Coverage from:
The Boston Herald
The Boston Herald - notebook
The Boston Globe
The Hartford Courant
The Daily Hampshire Gazette
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - Pugh focus
The Boston Herald - Pugh focus
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The Springfield Union-News - notebook External link
The Springfield Union-News - Pugh focus External link

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UMass pulls away: Rhymer comes to rescue down low
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald Staff Writer, 12/16/2001

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - He is the defensive heart of UMass basketball, and he has changed the course of games with shot-blocking impunity this season.

But heading into last night's dominant 64-49 win over Central Connecticut at the Mohegan Sun casino, Kitwana Rhymer had been content to take his shots in the flow of the offense.

The 6-foot-10 senior claims that much didn't change last night against arguably the most physical opponent the Minutemen (5-3) have played so far.

But consider the difference.

After scoring only twice in double figures over the previous seven games, including a season-high 16 points against Marist on Nov. 24, Rhymer broke all of his early 2001-02 standards with last night's 24-point, 10-for-12 shooting, 15-rebound performance, including six tough offensive boards.

None of these totals are career highs.

Instead, they are reflections of the punishment Rhymer can inflict on an opponent when in full gear.

UMass coach Steve Lappas would admittedly like to see more of this kind of assertiveness from his center on offense.

``Yes, I would,'' he said. ``But this is how he is going to do it - by being an animal on the offensive glass. He's not going to be out there taking jump shots.''

Although Rhymer was hot enough that a few jumpers fit nicely into his repertoire last night, his raw power was the crux of UMass' attack last night.

But from his perspective, those 24 points, including 10 over the last 6:03 of the second half that turned a 14-8 deficit into a 25-21 halftime lead, were simply a matter of flow.

``Coach always tells me that he wants more than I think I can give him, and tonight I just went out and did it,'' he said. ``But scoring is not a big thing to me. If things go right, and we win, then that's what I love.

``I just went in tonight hoping that whatever the coach said would work,'' he said. ``It just came natural. I wasn't even thinking anything like, `Let me get the ball.' ''

But after crashing throughout the first half against Corsley Edwards, Central Connecticut's beefy 6-9 center, Rhymer burrowed in even deeper to anchor a great finishing stroke by the Minutemen over the first 10 minutes of the second half.

The Minutemen, who had suffered through eight scoreless minutes in the first half, used defense as the foundation for a harrowing 15-1 run over the first 7:10. Rhymer provided the surest sign of all during this run that he was breaking out, courtesy of his ability to bank in a tip from five feet down the lane.

Central Connecticut shot 0-7 and turned the ball over five times during that stretch. And when Jonathan Popofski stepped in with the Blue Devils' first basket of the half with 12:39 left, the Minutemen kicked off another 7-2 burst - this one capped by a Rhymer hook.

Minutemen shake slow start
UMass notebook
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald Staff Writer, 12/16/2001

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - It was the nature of last night's win, more than the breaking of a three-game losing streak, that most mattered to UMass coach Steve Lappas.

``It was good to win the way we won,'' he said after the Minutemen beat Central Connecticut, 64-49, at the Mohegan Sun casino.

For a team that had developed a pattern of horrendous starts during its three previous losses to UConn, Boston College and Holy Cross, the Minutemen survived yet another odious beginning last night.

But at least they're improving on the result.

``When you've lost to BC and UConn, you can't look at it as a losing streak, because those teams are very good,'' said Lappas. ``But (last night), like I told them at halftime, we played a horrendous 12 minutes and were still up by four points. We were stuck on eight points forever in the first half, but we also managed to keep them at 14. They didn't get up to 20.''

Rhymer plays through

Kitwana Rhymer's left knee, twisted during practice two weeks ago, was still tender last night, though the soreness obviously didn't get in the way of his 24-point, 15-rebound performance.

``He isn't 100 percent,'' said Lappas. ``We took him out to rest it a couple of times. But he's a tough dude. There's no swelling, though, and the trainer says he's fine to play.''

Step forward

When Lappas said at the start of the season that his small forward position was so wide open he might decide to go with a three-guard set, he couldn't have sent out a more effective call to arms for Jameel Pugh, Raheim Lamb and Willie Jenkins.

Pugh became the latest small forward to rise to the top of the competition with last night's season-high performance of 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including three rim-popping dunks.

For a player who missed the North Carolina State trip on Dec. 1 after oversleeping and missing the team bus, and who didn't play in five of the first six games, last night represented an important second chance.

``It just makes you compete even harder,'' he said.

Casino rolls dice

Paul Munick, Mohegan Sun's vice president of sports and entertainment, has a tough job ahead - drawing more college teams to the casino's attractive 10,500-seat arena. He knows it will take time to make inroads with athletic directors who are squeamish about sending their teams to play in a casino - albeit one without a sports book.

Minutemen receive spark from Rhymer
By Jim Greenidge, The Boston Globe Staff, 12/16/2001

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - Despite a sloppy offensive showing in the first half, the University of Massachusetts and Kitwana Rhymer cruised past Central Connecticut, 64-49, at the Mohegan Sun Arena last night.

The Minutemen went nearly seven minutes without scoring in the first half, but the Blue Devils couldn't get much going in that time, either, going up, 14-8, with 9 minutes 10 seconds left in the half.

''Offensively, we've been up and down all year,'' said UMass coach Steve Lappas. ''We didn't let our roles on offense throw off our intensity on defense. Central Connecticut just couldn't score points on us. It was as though we had two completely different teams, a defensive team and an offensive team.''

Rhymer, a senior center, was outstanding, hitting 10 of 12 from the field and 4 of 4 from the foul line for 24 points, and grabbing 15 rebounds.

''Kitwana was the dominating player in the game,'' said Lappas. ''He was pumped to play against Corsley [Edwards]. He did a heck of a job. He dominated the game.''

Edwards had 9 points, making just 3 of 14 from the field and 3 of 6 from the foul line, and grabbed eight rebounds.

Said Central Connecticut coach Howie Dickenman, ''[Rhymer] was like a first-round draft pick out there, he just took us to school, posting up wide in the paint, doing some real good things.''

For Rhymer, it was just a matter of doing what Lappas told him to do.

''I pinned the man [Edwards] inside the paint, playing hard, grabbing rebounds, and making sure that I fronted him,'' he said. ''I just never let him finish me out. I didn't expect to play this type of game, though. I just played and kept going at what I was trying to do, most of it having to do with confidence as well as playing as hard as possible.''

Although UMass (5-3) got off to a slow start, Central Connecticut (7-3) was unable to take advantage.

''We have to make good things happen for us,'' Dickenman said, noting his Blue Devils didn't get good shots and then missed open shots and layups in the first half.

With 50 seconds left in the half, it was tied at 21. But then Minutemen Eric Williams and Shannon Crooks hit to make it 25-21 at the half.

UMass had a 12-1 run to start the second half, getting to 37-22 when Jameel Pugh (11 points) dunked off a steal with 12:05 left.

''We had six turnovers in the first eight minutes of the second half, missing too many shots and having too many turnovers,'' said Dickenman, his team hitting just 18 of 54 from the field (33.3 percent).

UMass, which outscored Central Connecticut, 39-28, in the second half, shot 63 percent for the half and 51 percent overall.

The victory ended a three-game winning streak for the Blue Devils and snapped a three-game losing streak for the Minutemen.

UMass Silences Central's Offense
By Tom Yantz, The Hartford Courant Staff Writer, 12/16/2001

MONTVILLE -- Central Connecticut's offense was almost dormant and managed only one field goal for the first 7:20 of the second half Saturday night. Such paucity wouldn't help its hopes for an upset.

Massachusetts, employing throttling full-court traps, took advantage and beat the Blue Devils 64-49 before 3,754 at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

"It was like some guy was sitting on top of the basket and knocking the shots away," said Central center Corsley Edwards, who shot 3-for-14 and scored nine points - 10.6 under his average.

He wasn't the only errant shooter. The Blue Devils (7-3) shot a season-low 33.3 percent (18-for-54).

This shortcoming wasn't the only reason their three-game winning streak ended. UMass (5-3), powered by 24 points and 15 rebounds from 6-foot-11 center Kitwana Rhymer, outrebounded Central, 41-25.

"I don't remember a team outrebounding a Central team by that large a margin," Central coach Howie Dickenman said.

"Rhymer had anything he wanted."

UMass coach Steve Lappas said Rhymer, who shot 10-for-12, "was an animal out there."

The Blue Devils, in contrast, couldn't finish around the rim. They managed to score two points off 12 offensive rebounds.

While these were frustrating enough, Central could only lament on its bus ride back to New Britain that this was a winnable game.

The first half was proof of that. Central was active on the offensive boards and sharp on defense. The Blue Devils' 2-3 zone and man-to-man with some double teams were aggressive and effective.

Damian Battles, who led Central with 13 points, stole the ball from Micah Brand and hit a layup to put Central ahead 14-8 with 9:15 left in the half.

Central had great opportunities to expand its advantage. But Edwards was 1-for-4 from the free-throw line, and the Blue Devils missed 17 of 26 shots.

The Minuteman couldn't score either. They finally snapped a 7:56 scoreless skid on two Rhymer free throws to make the score 14-10 with 6:03 to go in the half.

"We were horrendous for 12 minutes, but our defense dug down," Lappas said. "Otherwise it could have been 22-8."

Battles' three-pointer with 4:35 remaining ended a 4:40 dry spell. UMass scored the final five points of the half to lead, 25-21.

Central's offense was stagnant early in the second half. It had many problems finding gaps in the extended 2-3 UMass zone. The Minutemen did a fine job of doubling Edwards. Central's guards rarely penetrated or made smart passes to diffuse the zone.

UMass responded with a 15-1 surge, with Rhymer and Brand each scoring four, to lead, 40-22. UMass shot 63 percent in the half (17-for-27) to finish at 51.9 percent (28-for-54).

Jon Popofski's corner jumper accounted for Central's first basket of the second half with 12:40 remaining.

The Minutemen, ending a three-game losing streak, were motivated after Central had missed seven of its first eight shots of the half.

The Blue Devils, who trailed 47-26, scored nine consecutive points - seven by Ricardo Scott (who had 10 for the game) to get to 47-35 with 7:45 to go.

Central would get no closer.

"This one was real tough," Battles said. "We didn't react well to situations, and didn't finish it after we had gotten off to a decent start."

Rhymer rules the key
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 12/17/2001

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - As the momentum of his falling body pushed him away from the basket, University of Massachusetts center Kitwana Rhymer got his right hand on the ball and pushed it back toward the net.

As he thumped onto the floor, the ball fell through the hoop, and Central Connecticut State center Corsley Edwards shook his head in disbelief.

The basket, which put the Minutemen ahead, was part of a 20-3 run to start the second half. It opened the gates for the Minutemen, who rolled to a 64-49 win in front of 3,754 fans Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

"It was good to win the way we won it, in terms of being in control with five minutes to go," UMass coach Steve Lappas said. "It was the best margin we've had all year."

The Minutemen get a week off for final exams before playing Maine at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Mullins Center.

Rhymer, who had been unable to get into the offensive flow for UMass during its three-game losing streak, was the primary reason his team snapped that streak Saturday.

At 6-feet-9, 280 pounds, Edwards, who entered the game averaging 19.6 points and 10.7 rebounds, had been a school-yard bully of sorts, terrorizing the Blue Devils' smaller opponents in the paint during the team's first nine games.

But Saturday it was Rhymer who did the lunch-money stealing. Despite continued discomfort from his left knee, which he twisted last week, Rhymer had a season-high 24 points and 15 rebounds (six offensive), which combined with his performance against UConn (12 points, 12 rebounds) earned him Atlantic 10 Player of the Week honors.

"I just played," Rhymer said. "I just remembered what coach told me to do and that's what I did. I just tried to go as hard as possible."

"He was the dominating player in the game," Lappas said. "He was really pumped up to play against Corsley."

"This is how Kit is going to do it," Lappas continued. "He's going to be an animal on the offensive glass. He's going to take the ball hard to the basket. He's going to get offensive rebounds and score."

Edwards finished with just nine points and eight rebounds, while missing 11-of-14 shots.

"Rhymer played like a first-round draft pick tonight," Central Connecticut coach Howie Dickenman said. "He took some people to school. He planted himself in the lane. He posted up very well. He caught the ball and he finished. He rebounded and he defended. He gave our guy some problems, too. Our guy was 3-for-14."

Other than Rhymer, UMass' recent offensive woes were evident in the first half and most prominent during a 7:56 scoreless stretch.

Central Connecticut led for most of the first half, opening a six-point lead (14-8) during UMass' scoring drought.

The Minutemen chipped away, but the Blue Devils were clinging to a 21-20 advantage with 1:35 remaining when Lappas called time-out.

Whatever he said was effective. The Minutemen scored the last five points before intermission, including a buzzer-beating jumper by Shannon Crooks.

The momentum carried into UMass' second-half run, which essentially finished off Central Connecticut.

Sophomore Jameel Pugh produced his best sustained effort in a UMass uniform. He scored 11 points, including three dunks that spurred applause from the considerable UMass contingent.

Walk-ons Dwayne Killings and Paco Kotaridis saw their first action. After Kotaridis had two turnovers and an offensive foul, he hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

STREAK STOPPED: Crooks scored seven points in the game, snapping his double-digit scoring streak at nine games.

Beyond the highlight reels
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 12/17/2001

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - Fans will talk about the three dunks and the 3-pointer from the top of the key.

But the defining moment of Jameel Pugh's night may have come on a defensive play with 2:13 remaining in the game.

With the University of Massachusetts leading 61-42, Central Connecticut's Ricardo Scott launched an off-line 3-pointer.

Pugh, who had been guarding out on the perimeter, raced in, grabbed the rebound and handed it off to point guard Anthony Anderson.

The play was routine and completely unspectacular in nature, but it was significant for Pugh.

In the past, Pugh might have raced down court to be in position to be the finisher on a potential fast break, and left the rebounding to somebody else.

Pugh, now a sophomore, arrived at UMass with a highly publicized reputation for dunking and the billing of a future star.

He won two dunk contests at Midnight Madness, but hadn't done much else. The problem was his leaping ability seemed to get in the way of his basketball ability.

Former coach Bruiser Flint criticized his work ethic in practice and his willingness to play defense. Consequently, he rarely let Pugh off the bench.

Pugh often claimed that all he wanted was a chance to help the team. Last year when he got into a game in a blowout vs. Rhode Island, however, he treated the rare opportunity like showtime instead of like a game situation.

Instead of just running the offense, he forced six shots and missed them all , tried to get in position to dunk, and ultimately did very little to convince Flint that he could be a meaningful part of the unit.

Because of the hype surrounding his arrival, though, Pugh became a lightning rod for people who wanted to criticize Flint's abilities to coach.

But when he didn't crack new coach Steve Lappas' rotation early, people began to wonder if Pugh was at fault after all. Was he a great leaper, but not much else?

When Pugh missed the flight to North Carolina State earlier this month, his fate seemed sealed. If he wasn't playing already, it couldn't help to be in Lappas' doghouse, too. Rumors of his impending transfer were rampant.

To Lappas' credit, he not only forgave Pugh, but gave him a chance to prove himself.

"It was an honest mistake, an alarm clock thing," Pugh said. "Fortunately, coach realized it was an honest mistake, not a habit of mine. He gave me another chance."

Against UConn, Pugh was inconsistent. He missed a block-out that led to a Husky offensive rebound early and forced an ill-advised shot. On the other hand, he made some good plays, enough to warrant another look.

Saturday, at least for one night, the light bulb seemed to come on for Pugh. He did the little things he'd overlooked in the past. Grabbing rebounds, playing defense and otherwise playing unselfishly kept him on the floor.

By staying in the game, he got a chance to live up to the hype he brought to UMass. Three spectacular dunks excited the UMass fans.

Lappas praised both Pugh's play and resiliency.

"When he wasn't playing, he didn't hang his head," Lappas said. "He didn't let not playing affect his play. He played hard in practice. I told him, you never know when your opportunity is going to come. Just be ready."

Pugh heeded the advice.

"You don't want to be in a position where you're not helping the team. I said to myself I have to go out and work harder because I know I have the talent and I know I can help this team," Pugh said. "I was just frustrated with myself. There wasn't anyone else I could blame. I had look at myself and say what can I do to improve myself to play. That's what I did and it's showing now."

This was just one game. Whether Pugh can play this well in a sustained fashion against a tougher opponent remains to be seen. But while he hasn't completely turned the corner, he took a step in the right direction.

Pugh wakes up in time
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald Staff Writer, 12/17/2001

It was, according to Jameel Pugh, ``an alarm clock thing.''

The feeling, because of its stomach-churning worry, was still fresh with the UMass sophomore after he lit up Central Connecticut with a career-high 11-point, 5-of-9 performance during UMass' win at Mohegan Sun on Saturday.

Pugh, a borderline figure in the lineup early this season, overslept the morning of Nov. 30, and he was left home when head coach Steve Lappas ordered the bus to drive to the airport without Pugh, who subsequently missed a rousing road win over North Carolina State.

He hadn't played in three of the first four games of the season. With Willie Jenkins and Raheim Lamb both logging impressive time at small forward early in the season, Pugh's role never seemed so diminished.

And yet there he was Saturday, bursting to the basket with three powerful dunks that proved Lappas has kept an open mind. As Pugh discovered after the team returned from the trip to N.C. State, the door is open to second chances in this new system.

``I was scared at first, but (Lappas) realized the situation,'' said Pugh. ``He looked at this from the perspective of how to make this better.

``It was an honest mistake - an alarm clock thing - and I hadn't made the bus because of it. He realized that.''

Of more concern to Pugh was the possibility that his mistake would further hurt his chances of playing a larger role on the team.

Lappas, however, believes that he learned something significant about Pugh over the last three weeks.

Prior to Saturday's win over the Blue Devils, Pugh sat out five of the first seven games of the season.

In the meantime, first Jenkins and then Lamb checked in with remarkably mature performances considering each player's relative youth. But the good news for Pugh was Lappas hadn't settled on one small forward by the time Saturday's game against Central Connecticut rolled around.

``He did a great job,'' Lappas said of Pugh's performance against Central Connecticut.

``You always wonder when things happen whether someone is going to hang their head, or get down. But Jameel hasn't hung his head. He didn't allow not playing to affect his performance.''

UMass notes

Senior center Kitwana Rhymer was named Atlantic 10 Player of the Week yesterday after posting a pair of double-doubles last week.

He had 24 points and 15 rebounds in Saturday's victory over Central Connecticut, shooting 10-for-12 from the field and 4-for-4 from the free throw line.

Last Tuesday in a 69-59 loss to UConn, Rhymer had 12 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.

Video clips

All clips in MPEG format.
Video clip Shannon Crooks closes out the first half on a good note. (file size = 602k)
Video clip Brand slams one home. (474k)
Video clip Anthony Anderson feeds Micah Brand first... (538k)
Video clip ...then sets up Jameel Pugh a bit later. (474k)
Video clip Eric Williams free for the dunk. (477k)

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Massachusetts Minutemen 64
Central Connecticut State Blue Devils 49
at the Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville CT

Massachusetts vs Central Connecticut State
12/15/01  7:30 p.m. at Uncasville, CT(Mohegan Sun Arena)
VISITORS: Massachusetts 5-3
                          TOT-FG  3-PT         REBOUNDS
34 LAMB,Raheim          f  1-4    0-0    0-0    0  1  1   1   2   0  1  0  0  17
40 BRAND,Micah          f  3-9    0-0    0-0    2  1  3   2   6   4  3  2  0  31
33 RHYMER,Kitwana       c 10-12   0-0    4-4    6  9 15   1  24   1  0  1  2  30
12 ANDERSON,Anthony     g  2-4    0-2    0-0    1  3  4   2   4   6  3  0  1  30
30 CROOKS,Shannon       g  3-9    0-4    1-4    1  2  3   0   7   2  3  0  0  35
00 MARTIN,Brennan          0-0    0-0    0-0    0  0  0   0   0   0  0  0  0   1
01 JENKINS,Willie          0-1    0-1    0-0    0  0  0   1   0   1  0  0  0   3
03 BLIZZARD,Ronell         0-0    0-0    0-0    0  0  0   0   0   0  0  0  0   1
11 WILSON,Kyle             1-3    1-3    0-0    0  0  0   1   3   0  0  0  0  13
14 KOTARIDIS,Paco          1-1    1-1    0-0    0  0  0   1   3   0  2  0  0   1
21 WILLIAMS,Eric           2-2    0-0    0-0    3  5  8   3   4   0  7  0  2  19
22 KILLINGS,Dwayne         0-0    0-0    0-0    0  1  1   0   0   0  1  0  0   1
24 PUGH,Jameel             5-9    1-3    0-0    0  5  5   1  11   2  1  0  1  18
TEAM ........................................   1  0  1              1
TOTALS                    28-54   3-14   5-8   14 27 41  13  64  16 22  3  6 200

TOT-FG 1stH: 11-27 40.7% 2ndH: 17-27 63.0% OT: 0-0 00.0% Game: 51.9% Deadbl 3pt-FG 1stH: 0-0 00.0% 2ndH: 3-7 42.9% OT: 0-0 00.0% Game: 21.4% Rebs FThrow 1stH: 3-6 50.0% 2ndH: 2-2 100.0% OT: 0-0 00.0% Game: 62.5% 1

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- HOME TEAM: Central Connecticut State 7-3 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 15 ROBINSON,Ron f 2-3 0-0 1-2 3 5 8 2 5 3 3 0 2 34 22 SCOTT,Ricardo f 2-8 1-5 5-6 2 1 3 1 10 1 2 0 1 28 34 EDWARDS,Corsley c 3-14 0-0 3-6 5 3 8 3 9 1 2 1 1 37 03 ALEXANDER,John g 3-5 0-0 0-2 0 0 0 0 6 1 5 0 0 30 05 BATTLES,Damian g 5-15 3-9 0-0 1 1 2 1 13 3 3 0 4 37 21 BARRETT,Robert 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 23 POPOFSKI,Jonathan 2-7 0-4 0-0 0 1 1 3 4 0 0 0 0 16 24 PITTMAN,Rich 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 2 2 2 0 0 1 1 0 11 33 DUKES,Mike 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 35 SMITH,Jason 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 50 HARGREAVES,Jerome 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 4 TEAM ........................................ 1 1 2 TOTALS 18-54 4-18 9-16 12 14 26 13 49 9 16 2 9 200

TOT-FG 1stH: 9-26 34.6% 2ndH: 9-28 32.1% OT: 0-0 00.0% Game: 33.3% Deadbl 3pt-FG 1stH: 2-7 28.6% 2ndH: 2-11 18.2% OT: 0-0 00.0% Game: 22.2% Rebs FThrow 1stH: 1-6 16.7% 2ndH: 8-10 80.0% OT: 0-0 00.0% Game: 56.3% 4

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- OFFICIALS: George Watts, Jack Sweeney, Terry Murphy TECHNICAL FOULS: Massachusetts - none Central Connecticut State - none ATTENDANCE: 3,754 SCORE BY PERIODS: 1st 2nd OT1 OT2 OT3 OT4 TOTAL Massachusetts 25 39 64 Central Connecticut State 21 28 49

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