UMass in great escape
Camby's late dunk sinks G. Washington
By Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe Staff, 1/23/1994
AMHERST – Miraculously, the game had come down to one shot, but the Minutemen were required to make that shot, and that looked like long odds on the board after coach John Calipari's team had managed to miss 19 of its first 22 attempts.
So it was only fitting that with 2.9 seconds remaining in yesterday's Atlantic 10 game against George Washington, freshman center Marcus Camby made the Minutemen winners with the highest-percentage shot available – a slam-dunk that gave the sixth-ranked University of Massachusetts a remarkable 56-55 victory.
“That,” said Calipari, looking as worn out as his players, “was the steal of the century. We shot 30 percent up from 13 percent at halftime and still found a way to win.”
For the Minutemen, who now can rest until Thursday's game in Cincinnati, it was the continuation of a wild ride that has seen them gain a Top 10 ranking with a 15-2 record (7-0 Atlantic 10), the best start in school history.
Although the victories are mounting, they are also getting harder to earn.
“Every game we play is like a dogfight,” said Calipari. “We have a big target on our chest right now. Beating us makes everyone's season.”
Beating the Minutemen would certainly have made George Washington coach Mike Jarvis' day. Although the Colonials are a mediocre 8-7 (2-5 Atlantic 10), Jarvis sees signs that they will be anything but that by the end of the season.
“I hate to be the team that plays us in the A-10 tournament,” said Jarvis, “because by then we're going to pretty good. Today we did everything right but win the game.”
UMass wouldn't argue. George Washington forward Nimbo Hammons (game-high 22 points) and center Yinka Dare brought their lunch buckets to work and settled in for a defensive siege.
A combination of UMass' ineptness and George Washington's tenacity led to a first half in which the Minutemen scored only three field goals and trailed by 11 points.
“Thirteen percent,” sighed Calipari. “I can't remember any game in which we shot 13 percent. Maybe when I was in sixth grade.”
Calipari did his usual war dance in the locker room at halftime, but you can scream at only so many players. The Minutemen were horrible across the board, missing layups, 3-point shots and foul shots.
The only way back was to use a strategy in which shooting was not required. The Minutemen played eyeball-to-eyeball defense. They came up with six steals and five blocks and they stayed close using whatever energy was left in their bodies after a week in which they played three games in five days.
“We just put more pressure on everybody,” said Lou Roe, who managed to score 12 points and pull down 9 rebounds after a first half in which he had only 4 points.
Despite the pressure, George Washington managed to keep its lead at a steady 9 points.
“I'm sitting there thinking, 'What's going on?' ” said Calipari.
The biggest problem was getting within range of tying the game on one possession. And that opportunity did not present itself until there were 53 seconds left and guard Mike Williams came down the court and sent up a jumper from the top of the key, just inside the 3-point line. In appropriate fashion for this game, the ball bounced twice on the rim before falling through to make it 55-54.
Williams then did the job on the other end, picking up a charging call on Vaughn Jones and giving the Minutemen the ball with 24.3 seconds left.
Calipari called a timeout and tried to diagram a normal play, with either Roe or Donta Bright taking the game-winning shot.
It didn't work out that way, as the Colonials took care of all options except the one that allowed the 6-foot-11-inch Camby to get a pass from Bright with just under 3 seconds remaining.
The 7-1 Dare had come over to double-team Bright, which allowed Camby a few feet of open space. The shot was as sure as you were going to find – a dunk – with Dare crashing into Camby after the basket.
With 2.9 seconds left, George Washington still had a chance, albeit remote. Calipari told Camby to deliberately miss the foul shot, figuring more time would be used up that way.
For one of the few times, the Minutemen followed the script. The shot bounced off the rim, and when Marcus Ford's desperation fling at the buzzer was wide right, UMass had earned a victory it didn't really deserve.