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Minutemen hope to right ship
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 1/9/2001

UMass coach Steve Lappas made his bewildered Minutemen sit down on Sunday, not even a full day after their brutal 63-38 loss to St. Joseph's, and watch a videotaped replay of the debacle.

They went out and practiced Monday and yesterday, presumably with a resolve to erase the horrible memory of that game. It won't be easy for the Minutemen, who host a surprising Ohio State team tonight (7) at the Mullins Center.

The Buckeyes (10-2) have worked magic thus far despite the loss of Ken Johnson, who finished his college career last spring as the greatest shot blocker in Big Ten history. Their perimeter-oriented attack was still good enough to upset No. 9 Iowa Saturday, leaving them atop the Big Ten with a 2-0 conference record.

And Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien has managed to make the necessary adjustments - particularly on defense - to compensate for the loss of Johnson.

The Minutemen (6-5) would seem to be able to take advantage of Ohio State's developing inside game, though after their last two outings, nothing is certain.

Center Kitwana Rhymer has gone scoreless in that stretch, and forward Micah Brand hasn't been much better. Lappas said he would make some lineup changes against Ohio State, though as of yesterday, he still wasn't sure what they would be.

The truth, of course, is that he simply needs Rhymer and Brand to start playing to their capabilities.

``Micah needs to be much more aggressive on offense, and the same with Kit, especially when it comes to getting on the glass,'' said Lappas.

O'Brien, after watching a tape of UMass' loss to St. Joseph's, was somewhat dismissive of the result.

``I think you have to throw that game out the window,'' the former Boston College coach said. ``I think that game is the exception to the rule for this UMass team. They're a lot more like the team that almost beat Boston College, and beat Oregon and North Carolina State.''

Lappas guardedly accepted the compliment.

``He's saying that because he needs his players to look at it that way,'' Lappas said.

Visit to UMass lends itself to many reunion story lines
By Bob Baptist, The Columbus Dispatch Sports Reporter, 1/9/2002

The 9,493-seat Mullins Center on the University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst was only two- thirds full Saturday when the Minutemen opened their Atlantic 10 Conference schedule against St. Joseph's.

OSU vs. UMass at a glance

When: 7 tonight.

Where: Mullins Center, Amherst, Mass.

TV: Channel 10.

Radio: WBNS-AM (1460); WBNS-FM (97.1).

Records: Ohio State, 10-2; Massachusetts, 6-5.

Last meeting: Ohio State won 54-51 last season in Value City Arena.

Buckeyes starters: Zach Williams, 6-7, so. (10.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg); Velimir Radinovic, 7-0, so. (3.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg); Boban Savovic, 6-5, sr. (12.6 ppg, 4.5 apg); Brian Brown, 6-4, sr. (14.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Brent Darby, 6-1, jr. (11.1 ppg, 3 apg).

Minutemen starters: Micah Brand, 6-11, jr. (11.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg); Kit Rhymer, 6-10, sr. (9 ppg, 6.6 rpg); Raheim Lamb, 6-5, so. (5.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg); Shannon Crooks, 6-2, sr. (13.7 ppg, 3.6 apg); Anthony Anderson, 5-11, so. (7.8 ppg, 3.6 apg).

Noteworthy: Away from Value City Arena, Ohio State has lost five straight games to nonconference opponents: at Louisville last month and to Utah State, Alabama, Valparaiso and Syracuse last season. . . . Williams' .627 field goal percentage ranks third in the Big Ten. . . . Darby has 38 points, 15 assists and only four turnovers in his last three games. He had only three more assists than turnovers in the first nine. . . . X-rays of Tim Martin's jaw were negative after he caught an elbow from Reggie Evans of Iowa late in the game Saturday. . . . Steve Lappas is in his first season as UMass coach after going 174-110 in nine years at Villanova.

Keep an eye on this matchup: Brand and Rhymer were erased from the game plan in Massachusetts' loss here last season. Ken Johnson blocked seven shots in the first half, nine overall, and Brand and Rhymer were 4 of 18 from the field. Johnson's gone and UMass might try to take advantage of it, especially after Brand and Rhymer combined for only seven shots and four points against St. Joseph's. The Buckeyes could respond by playing Radinovic and 6-9 Terence Dials at the same time.

How it might play out: Defense ruled in the teams' Dec. 10, 2000, matchup -- Ohio State shot 39 percent, Massachusetts 25 -- and it could again. The Buckeyes are shooting 51.3 percent from the field, but UMass has limited its opponents to 39.4 percent and 64.4 points per game and has held nine under their scoring averages. UMass is shooting only 43 percent and averaging 63.8 points itself, however, and Lappas is mulling lineup and other changes to spark the offense. He wants the Minutemen to hit the offensive boards harder and look to score easier baskets in transition.

Next game: at Northwestern, 8 p.m. Saturday.

The small crowd was not unexpected -- students were away from campus on semester break and the Minutemen's season has veered south -- and those who stayed away missed nothing; UMass's 38- point performance was its lowest home-court output in 53 years.

The building probably won't be any more crowded tonight when Ohio State (10-2) visits for its final nonconference game of the season. That means seats will be available for however many Bostonians want to make the two-hour drive to Amherst for a noisy homecoming with their transplanted family and friends who are now Buckeyes.

"I'm getting a lot of calls,'' coach Jim O'Brien said this week. "I've got to get tickets for all of my friends. Hopefully both of them will show up.''

Bada-bing, bada-boom.

O'Brien was a star guard at Boston College 30 years ago and, later, a successful head coach there for 11 years. He would have retired at his alma mater had not an acrimonious disagreement with some school administrators launched him to Ohio State five years ago.

Much of his staff likewise has strong ties to Massachusetts.

Assistant coach Paul Biancardi is a Boston native who was on O'Brien's staff at BC for seven years and coached at three other Boston- area schools before that.

Director of basketball operations Randy Shrout worked at BC for 19 years as head athletic trainer and an assistant athletics director. Shrout expects that two of his daughters and two of his grandsons will attend tonight's game.

OSU team trainer Vince O'Brien, a Watterson High School product, will have a brief reunion today with his sister Joanie, who coaches the UMass women's basketball team.

Possibly the largest and most vocal contingent, though, will arrive in Amherst this afternoon by chartered bus. Expected on board are 54 relatives and friends of OSU junior Sean Connolly, who grew up in the Boston suburb of Peabody and played one year at Providence before transferring to OSU in 1999. This is his first game in the Northeast since then.

"I can't wait,'' Connolly said. "A lot of people I haven't seen in awhile because I haven't been at home much at all lately. My grandparents haven't been able to see me play at all since I got out here and they're going to the game. I'll be happy to see them.''

It should be an interesting cross- section of -- let's say "spirited'' -- Connolly fans.

"Sean went to Bishop Fenwick (High School), and some of the nuns from Fenwick are going to be on the bus,'' said Connolly's father, Mike. "When I told Sean's friends that, you should have seen their mouths drop. I don't know if they're going to be no-shows or not.''

Massachusetts coach Steve Lappas might be wondering the same about his young men, several of whom are from Boston and were Connolly's teammates in AAU ball during their high-school years.

The Minutemen (6-5) started the season 4-0, including wins over Oregon and at North Carolina State, but have lost five of their last seven games. Two of the losses were to Boston College and Connecticut, but the last two were by 15 points at Marshall and Saturday's debacle against St. Joseph's.

"We play hard on defense. We played hard in that game. We did a great job on the defensive end,'' Lappas said.

"But you can't play defense where you can't make a mistake ever, and right now we just can't make a mistake on the defensive end, to make up for our (lack of) offense.''

But Ohio State is not counting on UMass shooting as badly again as it did against St. Joseph's (27.8 percent). It is expecting the team that competed to the end in Value City Arena last season before the Buckeyes prevailed 54-51.

"If we had that kind of a day ourselves, the next game that we were going to play, I know the state of mind that I'd have my kids in,'' Jim O'Brien said. "If they have any pride whatsoever, you have to think they're going to respond and try to get something back. You've got to think they're going to come out and go overboard to prove that (Saturday) was a little bit of a fluke.''

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