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Mass basketball coach Steve Lappas didn't get technical at first when analyzing his team's chances of spoiling Saint Joseph's perfect season tonight at the Mullins Center.
"We can always be spoilers," said Lappas, whose team got belted at Saint Joseph's in January, 92-67, "but I think for that to happen we will have to play extremely well and they will have to play not as well. The big thing for us is being able to score because they're such a great defensive team. They produce a lot of offense off their defense."
Lappas wasn't talking about a burly, board-banging group of Hawks but about their ability to come up with steals. "They play pretty small most of the time, they're quick at the perimeter," he said. "They can play four guards and they can make you pay."
UMass (9-15 overall, 3-9 Atlantic 10) has the longest winning streak in A-10 history -- 26 games to start the 1995-96 season -- so there's extra incentive for the Minutemen to pull off the upset of No. 2 Saint Joseph's, which is 24-0.
"We had some pretty good offensive possessions in the second half at Saint Joseph's, but the game was really over at that point," said Lappas, who also has to worry about shaking a four-game losing streak that has come on the heels of a four-game winning streak. "We've played pretty well at times this season, but because we're so young and playing three freshmen 30-plus minutes a game, we haven't been able to do it for an extended period. Protecting the basketball is a first step and everybody on our team will be responsible for doing that."
Saint Joseph's New England tour continues Saturday at Rhode Island (16-11, 5-8), which gave the Hawks a pretty good battle (73-59) Feb. 14 in Philadelphia. Although the Hawks have won their last five games against URI at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse in Philadelphia, URI has won five of the last eight played in Kingston, including last season's 58-57 thriller when Brian Woodward stripped the ball and made a layup at the buzzer.
"They've got the best point guard in the country in Jameer Nelson and he's got some very good players around him," said URI coach Jim Baron, whose team has knocked off UMass and St. Bonaventure since losing to the Hawks. "They share the basketball, they defend, and they play extremely well together.
"A lot of their guys have gotten better since we played them last year. This year, the first time around, we played fairly well against them. We really competed, which was one of my concerns, and we did a very good job of rebounding. Woodward has stepped up his game lately and he's an important player for us."
hen a team is 24-0, this deep into the college basketball season, the coach's opinion on anything becomes relevant. That's Phil Martelli's world. The affable, eloquent coach of Saint Joseph's is everywhere. His opinion is sought and given on any topic from politics and taxes, to the Phillies bullpen, to his team's place in basketball history. He's been on national talk radio and stories on his team have run in newspapers on both coasts.
During Martelli's 10-minute segment on the Atlantic 10 weekly conference call this week, the coach received questions from all over, but not one was about the University of Massachusetts, which the Hawks will face at 7 tonight at the Mullins Center.
The Minutemen are expected to play the role of speed bump on the No. 2-ranked Hawks' road to history, the Atlantic 10 title and whatever NCAA Tournament heights this group happens to reach.
St. Joe's will be the first top 10 team to visit Mullins since No. 1 Connecticut was in the building on Dec. 9, 1998.
The UMass players recognize their underdog status.
''We're still playing for position in the A-10 Tournament, but we have nothing to lose going out there (tonight),'' senior point guard Anthony Anderson said.
Sophomore rookie big man Rashaun Freeman sees it as an opportunity. ''We have nothing to lose, but we have a lot to prove,'' he said. ''We're going out there and be tenacious just trying to do the best we can.''
Lappas said that his players would be more ready to face the Hawks this time because they'd already played them once and would have a better idea of what to expect. Still game planning isn't easy.
''We talk about how we need to guard them,'' Lappas said. ''You have to go in there with a plan of what their strengths and weaknesses are and try to go to their weaknesses more than you go to their strengths.''
And which weaknesses are those coach?
''Um ... they don't really have any,'' Lappas admitted after a pause and smiled. ''To contain this team you have to limit the threes. I'm not saying we should let them make twos, but you have to be able to help out in this game, so as not to give up as many threes.''
Anderson said he expects the UMass guards to be better ready to handle the Hawks' ball pressure this time than they were in the Minutemen's 92-67 loss to the Hawks Jan. 21.
''We've seen it a lot this year with Saint Joe's and Connecticut and Texas Tech played defense just like them,'' he said. ''It definitely benefits us to know how they're going to come out and what they're going to do.''
The Hawks, who have already clinched the Atlantic 10 East regular season title, are trying to become the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated since UNLV in 1991. They need two more wins to match the 1995-96 Minutemen for the longest undefeated start to a season in the A-10.
Leading that surge has been the backcourt of senior National Player of the Year candidate Jameer Nelson and junior all-league lock Delonte West.
Nelson has averaged an even 20 points per game to go along with 5.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. West's line reads 18.9 points, 5.5 boards and 4.9 assists.
Making an upset more difficult is a new addition to an already long list of injuries for UMass - Jeff Viggiano's sprained thumb on his right (shooting) hand that was bandaged Tuesday.
He left practice Monday to get it X-rayed, but with no fracture, Viggiano said, ''I'll play.''
Viggiano was a bright spot in the loss to Saint Joe's at Hawk Hill last month. He had 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Freeman had 17 points and 12 boards.
Freeman has struggled lately, but he vowed Tuesday to go back to what made him successful earlier this season.
''Lappas told me I was putting it on myself to be the leading scorer and he said if you have that in mind before the game, you're not going to score as much as you usually do,'' Freeman said. ''At the beginning of the season I was focusing on things like rebounding and that led to me scoring so now I think I have to go back to Day One and be a tenacious rebounder and play great defense and the points will come.''
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com.
he only place to go is up.
Tonight, the Massachusetts men's basketball team will face undefeated No. 2 St. Joseph's in a game that means more for its pride than its record. The Hawks, winners of 24 consecutive games to start the season, are one of only two remaining unbeatens on the Division I level, and with a win over UMass will pull within a win of matching the Minutemen's Atlantic 10 record of 26 wins to begin a season, set in 1996-97.
"We have expectations of ourselves," UMass coach Steve Lappas said. "We want to show well and play well, but as far as outside people expecting us to win, I'm sure nobody does."
After an ugly 16-point loss to Fordham last Saturday, the Minutemen (9-15, 3-9 Atlantic 10) are on a four game losing streak and looking to step up against the No. 2 Hawks (24-0, 13-0 A-10).
"We're just going to give it our best," sophomore forward Jeff Viggiano said. "We have nothing to lose. If we win great, if not we'll hopefully play hard. I don't think we can play much worse then we did against Fordham, so I hope we can finish the season off strong, and anything can happen in the A-10 tournament."
Sophomore Rashaun Freeman agrees.
"We have nothing to lose but we have a lot to prove," he said. "We're definitely going out there tomorrow tenacious, just trying to play the best that we can and try to focus on the things that we know that we can do."
The teams met Jan. 21 in Philadelphia where St. Joes defeated UMass 92-67. Three Minutemen were in double figures, while Viggiano and sophomore Rashaun Freeman registered double-doubles.
Freeman scored 17 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in his first meeting with the Hawks, but he's been off his game lately, unable to finish and in some cases unable to get shots off. As has been true throughout the season, Freeman has been talking to his coach about how to improve and stay on his game.
"After competition Lappas said that I put it on myself to be the leading scorer and he says that if you have that in mind before every game you're not going to score as much as you usually do because you're thinking about scoring," Freeman said. "At the beginning of the season I was focusing on rebounding and things like that and that led to me scoring and I think that's my problem right now. I just think I have to go to day one and just pay attention to rebounding and just play defense and focus on that and the points will come."
When asked about the quality of the St. Joe team in comparison to other top schools, Viggiano - who sprained his thumb in Monday's practice - Freeman and junior captain Anthony Anderson all agreed that the Hawks backcourt is the best there is. Guards Jameer Nelson, a Pre-Season First Team All American and National Player of the Year candidate, and Delonte West are the go-to-men for the Hawks, as well as the players the Minutemen will have to stay close to in order to stay in the game.
"Anybody that's considered a great player, I love to go up against," Anderson said of Nelson, "but we don't really cover each other that much. They push every screen, we push every screen ... but it definitely makes me elevate my game."
Nelson is averaging 20 points per game and has been named a finalist for the Naismith Award, the Adolph Rupp Award, and the inaugural Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award. He is also closing in on St. Joe's scoring record of 1,985 points held by Bernard Blunt. With just three regular season games remaining and what looks like a promising post-season campaign, Nelson is just 71 points from breaking Blunt's record.
Like UMass, the Hawks have been playing four-out, limiting their production under the hoop and focusing on guard play. Aside from closing the middle, Lappas believes that the key to containing St. Joe's is to limit their shooting from 3-point land and, of course, stopping Nelson.
"He definitely, without a doubt, means the most to his team," Lappas said when questioned about Nelson on Jan. 20. "He might be the best player in the country."
ebruary 24, 1996 - a day that will live in infamy.
For Massachusetts' men's basketball fans, the memory is a painful one. It was then, on that cold, New England afternoon that George Washington, led by old nemesis Mike Jarvis, posted the single greatest victory in the history of its men's basketball program when the Colonials defeated top-ranked, undefeated Massachusetts 86-76 at the Mullins Center.
From there, UMass went on to win another nine games in a row and captured its fifth consecutive Atlantic 10 title, but eventually fell to National Champion Kentucky in the NCAA Final Four. However, riding the coattails of such amazing success, head coach John Calipari bolted Amherst following the season to take a multi-million dollar contract with the NBA's New Jersey Nets, and Minuteman basketball has suffered because of it ever since.
Now, eight years and one day later, it's the Maroon and White who will try to play spoiler in the cruelest way for No. 2 St. Joseph's and their legion of fans, when the Hawks put their 24-game winning streak on the line at the Mullins Center.
For beleaguered coach Steve Lappas and the Minutemen, the opportunity - like it was for Jarvis and the Colonials in '96 - is there for the taking. Reduce the number of unbeaten teams in the nation to one - Stanford - and UMass will become the talk of the college basketball world, much like GW was when it knocked off the team that 'Refused to Lose.'
However unlike Jarvis, Lappas is seemingly on his last legs at UMass, and may be coaching to save his job tonight. Coming off an unbelievably ugly loss at lowly Fordham on Saturday, the Minutemen are once again suffering through a losing season, and have seen fan support plummet to grotesque levels of ineptitude.
Without a marquee win of this degree, the 2003-04 season will once again be considered a failure by any standards, let alone the nearly-unreachable ones set by maroon and white-clad hopers and dreamers pining for the glory days. With the fan base that once filled the 9,493-seat Mullins Center nightly having either graduated or vacated the Pioneer Valley with Calipari, those remaining are left to take their frustrations out on an undeserving target: Lappas.
The fact remains, what the Minutemen accomplished in the early 90s was a pure example of catching lightning - a.k.a. Marcus Camby - in a bottle. Prior to Camby's arrival, Calipari worked to build the Minutemen into perennial national contenders and A-10 dominants. With the arrival of No. 21, UMass crossed the threshold into the national elite, setting the stage for an epic season and an epic decline.
Now, as St. Joe's attempts to better UMass' record unbeaten streak, the Hawks have similarly trapped natural electricity. Prior to National Player of the Year candidate Jameer Nelson's arrival on Hawk Hill, SJU was a perennial national contender atop the A-10. Now, with Nelson's tenure nearing a close, the Hawks are making their run at becoming the first wire-to-wire unbeaten since UNLV.
As Boston Globe columnist Michael Holley pointed out in a recent piece, luring a dominant, immediate-impact player like Camby to a place like UMass is a thing of the past. With the evolution of the Internet, players like Camby don't sneak from Hartford, Connecticut to anywhere but the cream of the D-I basketball crop, they sneak up on you, like Nelson.
Point being? Continue to give Steve Lappas and these Minutemen some time. Through the frustration of three painful seasons, Lappas has managed to lure some quality, young impact players to Amherst. In some instances, he's been more successful than his predecessor, Bruiser Flint. However luck (i.e. Stephen Briggs, Michael Lasme) has not been on his side.
Whether or not St. Joe's runs the table and captures a national title or not, all should remain well in Philly. Head coach Phil Martelli and his system are entrenched on Hawk Hill and with Hawk fans, and serve as an ideal model for what Lappas could become: recruiting solid talent with each passing year, always just one big break away from a magical season and a dance with destiny.
For Lappas, the same could be true if he is provided with similar faith that Calipari was in the late 1980s, and is not asked to recreate the impossible that many feel he needs to in order to keep his job. Regardless of what many believe, his program and its young talent is on the upswing, and may be just two years away from legitimacy and one big break beyond that from a return to national prominence.
Whether or not St. Joe's surreal season comes to a fitting end tonight or not, the Hawks should serve as a reminder of what could be. Give Steve Lappas the time, the confidence and the resources, and a perennial A-10 contender with national aspirations he will soon produce. Fire Lappas if he does not accomplish the unthinkable tonight, and February 24, 1996 will never again be possible.
t. Joseph's enters the final stage of its quest for college basketball history against Massachusetts in Amherst tonight in an Atlantic Ten Conference game at the Mullins Center, where fans have been staying away in droves as the Minutemen continue to struggle under former Villanova coach Steve Lappas.
UMass (9-15 overall, 3-9 Atlantic Ten) may have reached a low point with a 75-61 loss at Fordham on Saturday. The Rams had lost nine in a row, while the Minutemen have dropped four straight. In the first meeting between the Hawks and Minutemen on Jan. 21, St. Joe's built a quick 15-0 lead and coasted to a 92-67 win.
The Hawks (24-0, 13-0) are three victories away from completing the first undefeated regular season since UNLV in 1990-91 and setting a school record for wins. They have won 26 games in a season four times. Top-ranked Stanford, which also is undefeated, has four regular-season games remaining. The Cardinal host Oregon State tomorrow night.
St. Joe's will remain in New England for Saturday's game at Rhode Island, which is expected to be the most challenging of its three remaining games. The Hawks will wrap up the regular season Tuesday night against St. Bonaventure at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
Because of the ticket demand for Tuesday's Senior Night, which will mark the final home game for all-American guard Jameer Nelson and superb sixth man Tyrone Barley, St. Joe's considered moving the St. Bonaventure game to the Palestra. But Don DiJulia, director of athletics, said yesterday that the game will be played at the 3,200-seat Fieldhouse.
Hawks coach Phil Martelli said Nelson and Barley felt strongly about playing the game on Hawk Hill, where Nelson could have a chance to break Bernard Blunt's school record for scoring, 1,985 points, set in 1995.
"They clearly want the game here, and I think that had to have some bearing on the decision," Martelli said. "They were very set in how they feel about it... . This is where they came in, and this is where they want to go out."
If the Hawks are unbeaten going into the game against the Bonnies, ESPN will carry the game to a national audience. The game will be shown locally on Comcast SportsNet.
Meantime, Martelli said it's business as usual for a team that has captured the city's imagination.
"The possibility is a week away," he said. "The only way you get there is hour by hour. Preparation, rest, practice, scouting - all that is important. I don't want to overemphasize these three particular games to the players. We'll emphasize each game the way we always do. But you can see [an undefeated season] now, almost touch it, feel it, taste it."
If the Hawks are stressed by their pursuit for perfection, it hasn't shown in their play. They've won their last four games by no fewer than 14 points, including Saturday's 76-53 win over Temple, a game many considered a potential pitfall for St. Joe's. The Hawks have won all but seven games by double digits.
St. Joe's is hoping to earn the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney's East Region. If so, the team will begin the tourney in Buffalo. The East Region semifinals and final will be played at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.
First, though, the Hawks must contend with the A-10 tournament, which will be played in Dayton from March 10 to 13.
MHERST - The beat and the beatings just go on for second-ranked Saint Joseph's, which last night made UMass its 25th consecutive victim.
The Hawk defense pops the ball away from Artie Bowers.
In spite of their negligible inside presence - a nonfactor through their first 25 games - the Hawks did their customary damage from the perimeter, converting 12-of-21 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc and hitting 53 percent from the field overall. Delonte West had 23 points and seven rebounds, while national player of the year candidate Jameer Nelson totaled 19 points and eight assists.
Pat Carroll (14) and Tyrone Barley (12), who each hit four triples (Barley was a perfect 4-for-4), also reached double figures for the Hawks.
``To make you pay on every mistake, who does that?'' UMass coach Steve Lappas said. ``That's what they do. They make shots all the time. I thought most of them tonight were pretty contested. You figure one of these nights, they've got to come out and miss.''
Saint Joseph's ran its record to 25-0 - one win short of the Atlantic 10 record for consecutive victories to start a season, a standard set by the 1995-96 Minutemen - and 14-0 within the conference. UMass dropped its fifth in a row and fell to 9-16 overall, 3-10 in the A-10. Only one higher-ranked opponent had ever visited the Mullins Center: UConn beat UMass, 59-54, on Dec. 9, 1998, when the Huskies were ranked No. 1.
UMass opened up strong last night, with three inside baskets by Rashaun Freeman (team-high 21 points) and a 3-pointer by Maurice Maxwell giving the Minutemen a 13-6 lead with 12:25 left in the half.
Barley then came off the Saint Joseph's bench to hit a pair of treys, part of a 12-0 run that put the Hawks ahead, 18-13. With the score 24-21 in favor of the visitors, West hit back-to-back shots for his first points of the game, Nelson swished a rainbow jumper and Barley struck for another 3 as the Hawks took their largest lead of the half, 33-22, with 2:48 to play.
Nelson (17 first-half points) was then fouled on a 3-point try with 2.2 seconds left and made 2-of-3 shots from the line, before UMass knocked the errant third attempt out of bounds. Saint Joseph's inbounded and West beat the buzzer with a jumper from the right baseline for a 41-31 halftime advantage.
Early in the second half, the Hawks used back-to-back triples by Carroll and West during an 8-0 run to open a 56-37 lead with 16 minutes remaining.
``We're well aware of what's out there. A week from today, we could have a very, very special place in college basketball,'' coach Phil Martelli said of what could be the end of a perfect regular season for the Hawks. ``But it doesn't drive us. Right now, as soon as we leave here, it's how do we prepare for Rhode Island (Saturday in Kingston) and what do we have to do to win the next game?''
Chris Chadwick scored a season-high 15 points for UMass.
MHERST - There was a time when the roles were reversed. Just eight years ago, it was the University of Massachusetts entering its 25th game undefeated and nationally ranked -- prompting many to wonder whether the Minutemen would finish the season without a loss -- and Saint Joseph's among the Atlantic-10 also-rans.
Rashaun Freeman had 21 points for the Minutemen, but it wasn't enough against the second-ranked Hawks.
National Player of the Year candidate Jameer Nelson had 19 points and eight assists and teammate Delonte West scored a game-high 23 points as Saint Joseph's shook off early sluggishness to knock off UMass, 83-58, before a crowd of 5,912, the largest at the Mullins Center this season.
Saint Joseph's improved to 25-0 overall (the longest winning streak in school history) and 14-0 in league play en route to Saturday's game at Rhode Island. A Hawks win would tie Saint Joseph's with the 1995-96 UMass team for the most wins to start a season in A-10 history. That UMass team went on to reach the Final Four and finish 35-2, 15-1.
This season's UMass team is 9-16 overall, 3-10 in the A-10, and has lost five straight. Rashaun Freeman led UMass with 21 points and six rebounds.
"Obviously, they're a really good team with some really good individual players," said UMass coach Steve Lappas. "I thought our guys did the best they could with our game plan. I thought we did a really good job defensively and got beat one-on-one off the dribble a little bit. But I thought our guys did the best they could."
The game was close throughout the first half, and for the first 10 minutes Saint Joseph's appeared frustrated by solid UMass defense. But as soon as the Hawks stepped up their play they took command.
That occurred over the first 6:30 of the second half. Leading, 41-31, at halftime, the Hawks outscored UMass, 22-8, to take a 63-39 lead with 13:37 left. UMass cut the deficit to 65-49 with 10:24 left on consecutive 3-pointers by Chris Chadwick and Anthony Anderson. But the Minutemen got no closer.
"I was a little bit concerned about the atmosphere because we've been in so many frenzied places," said Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli. "We knew this would be a little bit flat. We have to adjust to that and welcome each and every challenge we face."
Early on, the Minutemen scarcely resembled the team that trailed Saint Joseph's, 50-23, at halftime in Philadelphia Jan. 21. In that game, the Hawks scored the game's first 15 points, on 3-pointers. Last night, they surprisingly trailed for the game's first 10:05. In fact, with 12:23 remaining in the first half, guard Maurice Maxwell hit a trey to put the Minutemen ahead, 13-6.
Saint Joseph's took its first lead on a 3-pointer by Tyrone Barley with 9:55 to go in the half. The Hawks increased their lead to 5 before UMass rallied to pull to 19-17 with 7:23 left on a layup by Chadwick (15 points). Then Saint Joseph's outscored UMass, 14-5, to take its first double-digit lead, 33-22, with 2:48 remaining.
The Minutemen pulled to 37-31 on a trey by Anderson (10 points) with 38 seconds left and appeared primed to keep the score at that margin at halftime as Anderson rejected Nelson with 4.2 seconds left, swatting the ball out of bounds.
But after the ensuing inbounds pass, Nelson was fouled by Anderson while attempting a 3-pointer. Nelson sank the first two free throws and missed the third, but the Hawks got the rebound. Then West hit a baseline jumper at the buzzer to give Saint Joseph's a 41-31 advantage.
"That was big," said Anderson. "I think we were down 6, and I fouled Nelson, they got two [free throws], got the rebound, we slept on defense, and they got a jumper. It's tough because we're not playing for moral victories, but at the same time, we played them good early. It's a hard team to play against."
MHERST - The message is not so much in what is said, but rather what isn't. Game days come and go, Steve Lappas goes about his job, attempting to prepare a team that starts each game with great ambition and finishes with great disappointment.
It has been that way for almost three seasons as Lappas has tried to rebuild a program.
The problem is not the wins and losses, but how those results are perceived by an increasingly shrinking fan base.
Last night was an aberration. The largest crowd of the season (5,912) came to the Mullins Center. But the attraction was not Lappas's University of Massachusetts team, but No. 2 and unbeaten Saint Joseph's.
In another lifetime, the building would have been filled with people and with anticipation. But those days of John Calipari are gone. So are the wins. And unfairly or not, Lappas is being judged for it, and there is a growing sentiment that Lappas, in his third year at the UMass helm, is in jeopardy of being fired.
Lappas has dealt with this for most of the season, as the Minutemen have sputtered their way to a 9-16 season that hit another valley with last night's 83-58 loss.
His game face off the court is much different, much more mellow than the animated "Why me" expressions he constantly displays when calls or games go against the Minutemen.
"If there was no hope, I would be feeling bad," said Lappas after his team's fifth consecutive loss. "But we have a young team, we have three guys out for the season. The talent is there. We just have to allow time for it to develop."
Lappas knows what is going on around him. He hears the same street talk that says that if the UMass administration can come up with the $525,000 necessary to buy out his contract it will be done, perhaps as soon as when the Minutemen's season ends in March. Word on the street is there are some UMass backers who are willing to pony up the money, and that they even have a replacement in mind -- Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez.
"How reliable is that?" Lappas asks. "Nothing I have heard says anything like that."
Conventional wisdom says Lappas deserves more time to see if he can complete his task, which is, at the least, to turn UMass into a perennial NCAA Tournament team. But there are some UMass backers who say that is not enough. The Minutemen's climb from worst to first under Calipari whetted appetites that are never sated.
The backers believe UMass can be the University of Connecticut every year when in actuality, the Minutemen have been closer to the University of New Hampshire. For anyone who experienced the heady days when the Mullins Center rocked with noise, a trip these days is a sad journey. Nine of the Minutemen's home games have drawn fewer than 3,000 in the building that holds 9,493.Those crowds would not fill the now retired Cage, where UMass played before the construction of the Mullins Center. When Lappas was hired three years ago, he knew the expectations, and the potholes that could knock an entire program out of alignment. Now he is dodging them. He knows he can do nothing about the rumors. With three regular-season games left before the Atlantic 10 tournament in Dayton, Ohio, Lappas wants to use the time to build for next year.
He says that if a change is made, UMass will take a step back, before it takes a step forward. "They can blow the whole thing up," he said. "But then the talent on this campus will leave. Trust me on that. And they are back to square one. Do they really want to do that? I don't know."
That's the problem. No one really knows. Lappas is right. A change now will put the rebuilding process back a step. The question UMass must ask itself is will a step back turn into two steps forward.
Lots of people want to know the answer.
Including Steve Lappas.
With a week left in the regular season, UMass's tournament hopes are negligible. The Minutemen hope to put together a winning streak that will finish the season on a positive note.
Coach Steve Lappas, who has been under growing pressure, remains optimistic because he said he thinks the talent pool is growing.
Lappas knows his players are committed to the school and the program, and that sometimes words are misconstrued, which seems to be the case with Lappas's remarks after Wednesday's loss to Saint Joseph's, when he suggested that a coaching change might result in a questioning of the commitment by the players to the program.
Question? Yes. Defections? They almost never happen, and Lappas knows it. Lappas's intent was not to predict the future, but rather comment on the frustrations of dealing with a turbulent situation that he and his coaching staff are trying to correct.
The bottom line is that Lappas was making general comments about what could happen in situations where the goal of building a winning program is not being met quickly enough.
MHERST, Mass. - In the morning, Steve Lappas asked a very simple question: "How do you beat St. Joe's?"
The obvious answer was: "You don't."
By the end of the evening, Lappas was calling Saint Joseph's a "phenomenon."
The Massachusetts coach had his undermanned team really ready to play the Hawks last night at the Mullins Center. The Minutemen actually led for 8 first-half minutes. They had a seven-point lead, the Hawks' third-biggest deficit of the season. They never really had a chance.
It might come at the start. It might come when Tyrone Barley enters the game. It might come without warning. But it comes.
And when the Hawks' surge arrives, it is just a question of how it will look and when it will end. When the end does come, there is nothing else to consider. The game is over.
After blasting UMass, 83-58, the Hawks are two wins away from the first perfect regular season in 13 years and the second in a quarter-century. The reality is that if the Hawks win Saturday at Rhode Island, they will reach perfection. St. Bonaventure will not win at Hawk Hill Tuesday.
"We're at a point where there is no turning back," guard Delonte West said. "We've got to go for it. Anything other than two more wins would be disappointing. Twenty-five is good, but ain't no celebration going on. Twenty-seven sounds a whole lot better than 25."
To understand why this is happening, listen to what Barley said when he was informed his team actually trailed, 13-6.
"I did not realize that," he said. "I knew we had a slow start. It was like were in quicksand, but I didn't realize we were down."
They play the game, not the scoreboard.
"It's a 40-minute game, not an 8-minute game," Barley said.
After 8 minutes, the Hawks had only those six points. There was little ball movement, and the shots were both forced and contested.
The two seniors, Barley and Jameer Nelson, scored six points each in 12-0 run that gave the Hawks a lead they were not giving up.
Whatever happens in the Atlantic 10 Tournament and the NCAA Tournament, 27-0 resonates. There are even bigger goals out there, but perfect is perfect.
"That's something you would cherish for the rest of your life," Nelson said.
The No. 2 Hawks (25-0, 14-0 A-10) scored 35 points in the final 12 minutes of the first half. They scored 24 points in the first 8 minutes of the second. For the record, that's 59 points in the equivalent of one half.
During the best part of the run, they shot 19-for-27 from the field. The ball began to whiz around the court like some video game gone berserk. The second-half defense was overwhelming. The Minutemen (9-16, 3-10) could not move the ball or themselves fast enough to find an opening. Like so many Hawks opponents, the pressure at both ends just suffocated them. Their turnovers became fastbreaks. And only the accounting remained.
"That's the way we play defense," said Nelson, who was not pleased UMass had 31 points at the break. "We take that personally."
Nelson scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half. When his team struggled to find a rhythm, he took it upon himself to take the ball to the rim.
Phil Martelli had to wake his team up after the Minutemen kept up with them in the first half.
West had 15 of his 23 in the second half, scoring on a variety of acrobatic moves and making difficult shots look easy.
"They make tough shots that you can't defend," Lappas said.
Barley (12 points) took four three-pointers and made them all. Pat Carroll (14 points) made four treys. Dwayne Jones blocked four shots.
It was far from the Hawks' best effort. In fact, the Minutemen got way too many open threes in the first half. They are just very bad shooters. And when the Hawks really got serious about defending, it was over quickly.
St. Joe's shot 53.4 percent overall and 57.1 percent (12-for-21) from the arc. UMass shot 38.2 percent overall, and just 21.1 percent (4-for-19) from the arc.
It was the first time since Jan. 10 at Duquesne the Hawks did not play before a sellout, a span of 11 games. That will not be an issue at URI.
"I was a little concerned about the atmosphere, because we've been in so many frenzied places," Martelli said. "We knew that this would be a little bit flat."
It was, and they were. Then, they weren't.
Any thought UMass had of an upset disappeared in the final 2 seconds of the first half when the Hawks managed to score four points. That should not be possible. With this team, it is.
Now, history beckons. And they all know it.
"We can see it, we can feel it," John Bryant said.
Lappas coached a Big East champion at Villanova in 1995. The next season, his Wildcats were ranked No. 2. He knows what good basketball looks like.
"I'm amazed at how long this thing goes on," he said. "You've got to think it can go on forever. When something goes 25 games, it can on forever. I told Phil before the game, 'This is not great, this is not fabulous, this is a phenomenon.' "
His counterpart understands.
"We're well aware of what's out there," Martelli said.
Still, it is always about the next game.
"That's all this team has done this year," Martelli said. "What do they have to do to win the next game? It's great. It's overwhelming. It doesn't drive us, either way. We don't get happy because we're 25-0. Or we don't get nervous because we're 25-0 and say, 'What could happen?' We say 'What does tomorrow bring?' "
It brings a practice this afternoon at Springfield College, followed by a bus trip to Rhode Island, another practice tomorrow and a game at noon on Saturday. Win that game, and Tuesday will be a celebration of a regular season and a Senior Night that can't be topped.
he Massachusetts men's basketball team fought early but came up short 83-58 against the still undefeated St. Joseph's Hawks last night at the Mullins Center in front of a season high 5,912.
The Hawks (25-0, 14-0 Atlantic 10) came out firing in the second half building a 24-point lead off of a 22-8 run less than seven minutes in. Delonte West started the run with a quick three and four different St. Joe's players contributed. The Minutemen (9-16, 3-10 A-10) were unable to get much going as their shooting and a tenacious St. Joe's defense posed the biggest problem.
UMass got off to a quick start up 13-9 at the 11:34 mark. The Hawks hit five buckets in a row, but the game remained in the Minutemen's sight as the first half lead never broke 10.
The Hawks led by six with just two seconds remaining, but the strength of the Hawks offense was made apparent by two quick UMass mistakes making the lead 10 going into the half.
"The end of the first half hurt," coach Steve Lappas said. "Two seconds to give up three plays like that. Like I told them in the locker room, I said, 'you can't make three mistakes in two seconds against a team that good and not expect to pay for it.' You don't know, but at least you would have liked to see what it was like to be down six and maybe cut it to three. They really haven't been in that many games to see what would have happened so that would have been nice to see.
"Anthony [Anderson] fouled on a three, Stephane [Lasme] boxed out but not enough. He's a little thin, the big kid kind of muscled him a little bit and then Chris Chadwick didn't see the ball and his man when they threw it kind of over his head when West made that shot. So it was really three fundamental mistakes there in two seconds.
Four Hawks registered double figures as Delonte West led all scorers with 23, pre-season All American Jameer Nelson registered 19, Pat Carroll added 14 and Tyrone Barley chipped in with 12.
Next to their shooting Anderson attributes the Hawks win, and their streak to defense.
"It's their defense, the way they can just turn it on," he said. "We were kind of close all game, they just felt when they wanted to turn it on they turned it on."
Junior transfer Chris Chadwick had 15 points last night in 24 minutes as his solid play has earned him more court time.
"Lately he's been much better," Lappas said of Chadwick. "I know it gets down played a little bit but he's new...he's just getting a feel for how we want him to play. He's very good with the ball and he's got to learn how to play without it and I think that's what he's done. He's done a better job of knowing when to go and when not to go.
Sophomore Rashaun Freeman led the Minutemen with 21 points, regaining both his confidence and energy after shooting just 8-27 in the previous four games.
Although Hawks coach Phil Martelli wasn't expecting the best from Freeman last night, he wasn't surprised by his effort.
"When people sit down and start discussing who the best freshman or first year player is in the A-10 he's got to be the first person discussed," he said. "It was interesting because I watched the previous three games and I thought he was getting tired, he seemed to be tiring and tonight he certainly had a burst of energy early on, I guess he had eight of their first 12. He has a real bright future."
Overall Lappas thought his team fought hard considering the mismatch.
"Obviously they're a really good team with some really good individual players, and I thought our guys did the best they could with our game plan," Lappas said. I thought we did a pretty good job defensively, got beat one on one off the dribble a little bit but I thought our guys gave it everything that they had.
"I think we missed a lot of makeable shots," he said. "I thought we missed a lot of shots we normally have a good chance to make and that would have been a whole different ball game."
Freshman Maurice Maxwell hit the floor hard with just over three minutes left in the game. He limped off with help after being down a couple minutes. Maxwell was kneed in the thigh and Lappas is unsure of his status for the weekend.
he St. Joseph's Hawk may never die, but will it ever lose?
Jameer Nelson hopes not, and as he did in last night's 83-58 victory over Massachusetts at the Mullins Center, the nation's premier point guard is doing whatever he can to prevent it from happening.
Robert Hartshorn and Jameer Nelson cheer on their teammates in the closing minutes.
"It's worked pretty well this year, so far."
And worked it has. Nelson, a Pre-season First Team All-America selection has had a stellar campaign thus far, averaging team highs in scoring average (20.2 points per game) as well as assists per game (5.38). Nelson has also reached double figures in scoring in 35 consecutive contests dating back to last season, and twice in 2003-04 has he come up just short of his first career triple-double.
In other words, Jameer Nelson does it all.
"He's just a dynamic player," St. Joe's head coach Phil Martelli said. "His mental capacity on the court is unmatched, as is his vision, but he just always is able to pick and choose exactly which part of his game he needs to elevate for the betterment of the team."
"That's the mark of a great player."
With his 19 points against the Minutemen, No. 14 pulled within 66 points of 2,000 for his illustrious career, and within 49 of becoming the Hawks all-time leading scorer. His 240 career steals also rank second in school history, just 13 shy of becoming the historical leader in that category as well.
So how do you stop Jameer Nelson? As UMass and coach Steve Lappas found out for the second time this season last night, there might not be away.
Leading 6-3 at the 15:36 mark of the first half, Nelson pulled the Hawks to within one with a jumper, and then proceeded to drop seven of his team's next 13 points to push St. Joe's out in front 18-13.
Then at what may have been the game's most critical juncture, Nelson drew a foul while in the act of shooting a 3-pointer with just over two seconds remaining in the half, and his two made free throws combined with a basket by backcourt mate Delonte West off of his missed third turned what was a very competitive six-point affair into a 10 point game at 41-31.
However what may be most impressive about the National Player of the Year candidate is his aforementioned ability to alter his game to best suit his team and the flow of the action. After scoring 17 points in the first half and dishing out 2 assists, Nelson recorded just two points in the second half and handed out six helpers.
As Lappas will agree, for Nelson and St. Joe's it's simply what's worked for 25 consecutive games.
"...Nelson took over the game," Lappas said. "[He] starts going off the dribble, which [both Nelson and West] are very hard to stop off the dribble, and when you make a good play to cut them off with help they kick it to a guy he makes a three.
"That's kind of been the formula for them all year."
So with a plethora of national attention following their every move, Jameer Nelson and the St. Joseph's Hawks are two wins removed from not only a favorable place in Atlantic 10 conference history but, along with No. 1 Stanford, have a chance to become the first wire-to-wire unbeaten since the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in 1991.
Nonetheless, Nelson refuses to soak up any of the hype or media attention, because for arguably the nation's best player, the task will always remain the same:
"All I can do is just go out and be Jameer Nelson, play my game and do whatever I can to help my team keep winning basketball games, because in the end that's all that matters and is all I can do."
And why not? It's now worked 25 consecutive times and counting...
he generally accepted belief is that to beat Saint Joseph's, their opponent needs an interior scoring presence and the Hawks can't knock down their outside shots.
Maurice Maxwell tries to shut down National Player of the Year candidate Jameer Nelson.
The University of Massachusetts (9-16, 3-10 Atlantic 10)executed the plan for the first 10 minutes of Wednesday's game as the St. Joe's perimeter shooters were cold and Rashaun Freeman found his scoring touch inside early.
But the No. 2-ranked Hawks started making shots and the Minutemen became their 25th victim as Saint Joseph's prevailed 83-58 at the Mullins Center Wednesday. UMass coach Steve Lappas praised his team's effort.
''Obviously they're a really good team with some really good individual players,'' he said. ''I thought our guys did the best they could with the game plan.''
''It's tough. We're not playing for moral victories,'' senior point guard Anthony Anderson said. ''At the same time we played them kind of good early. It's a hard team to play against.''
For any fans who came to the game just to watch Jameer Nelson in person, the likely national player of the year didn't disappoint. The senior point guard scored 19 points and had eight assists. He appeared to toy with the handful of UMass defenders assigned to slow him with an impressive collection of fakes.
Nelson delivered an effortless behind-the-back pass to Delonte West for an easy basket on a fast break early in the second half that made even some UMass fans clap appreciatively.
West had game highs in points (23) and rebounds (seven), while Pat Carroll scored 14 points and Tyrone Barley had 12 off the bench.
Unlike the meeting Jan. 21 when the Hawks (25-0, 14-0) opened the game on a 15-0 run, UMass' offensive execution was excellent early.
Jeff Viggiano scored inside and Maurice Maxwell finished on a fast break to put the Minutemen ahead 4-0.
Carroll answered with a 3-pointer. But six points from Freeman (21 points, six rebounds) and a 3-pointer by Maxwell started a 9-3 UMass run that put the Minutemen ahead 13-6 with 12:24 remaining.
But the Hawks found range and ran off a Nelson-led 12-0 spurt that knocked UMass back on its heels.
Still, led by Freeman and Chris Chadwick, who scored a career-high 15, the Minutemen were able to stay close through most of the first half.
Anderson's 3-pointer with 38 seconds left in the half brought UMass within six at 37-31. But Anderson was whistled for fouling Nelson behind the 3-point line. He made two free throws and the rebound bounced out of bounds off UMass with two seconds left in the half.
West collected the inbounds pass and buried a baseline jumper at the buzzer to extend the Hawk lead to 41-31 at halftime.
''That was big for us to carry us into the locker room with momentum,'' Nelson said.
''You can't make mistakes like that against a team that good and not expect to pay for it,'' Lappas said.
St. Joe's stepped on the gas after intermission, opening the second half on a 24-10 spurt that essentially finished off the Minutemen.
UMass will play its final home game of the season at 2 p.m. Saturday against St. Bonaventure.
Matt Vautour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
f there was anything good about the 25-point loss to Saint Joseph's Wednesday, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team could take comfort in the apparent end to Rashaun Freeman's scoring slump. The sophomore rookie big man scored 21 points including 13 in the first half and proved to be a bright spot.
''This game I just felt good getting the ball in the post,'' Freeman said. ''At the beginning of the game I didn't focus on scoring, I just focused on rebounding.''
Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli was impressed.
''When people start discussing who the best freshman or first-year player is in the Atlantic 10, he's gotta be the first person discussed,'' he said. ''I watched the tape of their previous three games and I thought he was getting tired. Tonight he certainly had a burst of energy. He has a real bright future.''
MAXWELL HURT - Adding to the season-long injury woes for he Minutemen, freshman guard Maurice Maxwell had to be helped off the court late in the second half.
Maxwell was trying to come around a screen on defense when his right thigh collided with Hawk reserve big man Artur Surov's right knee. Maxwell had to be helped off the floor.
''I'm a little concerned,'' UMass coach Steve Lappas said. ''It's not serious, but I'm not sure what it means for the weekend.''
ATTENDANCE - The Minutemen drew the best crowd they have all season at 5,912.
But Martelli compared the overall atmosphere to a neutral-site NCAA Tournament game.
''I was a little concerned about the atmosphere,'' Martelli said. ''We've been in so many frenzied places and we knew this would be a little bit flat. We have to adjust to that. We could play a 12 p.m. game in Boise. This atmosphere was kind of like a neutral atmosphere.''
CHASING HISTORY - At 25-0, the Hawks are now one win away from the best season-opening winning streak in Atlantic 10 history. The 1995-96 Minutemen won their first 26 games before falling to George Washington at home, in a game that saw the ejection of then-UMass coach John Calipari. Saint Joseph's is at Rhode Island Saturday.
CHADWICK SURGING - Junior guard Chris Chadwick is making a case to move into the starting lineup. He had 15 points in 24 minutes Wednesday.
NEXT UP - The Minutemen will host St. Bonaventure at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Bonnies (6-18, 2-11) will arrive at the Mullins Center on a nine-game losing streak. It will be their first trip to the Mullins Center since 2002 because they forfeited last year's game after they were barred from the Atlantic 10 tournament.
MISCELLANEOUS - Anthony Anderson moved closer to the 1,000-point milestone with 10 points. He needs just 32 points to become the 36th 1,000-point scorer for UMass.
Senior walk-on guard Paco Kotaridis, who will be honored as part of senior day on Saturday scored his first point of the season by making one free throw. Fellow walk-ons Tim Collins, Mike Jones and Adham Osman all saw action in the game.
Junior forward Brennan Martin hasn't scored in over a month, with his last points coming against Temple on Jan. 24.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com.
|Saint Joseph's Hawks (#2)||83|
|at the Mullins Center|
Official Basketball Box Score Saint Joseph's vs Massachusetts 02/25/04 7:00 p.m. at Amherst, MA(Mullins Center)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- VISITORS: Saint Joseph's (25- 0, 14- 0) TOT-FG 3-PT REBOUNDS ## Player Name FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN 33 CARROLL,Pat......... f 5-9 4-7 0-0 0 0 0 0 14 2 0 0 0 23 34 BRYANT,John......... f 1-3 0-0 1-3 1 1 2 2 3 0 1 0 2 18 21 JONES,Dwayne........ c 1-2 0-0 0-0 2 3 5 4 2 1 2 4 0 28 14 NELSON,Jameer....... g 6-13 0-2 7-9 1 2 3 1 19 8 4 0 2 32 15 WEST,Delonte........ g 10-19 3-6 0-0 1 6 7 3 23 4 1 0 1 33 02 JESIOLOWSKI,Brian... 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 03 SULLIVAN,Rob........ 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 05 LEE,Dwayne.......... 1-1 0-0 1-2 0 2 2 1 3 2 1 0 1 12 11 SUROV,Artur......... 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 12 BARLEY,Tyrone....... 4-6 4-4 0-0 1 1 2 2 12 1 1 0 0 23 13 STACHITAS,Chet...... 2-4 1-2 0-0 0 4 4 1 5 0 0 0 2 20 31 KOEFER,Andrew....... 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 41 LIDZIUS,Arvydas..... 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 43 HARTSHORN,Robert.... 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 TEAM................ 4 3 7 Totals.............. 31-58 12-21 9-14 10 23 33 15 83 18 10 4 8 200
TOTAL FG% 1st Half: 15-29 51.7% 2nd Half: 16-29 55.2% Game: 53.4% DEADB 3-Pt. FG% 1st Half: 5-9 55.6% 2nd Half: 7-12 58.3% Game: 57.1% REBS F Throw % 1st Half: 6-9 66.7% 2nd Half: 3-5 60.0% Game: 64.3% 2,1
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- HOME TEAM: Massachusetts ( 9-16, 3-10) TOT-FG 3-PT REBOUNDS ## Player Name FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN 11 MAXWELL,Maurice..... f 2-5 1-2 0-0 2 1 3 3 5 3 3 0 2 23 22 VIGGIANO,Jeff....... f 1-5 0-3 0-0 1 0 1 0 2 3 1 0 2 27 01 FREEMAN,Rashaun..... c 8-13 0-0 5-6 2 4 6 3 21 1 4 1 0 30 12 ANDERSON,Anthony.... g 4-10 2-8 0-0 1 2 3 0 10 1 1 2 3 38 34 BOWERS,Art.......... g 1-10 0-2 2-2 1 5 6 1 4 3 2 0 0 33 00 MARTIN,Brennan...... 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 9 05 LASME,Stephane...... 0-1 0-0 0-0 3 3 6 0 0 0 0 2 0 11 13 CHADWICK,Chris...... 5-9 1-3 4-4 0 3 3 1 15 1 2 0 1 24 14 KOTARIDIS,Paco...... 0-0 0-0 1-2 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 2 20 COLLINS,Tim......... 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 33 JONES,Mike.......... 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 40 OSMAN,Adham......... 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 TEAM................ 2 1 3 Totals.............. 21-55 4-19 12-14 12 19 31 8 58 12 14 5 8 200
TOTAL FG% 1st Half: 12-28 42.9% 2nd Half: 9-27 33.3% Game: 38.2% DEADB 3-Pt. FG% 1st Half: 2-11 18.2% 2nd Half: 2-8 25.0% Game: 21.1% REBS F Throw % 1st Half: 5-6 83.3% 2nd Half: 7-8 87.5% Game: 85.7% 0,1
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Officials: Frank Scagliotta, Reggie Greenwood, Ken Clark Technical fouls: Saint Joseph's-None. Massachusetts-None. Attendance: 5912 Score by Periods 1st 2nd Total Saint Joseph's................ 41 42 - 83 Massachusetts................. 31 27 - 58 ID-229387
Points in the paint-SJU 22,UMASS 22. Points off turnovers-SJU 22,UMASS 13. 2nd chance points-SJU 10,UMASS 10. Fast break points-SJU 14,UMASS 4. Bench points-SJU 22,UMASS 16. Score tied-0 times. Lead changed-1 time. Last FG-SJU 2nd-00:41, UMASS 2nd-05:22.