MHERST - Stop Monty Mack, and an opponent has a pretty good chance of stopping the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team.
Mack managed 16 points in Saturday's 68-57 loss to Texas at the Mullins Center, but with defenses constantly designed to keep him in check, UMass coach Bruiser Flint said the Minutemen can't rely on their best scorer all the time.
"It's not the first time Monty has seen a box-and-one," Flint said. "We can't hope he'll get 30 points every night. Other guys have to step up and score."
This is not a new discovery, but the nature of Saturday's loss drummed home the point once more. Mack scored five points in the first 70 seconds, then managed only one basket (a 3-pointer) for the rest of the half as the UMass offense vanished with him.
UMass led 9-5 after six minutes, but went scoreless for the next nine minutes, when Texas put together a 12-0 segment. In a 17-minute stretch that extended into the second half, the 16th-ranked Longhorns outscored UMass 36-12.
Mack, who scored 26 against Texas last year, ranks 28th nationally with 19.1 points per game. If he scores 13 against La Salle Wednesday at the Mullins Center, he'll become the ninth UMass player to reach 1,400 career points.
As it returns to the A-10 wars, UMass (11-10, 5-3) is in position to achieve something that has eluded the Minutemen so far under Flint: a second-place finish in the East Division and a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
They have eight remaining league games, and there's room for improvement after the loss to Texas. Facing a team with a 7-foot All-America candidate in junior Chris Mihm in the paint, UMass went to the line only eight times and relied on the perimeter game in a vain comeback attempt, going 8 for 23 on 3-pointers.
Shannon Crooks and Chris Kirkland combined for 34 points, but only four in the first half. Kirkland took 12 shots, but only three before intermission.
The bench provided little help, and other than Micah Brand's 14 minutes, had little chance to do so. Three starters played 39 minutes, and a fourth, Mike Babul, played some of his most inspired basketball in the second half, even though his final numbers (five points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals) were unspectacular.
But Babul was all over the floor for loose balls, and the 6-foot-6 forward has also quietly shored up his accuracy. He's made 11 of his last 15 shots in his last five games, and 15 of 22 over his last nine.
But Babul doesn't shoot often, and with Mack receiving special attention, Crooks went 0 for 9 in the first half. Crooks (17 points) got hot after halftime, but it was too late.
"I think Shannon let a couple of missed shots affect his overall play in the first half," Flint said. "But the shots he made in the second half were the same ones he missed in the first half."
Texas, meanwhile, received 17 points from Lawrence Williams, a guard who had been averaging 5.6 points per game but went 5 for 6 from 3-point range against UMass.
Jackie Rogers, a 6-8 power forward who played for West Virginia but is now at Barton County (Kans.) Community College, may announce a verbal commitment to UMass as early as today.
Liberto Tetimandingar, a 6-8 forward from France, has been considering UMass among many schools in the East. He's now at Worcester Academy, and is not near a decision.
UMass may be out of scholarships by the time he decides, but other spots may open up if any current players decide to transfer.