense and struggled to make shots from the outset. The Buckeyes, who came into the game shooting better than 50 percent from the field, shot only 39.3 in the first half yet managed to led 28-18 by holding the Minutemen to one field goal and three points in the last 9:24.

They turned the heat on at the start of the second half as the teams combined to make 16 of their first 26 shots. But the Buckeyes had the better of the stretch, and when Savovic caught the Minutemen in a zone defense on consecutive possessions, he made them pay with back-to-back treys from the left corner that gave Ohio State a 51-33 lead with 11:15 left.

The Buckeyes were still up 17 with six minutes left and 13 with 3 1/2 to go. Then the game turned into a free-throw contest, and Ohio State has yet to show it's going to win many of those.

"Coach came in the locker room and said, 'Guys, way to hang in there. It's just another W,' '' Savovic said. "But I think he felt a little bit bad, too. We should have won this by a lot of points.''

Then again, the tournament committee doesn't look at margin of victory, either.

Glimmer of offense, despite loss
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 1/10/2002

AMHERST - A rebound from the scoring drought the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team endured in its previous game might have been demanded, rather than merely expected, by its fans.

Raheim Lamb didn't seem to respond to sitting at the start, only taking two shots in 16 minutes of action.
Demand met, halfway anyway. An inspired second half wasn't enough to undo the doldrums of their first 20 minutes of play, but the Minutemen may have reclaimed their offense during a 70-62 loss to Ohio State Wednesday night before a crowd of 5,083 at the Mullins Center.

"We did a lot of things in this game that we did earlier in the season that got us the wins," said forward Micah Brand, whose 3-pointer with 59 seconds left in the game brought UMass to its closest point in 22 minutes of play, at 65-60.

The Minutemen (6-6), who slogged through a 53-year-low 38 points against St. Joseph's last Saturday at home, were in the beginning stages of a reprisal against the Buckeyes (11-2), who have won five straight games. Butting up against a tough Buckeye man-to-man defense, UMass couldn't remove the lid from the hoop, shooting 27.6 percent, and just 4-of-13 in the paint. They managed 18 by the break, one point better than the season low set Saturday, and trailed by 10.

Using a half-court trapping defense that would later evolve into full-court pressure out of necessity, UMass (6-6) established a much quicker tempo in the second half. But Ohio State - which revolves around three veteran guards in junior Brent Darby (13 points) and seniors Boban Savovic (19) and Brian Brown (17) - took advantage early in the period, getting easy baskets to maintain its lead. That lead expanded to a game-high 18 points after Savovic hit his second straight three from the same spot in the corner with 11:12 to play.

But UMass was desperate for an offensive facelift in the second half, and the quicker tempo helped get it. Shannon Crooks scored 18 of his season- and game-high 22 points in the half, and Brand added 10 of his 15, as UMass outscored Ohio State 44-42 in the period.

"The trapping, I liked it tonight," said UMass coach Steve Lappas. "... I don't know if we're going to go full-court too much, but I think that half-court stuff is good for us. Maybe it'll help us get going a little bit."

Losing 63-52 with under two minutes to play, UMass began the fouling game, and it worked. Ohio State made just 4-of-10 foul shots while only a minute of playing time elapsed in an 8-2 UMass spurt, which was capped by Brand's crowd-lifting 3-pointer.

The Minutemen then trapped Darby near the baseline and forced a turnover off his body and out of bounds. But on Anthony Anderson's inbounds pass, Eric Williams unnecessarily leaped and "saved" the ball from crossing the halfcourt line, turning it over to the Buckeyes. Ohio State hit four of its next six foul shots, increasing its lead to 69-60 while Kyle Wilson and Jameel Pugh missed consecutive 3-point attempts, ending the threat.

"We are very fortunate to have won this game," Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien said. O'Brien was making his first coaching appearance in Massachusetts since leaving Boston College in 1997.

"But the bottom line is when you win away from home, it's always a good thing and never an easy thing. But you have to give UMass a lot of credit. I think they responded to their coach's challenge, and I think that they played scrappy and they played hard."

In response to UMass' recent struggles, Lappas employed four new starters - Ronell Blizzard, Willie Jenkins, Williams and Wilson - alongside Crooks. The Minutemen lost their third straight game and sixth of eight, but Lappas was pleased with his team's perseverance.

"I thought we gave a great effort and didn't get frustrated tonight," Lappas said. "They probably were afraid to be frustrated, after what I did to them the last few days. We gave everything we had. We just weren't good enough."

Rhymer spends time on bench
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 1/10/2002

AMHERST - For a moment, it looked like senior center Kitwana Rhymer was about to snap out of his recent scoring struggles.

This was what UMass fans saw of Kit Rhymer most of the night.
He caught the ball on the baseline, took two hard steps and slammed home a two-handed dunk that gave the University of Massachusetts a 10-9 lead with 13 minutes to go in the first half.

Rhymer, who hadn't scored in the last two games, drew a warm hand from a forgiving crowd.

But it was the only basket he scored all game.

UMass coach Steve Lappas shook up his starting lineup before the game, benching four of his regular starters, including Rhymer.

(Clockwise from top-left) Williams, Blizzard, Jenkins and Wilson got the starting nod.
The starters - Eric Williams, Ronell Blizzard, Willie Jenkins, Kyle Wilson and Shannon Crooks - were sloppy at times. But they hustled and set an energy tone that extended over most of the game.

Once Lappas started inserting his regulars, most played well, inspired by the benching.

But while Rhymer's effort has never been an issue, his production remained absent.

In the second half, with his team well behind, Lappas needed offense and chose to go with Micah Brand and Williams, as Rhymer only played four minutes.

"If he's not in the game you can't blame him for not being productive," Lappas said. "I felt like we needed points. Eric is capable of making a three and making some shots. I went with the offense, which was something I think we have to do."

STARTER STATS: The original lineup marked the fifth different starting unit Lappas has employed this year. He said he was open to continuing the fluctuation.

"I had one starting lineup two days ago and I changed the starting lineup three times in the past two days," Lappas said.

CROOKS MILESTONES: Crooks' 22 points were a season high. He's been UMass' top scorer in seven of 12 games and cracked double-digits 11 times this year and 42 times over the course of his career. He now has 824 points at UMass as he attempts to become the 35th player to score 1,000 or more points as a Minuteman.

KILLINGS TRANSFERS: Lappas announced after the game that sophomore walk-on guard Dwayne Killings of Amherst has transferred to Hampton University in Virginia, where he has received a scholarship (not for basketball) to the school's sports administration program.

Killings went to Hampton his first year in college and did not play basketball, but transferred to UMass last year.

Killings scored three points in his UMass career, all on a long-range shot against Fordham.

NO SOFT SPOT FOR BC: Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien was asked a lot of questions about making his first trip back to Massachusetts as a coach after coaching BC for 10 years.

His departure from the Heights was not amicable following several ideological clashes with administration. Despite being a BC alum, he said he doesn't even check their scores in the paper anymore.

"I look for a lot of other scores before I look for their score," he said. "My second score is the Vanderbilt women. My daughter works there."

O'Brien said he still follows the Boston professional sports teams, but then joked, "How's Bledsoe doing?"

MISCELLANEOUS: Acting Gov. Jane Swift and several legislators were on hand, sitting halfway up in the lower section at mid-court. ... After going 0-12 from 3-point land in his last two games, sophomore Anthony Anderson finally made a long-range shot. The sophomore point guard still struggled offensively with just three points. ... UMass assistant coach Chris Walker missed Wednesday's game and will miss Saturday's contest against Fordham to attend his brother's funeral in Houston.

Video clips

All clips in MPEG format.
Video clip Anthony Anderson hits his only bucket of the night. (file size = 572k)
Video clip Shannon Crooks jukes and jives for two points. (699k)
Video clip Micah Brand hits the 3 to cut the OSU lead to five. (566k)
Video clip Eric Williams puts it back home, but it wasn't enough to close the gap. (634k)

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Ohio State Buckeyes 70
Massachusetts Minutemen 62
at the Mullins Center

Ohio State vs Massachusetts
01/09/02  7:00 p.m. at Amherst, MA(Mullins Center)
VISITORS: Ohio State (11- 2)
                          TOT-FG  3-PT         REBOUNDS
33 WILLIAMS,Zach        f  4-9    0-0    2-4    0  4  4   2  10   0  0  1  0  32
14 RADINOVIC,Velimir    c  0-1    0-0    0-0    1  1  2   3   0   0  2  1  0  19
04 DARBY,Brent          g  4-11   0-1    5-6    0  2  2   0  13   4  2  0  2  33
13 BROWN,Brian          g  6-11   1-1    4-4    0  4  4   3  17   2  3  1  1  32
21 SAVOVIC,Boban        g  5-10   3-6    6-9    2  3  5   2  19   1  2  0  0  30
02 FUSS-CHEATHAM,Brand.    0-1    0-0    1-2    0  3  3   0   1   1  1  0  1   9
03 CONNOLLY,Sean           0-3    0-2    2-4    1  4  5   2   2   1  4  0  0  18
34 DIALS,Terence           3-3    0-0    1-3    2  2  4   2   7   0  0  0  1  17
43 DUDLEY,Will             0-0    0-0    0-0    0  0  0   0   0   0  1  0  0   3
44 MARTIN,Tim              0-0    0-0    1-2    0  0  0   2   1   0  0  0  0   7
TEAM ........................................   4  3  7              1
TOTALS                    22-49   4-10  22-34  10 26 36  16  70   9 16  3  5 200

TOT-FG 1stH: 11-28 39.3% 2ndH: 11-21 52.4% OT: 0-0 00.0% Game: 44.9% Deadbl 3pt-FG 1stH: 2-6 33.3% 2ndH: 2-4 50.0% OT: 0-0 00.0% Game: 40.0% Rebs FThrow 1stH: 4-6 66.7% 2ndH: 18-28 64.3% OT: 0-0 00.0% Game: 64.7% 5, 3

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- HOME TEAM: Massachusetts ( 6- 6) TOT-FG 3-PT REBOUNDS No. N A M E FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN 01 JENKINS,Willie f 2-5 0-2 0-0 2 0 2 0 4 2 1 0 2 17 03 BLIZZARD,Ronell f 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 2 2 4 0 0 1 4 1 14 21 WILLIAMS,Eric c 3-5 1-1 0-0 2 5 7 4 7 0 2 0 0 17 11 WILSON,Kyle g 1-5 1-4 0-0 0 2 2 1 3 4 2 0 0 18 30 CROOKS,Shannon g 8-16 0-2 6-8 2 2 4 4 22 3 3 0 0 36 12 ANDERSON,Anthony 1-4 1-3 0-0 0 1 1 2 3 3 2 1 0 27 24 PUGH,Jameel 1-2 0-1 0-2 0 0 0 1 2 0 2 0 0 7 33 RHYMER,Kitwana 1-3 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 1 2 0 1 0 0 14 34 LAMB,Raheim 1-2 0-0 2-2 1 1 2 5 4 1 1 0 2 16 40 BRAND,Micah 6-18 2-3 1-2 3 6 9 5 15 1 1 3 1 34 TEAM ........................................ 1 2 3 TOTALS 24-61 5-17 9-14 12 22 34 27 62 14 16 8 6 200

TOT-FG 1stH: 8-29 27.6% 2ndH: 16-32 50.0% OT: 0-0 00.0% Game: 39.3% Deadbl 3pt-FG 1stH: 2-6 33.3% 2ndH: 3-11 27.3% OT: 0-0 00.0% Game: 29.4% Rebs FThrow 1stH: 0-1 00.0% 2ndH: 9-13 69.2% OT: 0-0 00.0% Game: 64.3% 1, 2

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- OFFICIALS: Jim Burr, Joe DeMayo, Gene Monje TECHNICAL FOULS: Ohio State - none Massachusetts - none ATTENDANCE: 5,083 SCORE BY PERIODS: 1st 2nd OT1 OT2 OT3 OT4 TOTAL Ohio State 28 42 70 Massachusetts 18 44 62

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