UMass returns to Civic Center
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 1/16/2001

SPRINGFIELD Stuart J. Hurwitz knows the numbers, and he knows he'd choose different ones if he could.

He'd rather the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team was 10-4, and not 4-10.

But Hurwitz, the general manager of the Springfield Civic Center, is still convinced Saturday's UMass-Duquesne game in Springfield will be worth watching, for reasons that involve both the present and the future.

"It's been a long time since they've been here," said Hurwitz, who made the return of UMass basketball to Springfield one of his pet projects. "If we want them back, we have to support them."

It's been more than six years since UMass last played in Springfield. The Minutemen haven't appeared since Jan. 3, 1995, when Lou Roe and Marcus Camby were the stars of coach John Calipari's team that routed West Virginia 95-65, and eventually went to the NCAA East Regional final.

One important factor works on the side of this year's matchup. Since Atlantic 10 Conference play opened, the Minutemen are playing much better.

They are 2-1 in conference play, stunning Xavier on the road and coming within one shot of remaining undefeated. A 3-point basket by Vidal Massiah with 3.2 seconds left gave St. Bonaventure a 66-65 win over visiting UMass Saturday.

Fans who attend Saturday's 7 p.m. game also have a chance to see a milestone and possibly some history. In the 101-year history of UMass basketball, the school has won 999 games, with a chance to reach 1,000 Thursday against Dayton at the Mullins Center.

But if Dayton wins, UMass will shoot for No. 1,000 in Springfield against Duquesne, which not beaten the Minutemen since 1991 a 15-game streak.

Another landmark could be reached Saturday by UMass senior guard Monty Mack, who will make his only career appearance in Springfield. Mack has 1,854 career points and could pass Roe against Duquesne.

Roe scored 1,905 career points to rank second behind Jim McCoy (2,374) in UMass history. Mack is 51 points behind, and with a 24.8-ppg. scoring average in league play and a date against Dayton Thursday, he might pass Roe Saturday.

Hurwitz said local youth groups and clubs that are interested in attending Saturday's game are encouraged to call the Civic Center this week (787-6610) for information about ticket packages.

The game gives Greater Springfield fans a chance to see the area's Division I team without the 45-minute drive to Amherst. UMass associate director William D. Strickland said the school has made no commitment to Springfield beyond this year, but is interested in extending the agreement.

"I don't think there's a set attendance figure in mind that would convince us," Strickland said. "We'd have to do better than we would at the Mullins Center to make it worthwhile."

That may be doable, even with the Minutemen struggling. This year, UMass has been drawing its lowest crowds since the Mullins Center opened in 1993, and the Jan. 6 win over George Washington attracted 4,443, a record low for the building.

Hurwitz says he'll learn today how Saturday's advance sale is going, since UMass was in charge of 50 percent of the tickets.

But whatever the early numbers, he is convinced this game will be worth watching and attending. The Minutemen are playing better, and Mack is completing one of the most impressive careers in school history.

If a UMass game is staged at the Civic Center next season, one possible opponent is Oregon.

Both Strickland and UMass athletic director Bob Marcum have said they're open to extending the deal, partly because they appreciate the effort Hurwitz has put into making this game possible.

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