Minutemen run out of Mullins Center by Iona
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield-Union News Staff Writer, 1/5/1999
AMHERST - The saddest part of it is that no longer should anyone be surprised. But the coach says he still is, and last night he tried kindness where harshness has not worked.
“My mother told me that good things happen to good people,” University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Bruiser Flint said in somber tones after last night's embarrassing 77-58 non-conference loss to Iona at Mullins Center. “We have too many good people here for this to keep happening.”
But it does keep happening, and the 4-7 campaign has been such a downer that this one couldn't even be automatically considered its low point, only one of many for a team that has lost its sense of how to win or sometimes, even compete.
So Flint, at times a harsh critic of his team, took a different approach. He used his post-game comments to try patching together his players' battered psyches, trying to save what has come to look like a lost season.
“I just told them I loved them and believed in them,” he said. “We had guys crying afterward. I told them it isn't the end of the world.”
Now it's on to Fordham, an annual Atlantic 10 doormat, tomorrow night. An easy win, as usual? For who? Fordham is 6-4 and unbeaten at home, while UMass is winless on the road.
With forward Kashif Hameed's 27 points tying his career high, Iona (6-7) won its second straight under rookie coach Jeff Ruland, a former NBA Nasty Boy with Rich Mahorn. The Gaels have been improving lately after a bad start, and the only thing nasty last night for 5,579 fans was watching UMass grope its way through its third in six games at home this season.
The Gaels pounded UMass 46-32 on the boards. All three starting Iona frontcourt players had more boards than UMass leaders Chris Kirkland and Kitwana Rhymer, who had five each.
Hameed, a 6-foot-8 senior who has recently shaken the effects of an ankle sprain, scored Iona's first 14 points.
“I knew (Lari) Ketner was a great player, so I thought the only way I could be successful was to take it right at him,” Hameed said. “He got in foul trouble early, so that helped.”
It was a terrible night for Ketner, who fouled out with four points and three rebounds in 18 minutes.
“I feel for Lari, because I was a big man myself,” Ruland said. “He's searching right now, and only he can bring himself out of it. I hope he does.”
Monty Mack scored 16 points for UMass, which shot 39.1 percent from the field and missed 11 of 15 foul shots. Charlton Clarke, who had scored 18 Saturday against Virginia Tech, shot 3 for 12 with seven points.
Iona led 33-28 at halftime. The brightest spot of recent games, backup center Rhymer, blocked four shots and briefly helped breathe life into UMass with two blocks during a 5-0 run that made it 39-35.
But a 19-6 Iona spurt made it 58-41, and it got at high as 24 (67-43). Different players were used this time. Ronell Blizzard. Rafael Cruz, who scored eight points, second to Mack. Winston Smith, for a few moments. Even Rhymer couldn't provide a total solution, though he did provide some effort and life.
It was not the worst Mullins Center loss for UMass, at least not numerically. Fresno State beat the Minutemen 102-81 in 1996.
UMass now plays 15 of its final 17 games in the Atlantic 10, where the Minutemen are 1-0. A good league season is their only hope, not just for postseason play but for respectability. But it looks like such a long, long road to travel.
Rhymer gives reason to cheer
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield-Union News Staff Writer, 1/5/1999
ACTION MAN: The people's choice at Mullins Center these days is 6-foot-10 sophomore Kitwana Rhymer, whose entry into University of Massachusetts basketball games has come to mean excitement. Last night was no exception - Rhymer came in with UMass trailing 8-2 at the 2:55 mark, and the Minutemen immediately went on a 6-0 run. Rhymer forced Iona's Kashif Hameed to throw up an airball during the streak. Rhymer also hit the side of the backboard with a shot, but Mike Babul deposited the rebound.
HE'S ENTITLED: Monty Mack's streak of consecutive made free throws ended at 30 in the first half last night. Mack's streak had begun with his final seven last season.
DUNKS AND CLUNKS: UMass coach Bruiser Flint said poor shooting in college basketball is partly the result of TV. “All you see on TV are dunks, so the dunk has become the most important play in basketball to the players,” Flint said. “The only time you see anything else is when somebody hits 5 or 6 3-pointers.” Flint said young players have stopped practicing their shooting because of the glamour of the dunk, which affects all other types of shots, including free throws.
ICED: UMass began the season by hitting 21 of its first 44 3-pointers, then missed 76 of its next 107 entering last night's game.
ET CETERA: UMass entered this week ranked 97th in the Rating Percentage Index (RPI). The win over Virginia Tech, now ranked 227th, pushed UMass into the top 100 … UMass athletic director Bob Marcum said early-season exempted games are in danger. The NCAA Board of Directors is scheduled to vote on the issue next week. One proposal would give teams the option of playing an extra game, which would tempt some to schedule a money-making home game against an easy opponent instead of playing in exempted events like the Tip-Off Classic. Next year's Indiana-Temple Tip-Off matchup is already guaranteed.
UMass suffers defeat
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 1/6/1999
AMHERST - If Saturday's win over Virginia Tech was a step forward for the University of Massachusetts men's basketball, Tuesday night's 77-58 loss to Iona at the Mullins Center was at least two steps in the other direction.
The Minutemen (4-7) trailed 33-28 at halftime and fell apart in the second half in front of 5,579 fans, many of whom had found the exits long before the final buzzer sounded.
“This was a great win for us,” said Iona coach Jeff Ruland, whose team improved to 6-7. “We've been playing well of late. I'm very, very happy. On the other hand, I feel for Bruiser (Flint) and what's he's going through. There's no doubt in my mind that they'll turn it around.”
Flint does believe his team will pull out of their nosedive.
“Without struggle, there is no progress,” he said. “I have a lot of faith in my guys that we'll pull through. My mother always told me that good things happen to good people. I have too many good people on my team for things to keep happening like this.”
Senior center Lari Ketner appeared to take the loss the hardest, visibly crying on assistant coach Geoff Arnold's shoulder on the UMass bench after fouling out with 7:40 left in the game with just four points and three rebounds.
The most pressing order of business for UMass, according to Flint, is to keep his players believing.
“We have to believe in ourselves,” Flint said. “We can't let ourselves get down to the point that we don't think we can win any games. It's about us getting ourselves together. We have to get our heads up. We'll be all right. We'll pull out of this. I told them that I love them and that I believe in them and that I know we're going to be all right.”
The smaller Gaels outplayed the Minutemen in just about every aspect of the game, including a 46-32 domination on the boards and a 65-27 advantage in points in the paint.
“You have to give Iona credit. They really played well tonight,” Flint said.
Flint tried just about every line-up combination imaginable. With the exception of Anthony Oates, every scholarship player on the UMass roster got into the game.
Iona center Kashif Hameed scored the Gaels' first 14 points as the visitors jumped took a 14-11 lead. He led all scorers with 27 points to go along with seven rebounds.
UMass led only once, when Kitwana Rhymer's two free throws put the Minutemen ahead 22-21 with 8:17 left in the first half. But the Gaels outscored UMass, 12-6, the rest of the half.
Monty Mack led the Minutemen with 16 points. He was the only Minuteman in double-figures but he struggled from behind the three-point arc, going just 1-for-7.
Rhymer and Rafael Cruz were rare bright spots for the Minutemen off the bench. Rhymer grabbed a team-high five rebounds and blocked four shots, the most in a single game by any Minuteman this season. Cruz added eight points in just 11 minutes.
The Minutemen return to action Thursday, when they travel to Fordham for a 7 p.m. contest.
Brand 'clicks' with UMass
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 1/6/1999
AMHERST - While the current University of Massachusetts men's basketball team struggled on the court, a future Minuteman watched from the stands.
Micah Brand, a 6-foot-11, 235-pound center from New York City, who currently attends Milford (Conn.) Academy, was seated behind the UMass bench during Tuesday night's 77-58 loss to Iona.
Brand said he is looking forward to starting his career in Amherst.
“The final two schools were here and Penn State. After being around all the coaches and all the players, I felt more comfortable here,” Brand said. “When I was up here on my visit, I got along with everyone real good. Down there the guys were nice but I didn't feel like I fit in as well as I did here. Right away, I feel like we clicked.”
Brand was vague in his description of his style of play.
“I don't have one major strength, but I guess I'm pretty good at everything,” he said.
When asked about his player this fall, Milford coach Brad Shapiro was more specific.
“He has quickness and the up-and-under moves and a hook shot. The sky is really the limit for this kid.”
Brand already has received the necessary SAT score to be eligible to play next year.
“Now I can just concentrate on getting my skills up and getting stronger and just getting ready for next year,” said Brand, who said he thinks Milford has helped prepare him for college. “That was my first time away from home and I learned responsibility, getting my work done, getting it done on time. We take a lot of road trips and I know that being away, you still have to do the work.”
While he's been concerned about UMass' slow start, Brand is optimistic about its future.
“It's been tough, but it's early in the season, and they'll probably come back around as the season continues,” he said.
* * *
Monty Mack's season-long string of consecutive made free throws ended last night, when he missed his second attempt. He had made 30 in a row, dating to last season. That mark fell just 10 shy of Donta Bright's 40 during the 1995-96 season.
* * *
Losing in January was an unusual event for UMass, which is now 17-3 under Bruiser Flint in the first month of the year. Tuesdays, on the other hand, have not been kind to the Minutemen, as they are 0-4 with losses to College of Charleston, Villanova and Davidson before last night. UMass' only remaining Tuesday game is Feb. 23 at La Salle.
Iona owns Minutemen
UMass hits bottom with loss
By Joe Burris, The Boston Globe Staff, 1/6/1999
AMHERST - The motto “Refuse To Lose” no longer applies to University of Massachusetts men's basketball. It ceased making sense over the past two seasons, when the Minutemen fell from the perch reserved for the nation's elite programs. Yet they had maintained the competitive drive and fighting spirit that helped give rise to the rallying cry.
After a 77-58 loss to visiting Iona last night, the lowly Minutemen seem suited for another motto: Relight the Fuse.
These are tough times for a team many thought would be the school's best since the 1996 Final Four squad, one that was ranked in both the Associated Press and CNN/USA Today preseason polls.
But last night, continuing a trend that has hampered it all season, UMass (4-7) shot poorly, played sporadic defense, and struggled to maintain intensity and focus when its problems mounted.
Iona (6-7), meanwhile, submitted one of its best efforts of the season. The smaller Gaels outscored UMass in the paint, 65-27, outrebounded the Minutemen, 46-32, and led by as many as 24 points - 67-43 with six minutes left. UMass trailed at halftime, 33-28, then collapsed in the second half, playing lifeless basketball.
“There was one point in the second half where I thought we were ready to get back in it,” said UMass reserve center Kitwana Rhymer (4 points, 4 blocks), whose rejection of Nakiea Miller led to a 3-pointer by Monty Mack (team-high 16 points) that cut the Iona lead to 39-35 with 17:08 left.
Then Fordham stepped up its play, outscoring UMass, 28-8, over the next 11:08. The game was essentially over at that point.
“It's a great win for us,” said Iona first-year coach Jeff Ruland, a former NBA player with the Washington Bullets and Philadelphia 76ers. “We're a pretty good defensive team when we come to play. When we don't, bad things happen.”
Iona, which lost to Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year, was expected to be much better than its 6-7 mark would indicate, and Ruland said last night's win could signal a turnaround.
At the same time, he empathized with UMass and particularly center Lari Ketner, who scored just 4 points before fouling out - the second consecutive game in which the Minutemen's leading scorer last season has failed to score in double figures.
“Lari's searching right now, and I have a lot of sympathy for him because I was a big man in college,” said Ruland. “Two of the reasons I left my final year was one, I signed with an agent and I didn't have any choice, but two, I was very tired of facing double- and triple-teams and zones.”
Ketner left with 7:40 remaining after defending Iona center Kashif Hameed, who led the Gaels with 27 points on 10-for-17 shooting and had 7 rebounds. Upon reaching the bench, Ketner buried his head in a towel and wept while being consoled by coach Bruiser Flint and associate coach Geoff Arnold.
Audio clip: Listen to some of Bruiser's post-game comments. (Courtesy: WHMP)
“It pains me to watch the kid,” said Flint. “He's the first big player I ever got and I wanted him to have some fun. He has a chance to fulfill a dream. Watching him out there, I wish I could trade places with him.”
At some points in the second half, there were smatterings of boos from the crowd of 5,579, but after the final buzzer, many fans stood and applauded as the team filed out.
Flint, who thanked the fans for their support, remains confident, though he conceded that this is a bigger hill to climb than the 6-9 start of two years ago, after which a furious run led to an NCAA berth.
“Without struggle, there is no progress,” said Flint.
Iona dunks Umass: Minutemen hit low point, 77-58
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 1/6/1999
AMHERST - There were more tears last night, players had their heads down, and Bruiser Flint could be seen attempting to console an inconsolable Lari Ketner on the sideline after the UMass center fouled out with yet another single-digit game.
If this isn't the bottom, it must be close. The Minutemen (4-7) lost, 77-58, last night to Iona (6-7).
Not so long ago, losses - let alone 19-point losses - to middling opponents at the Mullins Center were unthinkable.
Flint, the pain stretched across his face, attempted to make sense of the new reality. His big men - Ketner, Ajmal Basit and promising sophomore Kitwana Rhymer - had just been manhandled by Iona center Kashif Hameed, who had 27 points and seven rebounds.
All three Iona frontcourt starters, in fact, pulled down seven or more boards. UMass' starting frontcourt combined for nine.
Aside from Monty Mack, who scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half by looking for his own shot on a full-time basis, no one on UMass had an offensive idea. UMass also shot 1-of-10 from the free throw line in the second half and surrendered 65 points in the paint to Iona.
There's something terribly wrong with those numbers.
``I've said this before, but I have to say it again - without struggle, there's no progress,' said Flint. ``My mom always told me that good things happen to good people, and there are too many good people on this team for something good not to happen now.
``But you have to give Iona credit. I said that this game was going to be about two teams that are trying to find themselves and that's what they did.“
Unfortunately for Flint, his players are once again searching. At least they didn't have to walk into the cold night alone.
A large number of fans in what has become a passive Mullins Center crowd stood and applauded the Minutemen as they walked off the floor after the game.
``Hey man, our guys have worked hard and this is why we have great fans - they understand that this is a tough time for us,” said Flint.
Nowhere have the hard times taken a harder toll than on Ketner, who finished with four points and three rebounds in 18 minutes.
Jeff Ruland, the former Bullets and Sixers power player who has returned to coach Iona, his alma mater, could commiserate better than most with Ketner's plight.
``Lari is searching right now and it's tough,“ said Ruland. ``I left (Iona) early for two reasons. One, I signed with an agent, so I couldn't have come back if I wanted to. But like Lari, I was also tired of all the double teams and the fouls. He just has to go out there and play hard. But he's frustrated right now and you can see that.”
IONA (77) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Hameed 30 10-17 7-10 2-7 2 3 27 Kirksay 33 3-7 3-6 0-7 5 1 9 Miller 18 4-7 1-1 2-8 0 3 9 Grant 29 3-6 0-0 0-1 0 1 6 Young 27 1-4 2-2 0-2 0 1 5 Cheatham 12 1-3 0-0 2-2 2 1 2 Norris 8 0-0 3-3 0-0 1 0 3 Wilson 25 4-8 2-4 3-9 3 1 10 Kresta 7 2-2 0-0 1-3 0 4 4 Dunmore 11 1-1 0-3 0-2 0 2 2 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 29-55 18-29 10-41 13 17 77 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.527, FT-.621. 3-Point Goals: 1-6, .167 (Kirksay 0-1, Grant 0-2, Young 1-3). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 2 (Hameed 2). Turnovers: 13 (Kirksay 4, Dunmore 2, Wilson 2, Young 2, Cheatham, Grant, Miller). Steals: 4 (Wilson 2, Miller, Young). MASSACHUSETTS (58) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Kirkland 20 3-5 0-0 1-5 0 0 6 Babul 22 3-6 0-0 1-1 1 2 6 Ketner 18 2-3 0-1 1-3 0 5 4 Clarke 36 3-12 1-4 2-2 3 4 7 M Mack 37 7-18 1-3 0-2 4 3 16 Depina 11 1-2 0-0 0-1 2 0 3 Cruz 13 3-6 0-1 1-2 1 2 8 Smith 4 0-2 0-0 1-2 0 0 0 Blizzard 9 0-3 0-2 1-4 0 1 0 Rhymer 20 1-2 2-2 1-5 0 4 4 Basit 10 2-5 0-2 1-1 1 3 4 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 25-64 4-15 10-28 12 24 58 _______________________________________________ Percentages: FG-.391, FT-.267. 3-Point Goals: 4-18, .222 (Babul 0-1, Clarke 0-3, M Mack 1-7, Depina 1-1, Cruz 2-4, Smith 0-1, Blizzard 0-1). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 7 (Rhymer 4, Blizzard, Ketner, Basit). Turnovers: 9 (Depina 2, Kirkland 2, M Mack 2, Babul, Clarke, Rhymer). Steals: 6 (Clarke 4, Basit, M Mack). __________________________________ Iona 33 44 - 77 Massachusetts 28 30 - 58 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 5,579. Officials: Tom Lopes, Tim Higgins, John Cahill.