emo from the "It's About Time" Department: the UMass Minutemen (5-3), unpredictably up-and-down all season so far, had a really, really good week – both on and off the basketball floor.
Travelling a tough road (to the Orange Bowl Classic in Miami), UMass defeated Florida State by a convincing 69-60 score in what had to be by far the best game the Minutemen have played all season. "This was big – this was something we can hopefully build on later in the season," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "We must grab this momentum, remember how we did it in this game, and not let it go."
How the Minutemen did this was one thing – but who they did it to was quite another. Florida State plays in the ACC, year after year probably the very best college basketball conference in the country. Nor are they some kind of automatic bottom-dwellers there; in fact, just a few weeks ago, the Seminoles lost by just one single point on a last-second shot to legitimate Final Four contender Auburn.
So this was a very significant victory, one that would count for much should the young Minutemen find themselves sitting on the NCAA bubble in March.
Dominating on the defensive end from the get-go, UMass went out to a 33-27 halftime lead they never relinquished during the tightly-played second stanza. UMass was controlling the boards all game 40-33, the offensive glass 14-10 and, most importantly, held the talented Seminoles to 44 percent shooting from the floor (including only 2-10 from trey range).
Florida State also helped things, keeping UMass in control by bricking seven of 15 foul shots. At the same time, UMass, very strong inside for a change, shot 21-29 from the line.
Individually, Monty Mack (with a season-high 30 points) and Chris Kirkland (16 points, 6 rebounds) led the Minutemen once again. But center Kitwana Rhymer (9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks) and promising rookie big man Micah Brand (2-3 shooting, 4 rebounds) contributed excellent games as well.
Off the floor, if possible, things went even better for UMass as the coaching staff announced the signing of a couple of very promising freshmen for next season.
Raheem Lamb, a 6-5, 190-pound small forward from Boston English High School, and 6-4 shooting guard Jameel Pugh (from Grant Union H.S. in Sacramento, California) are both highly ranked by all the recruiting services and are seen as "great grabs" for the rebuilding Minutemen program.
"At first I wanted to leave Massachusetts and see what's out there," Lamb said. "But after traveling this summer, I found that I wanted to stay close to home so that I could be close to my family. I can't wait to get up there because I'm going to a new conference and I like everything about the school. I just can't wait to get up there."
As a junior last year, Lamb averaged 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots per game.
"Raheem is another big piece to our team's future success," said Flint. " He's the best player in the Boston area and we want the best in Massachusetts to stay in the state because we are a State University. We've done a good job in the past, in keeping the state's best homegrown talent here in Amherst, and Raheem is another in that category."
Pugh averaged 16.0 points, 8 rebounds, and three assists per game as a junior. He's ranked as the No. 2 high school shooting guard in the West Coast, and the 75th best player in the country.
"Jameel is a talented shooting guard who is extremely athletic," said Flint. "He is a great get for us because he's coming in from the West Coast, an area we haven't had a lot of success in recruiting. He's a good fit because of his athleticism and the fact that we're trying to get to a more athletic style of play."