UMass coach Bruiser Flint has come up with another challenge for his team. And this time the message couldn't be more desperate.
After his Minutemen hit another low on Tuesday night and lost to Fordham for the first time since these teams have met in Atlantic 10 competition, the UMass coach put what remains of the season in stark perspective.
``I asked the two seniors, `How do you want to end your careers?' '' Flint said of his message for Charlton Clarke and Lari Ketner, neither of whom distinguished himself in the 66-60 loss to the Rams.
Fordham, it should be noted, won its first A-10 road game in 28 attempts thanks to the Minutemen.
The Rams got some help from a technical foul called on Flint with 40 seconds left in the game.
The result was a five-point swing by Fordham that polished off UMass for the night and, quite possibly, the year.
With 10 games left, starting with tonight's game in Dayton, the mission seems obvious enough to Flint.
``We have 10 games left and if we want to go 10-0 from here, we need different attitudes,'' he said.
As preposterous as the notion of a 10-0 run seems, the Minutemen will probably need one to have any hope of qualifying for their eighth straight NCAA tournament appearance. At this point, an NIT bid may even be considered something of a stretch for a team that is 8-9 without much sign of improving.
Thus the challenge. And the pain on Clarke's face.
``This is my last 10 regular-season games, but I can't just see it as that way for me,'' Clarke said. ``I have to see this situation as being everyone's.
``We can get all 10. We just have to take it game by game. I have to be more assertive in my leadership role.''
Clarke, the one member of this team who has played consistently hard, obviously isn't the one who has to worry about playing a better brand of basketball.
``We came out flat against Fordham,'' said Clarke. ``That includes myself. It shouldn't be difficult, at all, to get up for these games, but sometimes it happens. The coach had some harsh words for me. I wish he had had some for some of the other guys as well, but we know what we have to do.''
That doesn't make the task any easier. Consider, for example, that UMass last missed qualifying for the NCAA tournament in 1991, when the Minutemen still managed to reach the quarterfinals of the NIT before losing to Colorado.
Even that UMass team had something that is almost out of reach for this group. The 1990-91 Minutemen finished with a 17-10 regular-season record. The best the 1998-99 Minutemen can hope for is 18-9.