Minutemen all Cross-ed up inside
College Basketball Notes
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 11/27/2000

Now we know why they call it the Pioneer Valley.

With signs of trouble already up in the hills, Bruiser Flint has deftly circled the UMass wagons.

The 1-2 Minutemen have been outrebounded by Iona, outrebounded and outscrapped by Marquette, and outplayed in just about every sense you could imagine during Saturday's 78-65 loss to Holy Cross at The Centrum.

Though the coach has always thought of Virginia Tech's rout of the Minutemen in his first year as the worst day in the Flint era, he'll be hard-pressed to make that argument anymore.

His Minutemen were undressed by a Patriot League opponent this time - you know, the conference author John Feinstein has dubbed the last remaining bastion of amateurism in Division 1 men's basketball.

So Flint is already looking to shield his frustrated players, prop up their spirits this week, and help them back onto the proper level in time for Saturday's game against Oregon. It's a level they have yet to reach.

Sure, it's early. And Flint's teams have never had anything but slow starts. But for a team that's supposed to be his best rebounding crew ever, something annoyingly basic has yet to sink in. Flint was hard-pressed to see someone execute a proper box-out Saturday - an embarrassment for the veteran frontcourt members of this team.

``I'm very concerned about it,'' Flint said. ``Our strength is when we're underneath, but we didn't box out. I'm also very concerned about our scoring inside.''

The frontcourt combination of Jackie Rogers, Kitwana Rhymer, Eric Williams, Micah Brand, Winston Smith and late-game sub Ronnell Blizzard shot an overall 8-of-19 from the floor. Most of them rarely looked for the ball, or were simply unable to finish when given the opportunity.

Instead, the UMass offense looked very much like its old predictable self, with Monty Mack running through one of the most frustrating afternoons of his career.

This has been called the season when the senior guard finally receives some overdue offensive relief.

Instead, the team hasn't won since his return from suspension two games ago, and Mack is once again sensing the need to do it all on his own. On Saturday, with an exciting Holy Cross freshman named Jave Meade riding through the picks with him, Mack scored 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting.

``I think Monty is starting to press,'' said Flint. ``When we took him out in the first half, that's when we went on our run. He didn't think that he played well in the Marquette game, and I told him not to pressure himself in this one. I told him not to try and win this game by himself.

``The expectations have made us press,'' he said. ``Jonathan DePina is the only player out there right now playing with a cool head. That's what you want out of your seniors. Everyone else, besides him, is instead pressing.

``I can't criticize our effort - I think our effort has been great. But we can't start to panic just because we missed a couple of shots. We have to relax a bit, and take some talk from the coach. That's what this is all about.''

A glum Shannon Crooks raised a hopeful eye to the hills.

``Just come back and practice hard - that's where we can start,'' he said. ``If we get down on ourselves, it's going to get worse.''


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