HILADELPHIA — It took until the final game of the regular season for Xavier to meet Massachusetts. It took only until XU's next game for one side to make this a grudge match.
The Minutemen seethed Saturday after losing by 20 points in Cintas Center, both because they felt they could have won and out of anger with what they perceived as excessive celebration by XU.
“That got to me,” UMass senior center Kitwana Rhymer said. “I know it was their Senior Day, but I thought it went a little too far.”
UMass (13-15) gets its shot at revenge against the 24th-ranked Musketeers (22-5) today in the Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinals at the First Union Spectrum. The Minutemen, who vowed after the loss Saturday that they would meet XU again, earned that right Wednesday by beating George Washington 73-62.
UMass' beef began with its claim that XU kept most of its starters on the floor into the final minute and kept up a running game. Much of XU's celebration came because of a rare basket by senior walk-on James Baronas with 14 seconds left.
“Hey, they wanted to keep scoring at the end,” UMass coach Steve Lappas told the Boston Herald. “That's all right. It's their party.”
Three UMass players told their local beat writers Wednesday that XU forward Kevin Frey made an insulting comment to Lappas in the final minute of the game. Lappas had no comment Wednesday.
And the Minutemen said they were miffed about XU cutting down the net after the victory, even though the Musketeers were celebrating the league title.
Frey, who wasn't available for reaction to the claim he insulted Lappas, said earlier Wednesday that he took UMass' cries for a rematch as flattery.
“That's good,” he said. “That means we've earned the right for teams to get pumped up and want to play us.”
That, UMass is. The Minutemen felt they outplayed XU in the first half, after which they trailed by six points despite shooting 50 percent. XU dominated thereafter, holding UMass to 21.4 percent shooting (6-of-28) after halftime.
“They're a great team, but ... we definitely could have beat them,” UMass senior guard Shannon Crooks said of XU. “Guys are ticked.”
The Minutemen have been underachieving since their 4-0 start, which included victories over Oregon and North Carolina State. They shot only 39.4 percent in league play, ranking 10th in the A-10. The front line of 6-foot-10 Rhymer (8.9 ppg) and 6-11 Micah Brand (9.1) that keyed two victories over XU last season has been inconsistent at best. Brand shot just 33 percent in league play.
“Who knows what that is,” Lappas said of his players' talk of beating XU. “They're kids. All I know is Xavier absolutely drilled us last weekend.”
XU coach Thad Matta said he expects the Minutemen's bluster will be backed up.
“When you're the No.1 seed, you're gonna get everyone's best shot,” Matta said.
HILADELPHIA - The University of Massachusetts men's basketball team got its wish. The Minutemen will take on Xavier at noon today in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament at the Philadelphia Spectrum.
The winner will advance to the semifinal at 7 p.m., Friday against the winner of Thursday's Saint Joseph's vs. Dayton game.
Since Saturday, the last time these teams met, the Musketeers are a considerably more decorated outfit. Junior center David West was named the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and was on the league's first all-conference team.
Romain Sato (second) and Lionel Chalmers (third) also made all conference teams. Thad Matta was picked as the A-10 Coach of the Year. The Musketeers entered the Associated Press top 25 at No. 24 as well.
But the Minutemen's motivation runs deeper than just wanting to beat a good team and extend their season.
Saturday, with the Musketeers up by 20 and just over a minute left, the game clock accidentally continued to run during a timeout until it reached 00:00. Because his team was out of the game, UMass coach Steve Lappas walked over to Matta to shake his hand thinking the clock wouldn't be reset. Xavier senior Kevin Frey walked by the UMass bench and said something to Lappas.
"Frey told coach Lappas to stop being a sore loser," Anderson said. "They were trying to rub it in."
Lappas and Frey both declined comment on the incident.
Anger aside, the Minutemen will have to do several things better to have a chance to pull off the upset.
"We have to contain West more and box out Sato better. He had a double-double last time," said junior forward Micah Brand. "We have to go out and play hard and play aggressive like we did today."
Last time out the Minutemen trailed 38-32 at halftime, but got derailed after intermission.
"In the second half, we didn't stray too far from the game plan, but we started missing shots that we were making in the first half," Brand said. "That's when we started going away from things we did in the first half. I don't think we're going to do too many different things. We just have to execute."
Senior center Kitwana Rhymer said he knows what he has to do to contain West.
"I've known what to expect from David. I know his moves. I just have to dig down and guard up," Rhymer said. " He has a bunch of foot fakes and a bunch of up fakes. I know his whole game. I just have to make sure I play it well."
Shannon Crooks said the Minutemen learned things Saturday they can utilize today.
"I think a lot of guys and the coaching staff noticed certain things that worked for us and things that didn't work so well," Crooks said. "That's to our advantage."
Lappas wasn't as outwardly confident as his players.
"Xavier is a great team. I have to go back and think what we're going to do with these guys. They absolutely drilled us. Right now I don't know what we're going to," he said. "We're going to change some things. It's easier preparation because there is no new tape to watch, but it's a hard preparation because they're so good."
Matta said he expected UMass to be excited for the game.
"They'll be jacked up. Our players are in for a war," he said. "When you're No. 1, you get everybody's best shot."
UMass and Xavier have played once in the A-10 Tournament. The Musketeers won 72-68 in 1999 when starting Minuteman point guard Charlton Clarke missed the game with a foot injury.
CROOKS' CHART CLIMB - Crooks' 14 points gave him 1,058 for his career, pushing him past Alex Eldridge (1,053) into the No. 28 spot in UMass' career list. Jack "The Shot" Foley is No. 27 at 1,081.
Crooks' six assists gave him 306 in his career, pushing him by former UMass and AAU teammate Jonathan DePina (301 assists) into 10th place on that chart.
MISCELLANEOUS - UMass' win extended its streak of trips to the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals to 13 straight years. George Washington had their quarterfinal streak snapped at 12. The Minutemen and Colonials are now 3-3 against each other in A-10 Tournament play. Crooks is averaging 17.5 points and 5.5 assists in A-10 play against GW. Crooks has scored in double-figures in his last three A-10 postseason games.