MHERST, Mass--After being intimidated under the basket in a costly loss to Xavier, the University of Dayton Flyers didn't need to have another shot-blocking team waiting for them, but that's the case tonight when they take on the University of Massachusetts.
In 6-foot-11, 243-pound Micah Brand and 6-10 Kitwana Rhymer, the Minutemen have two veteran post players bigger than any UD faced Saturday at Xavier.
"They're shot blockers in there and they play big at the basket," UD coach Oliver Purnell said Monday. "Where they've really bothered us in the past is on the glass. They're just so big and active. It's hard to keep them off the glass. If their perimeter guys are playing well, it makes it awfully difficult to defense them."
Unfortunately for the Flyers, the UMass guards have been playing well lately.
UMass coach Steve Lappas, who moved to Amherst from Villanova this season, attributes his team's struggles this season to a tough schedule, the transition to a new system and the inexperience of his guards.
"That has been a big part of it," Lappas said. "We have a very, very inexperienced perimeter and the college game nowadays is a perimeter game. We were not ready. We only have one experienced perimeter player."
The Minutemen opened the season with victories over Arkansas-Little Rock, Marist, Oregon and North Carolina State, then lost to Holy Cross, Boston College and Connecticut before winning a pair.
They had dropped five straight, including home games against St. Joseph's (by 25) and Ohio State, when they returned home to beat Temple and George Washington. Their third straight victory came Saturday night in Olean, N.Y., where they nipped St. Bonaventure, 67-65, snapping the Bonnies' 10-game home winning streak.
"In this (St. Bonaventure) game we played, Kyle Wilson, Anthony Anderson, Raheim Lamb, Brennan Martin, all first-year players, and (veteran) Shannon Crooks on the perimeter," Lappas said.
The Minutemen turned the ball over 20 times, but the Bonnies could not stop Rhymer, who scored 20 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. Rhymer is averaging only 7.9 points and 5.9 rebounds--both disappointing numbers.
"People are pointing to Kit Rhymer," Lappas said. "Yeah, it helps that Kit Rhymer has played better, but what really helps is that our perimeter guys have played better."
UMass got some production from a surprising source at St. Bonaventure. Martin, a 6-6 freshman who hadn't scored all season and had taken only four shots, sank three of five 3-pointers to score 9 points. The Flyers will have to be wary of him.
One of the UMass guards may not be at full strength for the Dayton game. Wilson, a freshman, suffered a sprained ankle Saturday when he stepped on somebody's foot during the post-game celebration.
"It swelled up," Lappas said. "The trainer tells me it's going to be one of those ones that we won't know maybe until we get ready to start playing the game."
Lappas said he is expecting a difficult battle with Dayton.
"They're an excellent team, tremendous defensively," he said. "Brooks Hall is a great player. They pose a lot of problems. They play good patient offense. I think it's going to be a very, very tough game."
he Dayton Flyers travel to take on the Massachusetts Minutemen in the final of their tough three-game road trip. Massachusetts (9-8, 3-3) enters Tuesday’s contest winners of three straight. After starting the league with three consecutive defeats, the Minutemen have beat Temple, George Washington, and St. Bonaventure.
Two of the last three victories for Massachusetts have come at home. This will be the eighth meeting between the two teams, with UMass holding the 4-3 edge. However, the Flyers have been victorious in two of the last three battles, including a win in UD Arena 89-76 last season. UD is only 1-3 at the Mullins Center in this series, but they were able to muster a victory in Amherst on January 20, 2000.
Massachusetts has two different players averaging double-figures for the season. Shannon Crooks leads the team with a 14.8 scoring average. Micah Brand is the other with 10.8 ppg to go along with his team-high 6.2 rebounds a game. As a team, UMass knocks down 42.0% of their shots from the floor, while allowing opponents just over 40% shooting.
Dayton (12-5, 4-2) is ranked nationally in a couple defensive categories. They hold opponents to just 37.4% on the hardwood. They also out-rebound their opponents by an average of 8.5 rebounds (41.1 – 32.6). Keith Waleskowski leads the team with an even 8.0 rpg. Ramod Marshall and Brooks Hall are tied for the lead in scoring with just over 13 points a game.
UD will look to get back in the win column on Tuesday with a much-needed win at Massachusetts. A UD win would also even up the series between these two foes. It won’t be easy, as the Minutemen will be gunning for their fourth consecutive victory. Fox Sports Ohio will televise the game, picking up the Atlantic 10 Network broadcast with the tip scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
MHERST - Kyle Wilson said he's able to play in tonight's 7:30 game against Dayton, but University of Massachusetts coach Steve Lappas isn't so sure.
Wilson sprained his ankle Saturday when he landed awkwardly during UMass' celebration after its 67-65 win over St. Bonaventure. Lappas said he'll determine the freshman guard's status later today.
"It doesn't sound like he has a real good chance to play tomorrow, but with a sprained ankle it's day-to-day because it's not serious," Lappas said Monday. "So we're going to hold out hope that he's going to be able to do something."
Wilson was more confident.
"It's improved a lot. It's healing fast," he said.
If Wilson can't go, sophomore forward Raheim Lamb will start in his place.
"I'd like Kyle to start because that's been good for us, but Raheim will be ready," Lappas said.
Without Wilson, the Minutemen have just one point guard, sophomore Anthony Anderson. Shooting guard Shannon Crooks would back him up.
"Obviously, we'd try to stretch Anthony out as much as we can," Lappas said. "He plays a lot of minutes anyway. Shannon would probably play there to get him a little bit of rest. It hurts us because we're down to two ball-handlers."
If Wilson doesn't play, Lappas said freshman swingman Brennan Martin and Lamb will see more time, but he wouldn't commit to using small forwards Willie Jenkins and Jameel Pugh, who have disappeared from the lineup of late.
"That remains to be seen," Lappas said. "There's no doubt that Shannon, Anthony, Brennan and Raheim will play significant minutes. I might play Blizzard at the (small forward spot) for a few minutes."
UMass (9-8, 3-3 Atlantic 10) is trying to extend its three-game winning streak. Dayton coach Oliver Purnell took notice of the Minutemen's recent success.
"They're really starting to play well, which makes this game a tough test for us," Purnell said. "They're so big and active, it's hard to keep them off the glass. When their big guys are playing well and the perimeter guys are playing better, it makes them hard to defend."
Defense is Dayton's strong point. By holding their opponents to a league-low 59.9 points per game, the Flyers are 12-5 overall and 4-2 in the league, which places them in second place in the A-10 West behind undefeated Xavier.
All three nonconference losses came against solid opponents - Villanova, Cincinnati and Marquette. Both conference losses occurred against Xavier, including a 75-59 loss in Cincinnati Saturday.
While the Flyers have produced their usual dominance at UD Arena (9-1), they are just 3-4 away from home.
Junior forward Brooks Hall and sophomore guard Ramod Marshall share the team's scoring lead with 13.2 points per game.
"Ramod's been our best overall player this year after being our best guard down the stretch last year," Dayton coach Oliver Purnell said.
Point guard David Morris leads the A-10 with a 2.76-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Much like the Minutemen, the Flyers start two legitimate big men inside.
At 6-foot-11 and 6-8, respectively, sophomore center Sean Finn (7.2 rebounds per game) and Keith Waleskowski (8.0 rpg., 10.4 ppg.) make up the league's top rebounding duo.
After chasing undersized power forwards around the perimeter for the better part of the last few games, UMass' 6-11 junior forward Micah Brand is glad to have someone his own size to defend.
"(Waleskowski) has some pretty good offensive moves," said Brand, who scored a career-high 23 against Dayton last year. "It's a lot easier for me to face somebody who's about the same size as me. It's a lot easier defensively because it's not so much off the dribble and being outside on the perimeter. It's down on the block. So we know where they are, which makes it easier to give help to other people."