UMass' opener works out well
By Joe Burris, Boston Globe Staff, 11/19/1993
AMHERST – Is it college basketball season already? It must be; crowds are gridlocking Route 9 in Amherst, flocking to the Mullins Center with carved-up orange spheres on their heads.
Seems like the University of Massachusetts basketball team just completed last season, but the Minutemen are at it again, clawing and scrapping and shooting 3-point baskets and pounding the offensive glass and sending another adversary home to the drawing board.
Having completed a mere 14 preseason practices (and at times playing like it), the 22d-ranked Minutemen started the 1993-94 campaign on a winning note. Mike Williams scored a game-high 23 points and Lou Roe added 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Minutemen defeated Cleveland State, 68-60, in the first round of the Preseason National Invitation Tournament last night.
It marked the 20th consecutive win for the Minutemen on their home floor, dating back to last season at Curry Hicks Cage. They were set to head to St. John's for a second-round game, but St. John's was upset by Towson State, 66-65, last night, meaning the Minutemen will host Towson tomorrow at 7 p.m.
Last night's game was played before 9,211, marking the first non-sellout home crowd in 32 games, as many students were said to have stayed away rather than pay the NIT-mandated $5 ticket price (UMass students get into all other home games free because they pay an athletic fee). UMass officials said they will try to offset some of the costs for students for the Towson State game by offering two tickets for $5.
Those who showed up saw a UMass team that displayed similarities to last year's blue-collar squad. The Minutemen yanked down a total of 50 rebounds (25 offensive, 25 defensive). They forced Cleveland State into 22 turnovers. They blocked 10 shots. Leading the way offensively was Williams, who hit 8 of 19 shots from the floor, including 2 of 3 from 3-point distance.
“Mike Williams is our strongest player, our fastest player, quickest player and our player with the most courage to create shots at critical times,” said coach John Calipari. “If he comes out with this much emotion, he could be the best player in our league.”
Williams' heroics were needed. UMass shot 35 percent from the free throw line in the first half. The Minutemen fared a bit better in the second, hitting 10 of 20. They also went through stretches when they couldn't finish off plays, missing 5-foot bank shots.
UMass' newcomers showed signs of promise, but also look as if they need a few more games under their belts. Heralded freshman center Marcus Camby went 1 for 7 from the floor before fouling out; he did have three blocks, however. Camby's backup, 7-foot-2-inch junior Jeff Meyer, played exceptionally well in the middle, blocking three shots and altering many more.
Donta Bright, the prize recruit who sat out last year after failing to meet eligibility requirements, was 1 for 8 from the free throw line and committed six turnovers. Three-point shooter Carmelo Travieso (formerly of Thayer Academy) took one shot – an airball.
When Calipari was asked about the play of each newcomer, he responded, “He's going to be fine.“ He said other star Minutemen have had equally subpar debuts.
“I told people not to expect these guys to be Supermen,” added Calipari. “They will be fine. I was happy with Jeff Meyer and with Mike Williams. He played with the kind of enthusiasm we need.”
Williams helped UMass to a 15-6 lead with 15:29 left in the first half before Cleveland State rallied to take an 18-16 lead with 11:32 to go. UMass took control again and pulled away for a 36-31 halftime edge.
UMass led, 46-43, with 12 minutes remaining in the game when it began to pull away. Taking advantage of sloppy ballhandling and passing by Cleveland State, UMass scored 11 unanswered points to take a 57-45 lead with 10:07 to go.