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November 18, 2000 - Iona vs. UMass

  • Season: 2000-01
  • Date: Saturday, November 18, 2000
  • Opponent: Iona
  • Start Time: 7:00 PM ET
  • Special Event: Regular season opener / home opener
  • Television: ?
  • Radio: ?
  • Result: UMass 67, Iona 65
  • Attendance: 6,147


Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Round one: Iona; Mack still M.I.A.
By Jesse Greenspan, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, 11/16/2000

The question on everybody's mind is this: Can the Massachusetts men's basketball team win without its most consistent scorer and Atlantic 10 Player of the Year candidate, Monty Mack?

Well, the short answer is this: It definitely won't be easy, and the Minutemen will need someone to step up and replace the 20 points a game that Mack would be sure to provide if they are going to get the season off on the right foot with a win against the Iona Gaels at 7:00 p.m. at the William D. Mullins Center.

“I'd rather that he be out there,” said UMass Head Coach Bruiser Flint. “But it would be a boost to our confidence if we win. One of the most important games of the Final Four year (1996) was the game against USC because we won without Marcus (Camby).”

The most likely player to fill the suspended Mack's role will be junior Shannon Crooks, who last year averaged 11.6 points a game. Against Iona, he will play shooting guard instead of his customary point guard position, while Jonathan DePina will start in his place at the one.

Considering that no other player for the Maroon and White averaged over eight points a game last year, the pressure will be on Crooks to carry the main load of the UMass offense. One thing is for sure - he will get his chance to bomb away.

“If you are a two guard in our system then you are going to be very happy,” said Flint. “You will get a lot of shots.”

One area where the Minutemen look to be significantly deeper than last year is at the forward position, where newcomers Jackie Rogers, Eric Williams, Willie Jenkins and Jameel Pugh will all most likely see a considerable amount of playing time. Combined with centers Kitwana Rhymer and Micah Brand, UMass should be able to pound the ball inside more effectively than last year's club, although the loss of Chris Kirkland to graduation, last year's second leading scorer, will hurt the offensive firepower of the Maroon and White.

In the preseason, Rogers shined, scoring 18 points against, and impressed the crowd with his hustle and willingness to dive all over the floor.

“Jackie Rogers just plays hard,” said Flint. “He dives, plus he tends to rebound the ball and people usually appreciate that.”

The Gaels, in contrast to the Minutemen, are attempting to make a return trip to the NCAA tournament, but it won't be easy without their leading scorer from a year ago, Tariq Kirksay. In last season's opening game contest between the two teams, Kirksay was able to drop 20 points on Massachusetts, but the Maroon and White were still able to pull out the 85-77 win.

Even without Kirksay, however, Iona does return a large portion of the offense, and has three players that scored in double digits during the 1999-00 season. Dyree Wilson should lead the offense, with a 14.6 ppg average coming back from last year, while 6-foot-7 guard Phil Grant and his 10.6 points per game should solidify the guard position and provide match up problems for the Minutemen.

Center Nakiea Miller was also a solid contributor last year, scoring 13.8 points a game, despite only starting in four of 30 contests.

“It will be a challenging first game,” said Flint. “If we go out there, play our game and rebound the basketball than we have a good chance of winning.”

However, Flint also warned against giving up on the season if UMass happened to lose a few games at the beginning of the year. “There are a lot of games,” he said. “I don't want people to be panicking if we lose a couple of them. It's a long season.”

Statement Game
By Guy Falotico,, 11/16/2000

The Gaels open the 2000-01 season with hopes of another MAAC title, but they also want to perform better in non-conference play. And they'll get their chance on Saturday at 7 p.m. in their season-opener at UMass, which has NCAA plans of their own.

Last season was huge for the two coaches of Saturday's contest between Iona and UMass. Iona's Jeff Ruland and UMass' Bruiser Flint each needed to prove they can win at their respective programs.

One coach did.

Ruland's team endured a 6-9 start, but eventually found themselves and went on to another 20-win season, a MAAC title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, Flint's Minutemen struggled to a 17-16 record and a first-round loss at Siena in the NIT. Clearly he's still trying to prove he can chase away the ghost of former coach John Calipari, who took the team to the Final Four just a few years ago.

Despite these differences, this is still a statement game for both teams. Iona, despite MAAC success, needs to demonstrate an ability to get it done in non-conference play, where they are just 8-12 the past two seasons. Last year's 85-77 loss to UMass in New Rochelle was due to a late-game collapse, as Iona earlier enjoyed a 9-point second half lead.

“They beat us in our house last year, but we missed eight straight free throws,” Ruland said. “If we make our free throws, it's a lot different game.”

Alas, the past is the past, and it's time for Iona to try to win the rubber game of this three-game series with UMass up at the Mullins Center. And make no mistake, the Gaels are plenty confident they'll return from Amherst with a win.

“We expect another great game with them,” senior guard Phil Grant said. “We've got a bunch of young guys that might be a little nervous, but we expect another great game and to come out with a victory.”

Ruland concurs: “I think we have more than a legit shot at winning at UMass.”

That's saying a lot when you consider what UMass brings to the table. But what might be more important is what they WON'T be bringing–A-10 Player of the Year candidate Monty Mack. The fifth-year senior, who averaged 19.8 points per game last year, is suspended for the contest due to a shoplifting incident.

Even without Mack, UMass has plenty of weapons. Junior guard Shannon Crooks (11.6 ppg, 3.0 apg) will fill the void on the perimeter, and senior Jonathan DePina (3.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg) will start in Mack's place.

Iona will be bigger than most MAAC foes in the frontcourt, but this won't be the case against the Minutemen. UMass has several big bodies they can throw at you: 6-10 senior Kitwana Rhymer (7.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg), 6-11 sophomore Micah Brand (4.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg), 6-8 junior Syracuse transfer Eric Williams, and 6-8 junior college transfer Jackie Rogers, who has been impressive in exhibition play.

While Iona may have some trouble matching up with the Minutemen down low, the Gaels' roster presents plenty of match-up problems for UMass to consider as well.

“We're very long and very athletic,” Ruland said. “We only have three guys on the team that are under 6-5.

“When you play us, you're going to have to pick the guys you want to stop. You want to stop Nakiea (Miller)? You want to stop Earl (Johnson)? Dyree (Wilson)? Do you want to stop us posting up Phil Grant at the two at 6-8? Do you want to stop us posting up Courtney (Fields) at the point at 6-9? It's a nice problem for us to have.”

Lucky 7 Keys to the Game

With UMass in the role of favorite, here are seven things the Gaels need to try to do to improve their chances of winning:

– Keep Miller on the floor. Miller is Iona's primary inside scoring threat, and his shot-blocking ability is what makes the defense work. Plus, he's the only proven rebounder on the roster. Iona needs Miller to avoid silly fouls and to play at least 30 minutes.

– Hit the glass. For much of last season, if the Gaels outrebounded their opponent, they'd win. Last year, the Minutemen outrebounded Iona 42-33; you know the result. The Gaels–led by Miller–will have to limit the UMass offense to one-and-done trips, which will also enable them to…

– Get out and run. UMass is a big team, so Iona doesn't want them setting up their halfcourt defense. The Gaels need to get down the floor before guys like Rhymer establish positions in the paint, so they can attack the basket and not have to rely on the perimeter game. And speaking of Rhymer…

– Get Rhymer in foul trouble. Iona did this last year, which helped greatly. Rhymer fouled out in only seven minutes of play, but still managed a ridiculous 12 points and 11 rebounds. He'll probably guard Miller; expect Iona to try to establish Miller early to try to send Rhymer to the bench.

– It's only charity. The Gaels should be an exceptional free throw shooting team this season. They should take advantage of the tight early-season officiating we've seen thus far, and go to the basket early and often. If they play their cards right, the Gaels should be in the bonus midway through both halves.

– Use backcourt height advantage. Grant (and Fields, when he's in) is considerably taller than the two guys most likely to guard him–Crooks (6-2) and DePina (5-9). Grant has proven he can post up well; expect Iona to use this tactic, particularly if UMass is focusing on bottling up Miller down low.

– Defense first. Running and attacking might be the plan, but if Iona doesn't defend, they won't win. Ruland's ideal scenario is to hold opponents to less than 40% from the field while the Gaels put up 90 points, but in this one, forget the 90. The Gaels need to contest every shot, then box out as a five-man unit.

Pre-Game Reception

A pre-game reception will be held at the UMass Campus Center (10th floor, Room 1009) at 5:30 p.m. The reception is free (cash bar), and no RSVP is necessary. Parking is available in the garage adjacent to the Campus Center.

Boston Herald

UMass hits tough road tests early
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 11/18/2000

The start of the UMass basketball season is not intended to gently guide the Minutemen into rougher waters.

Not with road games against Marquette (Monday), Oregon (Dec. 2), Ohio State (Dec. 10), No. 13 UConn (Dec. 12) and No. 7 North Carolina (Dec. 29) packing the lane. The same applies to tonight's home opener against Iona, an NCAA tournament team last March.

That's when speculation over the impact of coach Bruiser Flint's most hyped recruiting class gets its first true answer.

Excited, folks?

``I wish I had Monty (Mack) for this one - then I'd be a lot more excited,” Flint said of his offensive leader, who will complete his three-game suspension by sitting out tonight.

Not that the Minutemen would have had a choice, as it turned out. Mack sprained his right ankle last week during practice and needs the extra time to heal for Marquette on Monday night. Backup center Eric Williams, who rolled his foot during an exhibition game last week, is listed as probable tonight.

But above all, Flint will get an early look at how his team responds, in a real game, without its best player.

``The younger guys have definitely gotten a feel for what they can do as a result of this,“ Flint said. ``The backcourt is thin right now because of Monty. Willie (Jenkins) is a freshman, and you don't know how he's going to react until he steps on the floor. But we're going to start with Jonathan (DePina) and Shannon (Crooks) in the backcourt for this one. The biggest thing, so far, is that we have more guys to put in when the situation calls for it.”

Springfield Union-News

UMass' hopes high
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield-Union News, 11/18/2000

AMHERST — Five weeks have passed since practice opened, and nothing has occurred to diminish the optimism felt by the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team.

Of course, almost everyone is optimistic before the season begins, and the first test comes tonight, when the redesigned Minutemen open against Iona at the Mullins Center. They're anxious to get going, and maybe that's a good sign.

“It's time to play now,” UMass coach Bruiser Flint said on the eve of his fifth opener. “We've gotten better (in preseason practice), but without our best player, it will still be tough.”

That would be senior guard Monty Mack, who will complete a suspension for an October shoplifting incident by sitting out tonight. He'll be in uniform Monday, when UMass plays Marquette in Milwaukee.

Not everyone gives the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference enough credit, but Iona is not to be taken lightly. The Gaels reached the NCAA tournament last year with an 84-80 MAAC title-game win over Siena, which then knocked UMass out of the NIT.

The Minutemen finished 17-16, including an 85-77 opening-night win at Iona. The Gaels, who finished 20-11 after a 6-9 start, return two starters in 6-foot-5 junior forward Dyree Wilson and 6-7 senior guard Phil Grant.

Also back is 6-10 senior center Nakiea Miller, who started only four games but averaged 22 minutes and blocked 98 shots, an Iona record.

Earl Johnson, a 6-foot senior guard who sat out last season after transferring from Rutgers, is also available to help make up for the loss of Tariq Kirksay, who averaged 19.8 points per game, as a senior last year.

It's been an encouraging off-season for UMass, which signed three promising high school seniors (guards Eddie Basden and Jeremiah King, and forward Mauricio Branwell) and welcomed an exciting quartet of new players for this season.

For all the excitement generated by the newcomers, though, the starting lineup features familiar faces in small forward Winston Smith, center Kitwana Rhymer and guards Shannon Crooks and Jonathan DePina.

The other starter will be power forward Jackie Rogers, a junior college transfer who has looked solid in preseason.

The only injured player is forward Eric Williams, who bruised an ankle in last week's preseason game against The 6-8 Syracuse transfer will still make his UMass debut against Iona, but Flint said his mobility remains to be seen.

Another player to watch might be 6-11 Micah Brand, whose potential has become both a source of promise and a burden.

“I don't want him to think he has to live up to his press clippings,” said Flint, who is hoping for a moratorium on the comparisons between Brand and former UMass star Marcus Camby. “I think he was feeling that type of pressure, but we've talked about it.

Brand struggled in the preseason, an indication the sophomore center was pressing.

“He's been great in practice, though,” Flint said. “I just told Micah that if he were ready to be the main man, he'd be starting.”

Rather than rely too quickly on promising freshmen Willie Jenkins and Jameel Pugh, Flint is going with DePina and Smith in the starting lineup, though DePina figures to come off the bench when Mack comes back.

For Smith, the start brings the 6-5 senior full circle. In 1996, he was a freshman starter in Flint's first game as coach.

“Jonathan played pretty well in the last preseason game, too,” Flint said. “Generally, the older players did so, while the young guys took a step back after a good first game. But at this point in their careers, that's almost to be expected.”

Iona Scouting Report
From The Springfield-Union News, 11/18/2000

November 18, 2000, 7:00 p.m., at UMass

Head Coach: Jeff Ruland (Iona '91), 3rd season

1999-2000 Record: 20-11 (13-5 in MAAC)

Returning players: Sr. Nakiea Miller (F-C), Sr. Leland Matthews (G-F), Sr. Phil Grant (G), Jr. Dyree Wilson (F), Jr. Leland Norris (G), So. Maceo Wofford (G)

New faces: Sr. Earl Johnson (G) (Rutgers University), So. Kenya Carruthers (G-F) (LA City College), Fr. Drago Pavlovic (F), Fr. Charles Henson (F), Fr. Greg Jenkins (F-C)

Last time UMass met Iona: November 20, 1999, at Iona–UMass won, 85-77

Previous meeting: January 5, 1999, at UMass–Iona won 77-58

All-time: UMass has one 7 of 11 meetings with Iona

Iona is a member of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Last season, the Gaels finished 2nd in the conference in the regular season behind Siena, but they beat Siena to win the postseason tournament and secure an NCAA tournament bid, where they lost 74-59 in the first round to Maryland.

Iona lost MAAC player of the year Tariq Kirksay, but the Gaels return senior center/forward Nakiea Miller and junior forward Dyree Wilson, both 3rd team All-MAAC selections last year. Miller started just 3 games last season, but he averaged 13.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, and he was 2nd in the MAAC in blocks, averaging 3.2 per game. Wilson was the Gaels' 2nd leading scorer last year, averaging 19.2 points per game and contributing 59 assists. Senior guard Phil Grant started every game last season, averaging 10.6 points per game and dishing out 92 assists.

The Gaels are ranked first in the MAAC preseason coaches poll, edging out Niagara. They won both their exhibition games, opening with a 92-82 victory over the Converse All-Stars and downing the New York Ravens 100-92 in their final exhibition tuneup. Iona is No. 135 in the preseason Sagarin power ratings. UMass comes in at No. 61.

In last year's meeting, Monty Mack scored 21 points to lead UMass to an 85-77 victory. UMass trailed 43-38 at the half, but held the Gaels to 36% shooting in the 2nd half. Phil Grant had 14 points in the loss, and Dyree Wilson added 13. For the Minutemen, Kitwana Rhymer scored 12 points, and Shannon Crooks and Jonathan DePina each scored 11.


Springfield Union-News

UMass edges Iona
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield-Union News, 11/19/2000

AMHERST — Keep this in mind, University of Massachusetts men's basketball fans: the Minutemen did it without Monty Mack.

Shannon Crooks led the Minutemen with 20 points.

They also did it in spite of some last-minute bricklaying at the foul line, and without a knockout punch that could have eased the pressure, but they did it. The 67-65 opening-night win over Iona felt more like an escape than a victory, but at least the Mullins Center fans went home with smiles on their faces, even if they also carried beads of sweat on their brows.

“I was nervous the whole last minute, and relieved when it was over,” said UMass point guard Jonathan DePina, who played all 40 minutes and was expressing his own feelings, but also could have been speaking for the 6,147 fans on hand.

“If we'd made our foul shots, the game would have been over with three minutes left,” UMass coach Bruiser Flint said after watching the Minutemen miss 12 of 22 free throws, including six of 10 in the final 1:35. “But I'm not going to look at it that way. We got some good efforts from the guys, including our bench, and we'll shoot foul shots better than that.”

There's not much time to ponder the meaning of this one, anyway. Tomorrow in Milwaukee, UMass takes on Marquette (0-1), which made its Preseason NIT appearance a short one.

The Golden Eagles lost 67-54 at home to South Alabama Tuesday, and they'll have to deal with Mack, whose suspension for an off-court incident in October ended with last night's game.

Winston Smith again made valuable contributions, including breaking up a potential game-winning play.

Mack watched in street clothes, and until the end, it looked like the Minutemen might not need him. They shot 59.3 percent in the first half to take a 40-33 lead, but found themselves clinging to a 63-59 lead when Iona's Dyree Wilson traveled with 1:20 left.

That set up a series of mistakes and missed opportunities by both teams, typified when UMass led 66-62 with 12.8 seconds left. Facing a two-possession deficit, Iona (0-1) inexplicably ran eight seconds off the clock — and then, just when time appeared to be running out, Jonathan DePina fouled Earl Johnson behind the 3-point line with 4.2 seconds left.

Johnson hit all three free throws, but UMass' Shannon Crooks made the second of two foul shots with 2.5 seconds left. UMass forward Winston Smith intercepted a 70-foot inbound pass, and much to the relief of the Minutemen, it was over. Video clip of the final play.

UMass prevailed partly because Crooks (20 points) and forward Eric Williams (14 points on 5-for-5 shooting, and nine rebounds in his UMass debut) came through at crucial times.

“I was pretty satisfied,” said Williams, a 6-foot-8 Syracuse transfer who sat out last season. “When I came back to practice Wednesday, my ankle (injured in a Nov. 10 exhibition game) was really hurting, but I didn't feel that tonight.”

Center Nakiea Miller (20 points, 13 rebounds) led Iona.

Bruiser thought DePina played much better than his 6 official turnovers.

UMass seemed poised to pull away several times, but never could.

It was 52-44 when Iona went on a 7-0 run, before Williams snapped the streak with a short jumper.

It was still only 63-59 when Iona's Johnson missed a contested layup with two minutes left, setting the stage for a tight finish.

DePina was splendid in the first half, with nine points and six assists. He had no points, one assist and three turnovers in the second half.

Without Mack around, though, DePina's work was more than sufficient for Flint.

“The stats had Jonathan down for six turnovers, but there's no way that was true,” the coach said. “I thought Jonathan played great.”

Refs calling tighter game
UMass notebook
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield-Union News, 11/19/2000

AMHERST — Any fair listing of last night's key performers at the Mullins Center had to include Mark Distaola, Joe Demayo and John Hughes.

Close play like this got Crooks and the Minutemen whistled early and often.

They were the referees in the men's basketball opener between the University of Massachusetts and Iona, and in the Minutemen's 67-65 victory, they called 23 fouls in the first half of a game that would have had a nice flow had it not been for the constant stoppages.

“I thought they were going to foul everybody out in the first 10 minutes,” UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. “Good thing we had enough big guys to throw at (Iona center) Nakiea Miller.

In the second half, 23 fouls also were called, but many came in the final two minutes, as the game was allowed to be more physical.

“I don't have a problem with the hand-checking and low-post calls, although I had questions about some other things,” Iona coach Jeff Ruland said. “We'll leave it at that, though.”

The NCAA is trying to clean up the contact this season, especially hand-checking. If the games are indeed called closely this year, UMass knows it must improve dramatically on last night's 10-for-22 showing from the foul line.

“We'd better do better, or we're in trouble,” Flint said. “It's not like we don't practice it.”

UMass made 65 percent of its foul shots last season, a number that figures to rise this year with the improvement of Kitwana Rhymer and Shannon Crooks, and a nice touch shown by power forward Eric Williams, who is in his first UMass season.


Monty Mack will play tomorrow at Marquette, even though an ankle injury sustained in practice makes him less than 100 percent. Mack, who finished a suspension last night, is not expected to be bothered much by the injury, Flint said.


Winston Smith started his first game in nearly four years, and the UMass small forward's night did not start well. Smith tossed up an airball with his first shot, then bricked another off the backboard.

But the 6-foot-5 senior found other ways to help. Smith grabbed an offensive rebound and hit Micah Brand for a layup, then assisted Jackie Rogers on a dunk, in addition to playing his usual aggressive defense. He also intercepted a long pass on Iona's final possession, clinching the win.


Williams swished his first shot in a UMass uniform, a 12-foot jumper from the right side. He scored 14 points with nine rebounds, while junior-college transfer Jackie Rogers scored eight with no rebounds in a 19-minute night hurt by foul trouble.

Freshman Willie Jenkins hit an early reverse layup for his first UMass points. But Jenkins played only five minutes, and freshman Jameel Pugh didn't play at all.


Jonathan DePina had the crowd cheering when he hit a 3-point shot just before the first-half buzzer, giving UMass a 40-33 lead . . . The UMass scouting report on Iona freshman Courtney Fields was that he couldn't shoot, but Fields surprised UMass with two big 3-pointers and nine points.

Boston Herald

UMass survives Iona
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 11/19/2000

Jeff Ruland has already coached against UMass with Monty Mack in full glide, breaking down zone coverage and generally making his Iona defenders feel helpless.

But for the first time, Ruland faced a Minuteman team last night in Amherst without its offensive leader, who was serving the final leg of a three-game suspension. It doesn't seem to matter, at least where the Gaels are concerned.

``When they get Monty back they'll be a great basketball team,” Ruland said after UMass beat Iona, 67-65, in the season-opener for both teams. ``The good news is that we play again Tuesday, and we don't have to play anyone else as good as this.”

Jonathan DePina is ready to start the break as Micah Brand gets control of the rock.

Or as entertaining.

On the heels of a season in which the Minutemen generally put their fans to sleep, UMass came out with more offense, and a better pace, than anything they put on the board in 1999-2000.

Shannon Crooks, with four big free throws in the last 25 seconds, was merely the highlight of UMass' .540 shooting performance with 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting and six steals. Newcomer Eric Williams, a 6-foot-9 center, came off the bench to supplant the foul-prone Kit Rhymer as the Minutemen's top gun in the middle, with 14 points and nine boards.

Winston Smith, a fifth-year senior who has never quite hit his stride, provided the biggest stop of the night with his ability to limit Iona forward Dyree Wilson to a sub-par eight points on 4-of-10 shooting.

And Jonathan DePina, the undersized point guard who always seems to resurface at the precise moment that he's been counted out of the equation, contributed nine points, including a crucial pair of first half 3-pointers, and seven assists.

This mix will change, of course, when Mack steps in for his first game of the year tomorrow night in Milwaukee against Marquette, but it also has to get much better. The Minutemen, as evidenced by their inability to make good on several chances to bury the Gaels, are still quite capable of giving a game away with bad mistakes and silly fouls.

Rhymer, saddled with his requisite three quick fouls, played only 11 minutes last night. Power forward Jackie Rodgers, after showing some explosive ability early, played only 19 minutes - also due to foul trouble.

Nothing was as telling of this UMass team, however, as the game's final four minutes.

UMass held a 61-54 lead, courtesy of a Williams baseline hook, when an open Courtney Fields drained a trey at the 4:01 mark to cut the Minutemen's advantage to 63-57. Fields' bomb started a trend for the Gaels.

The four-point lead dwindled to 63-60 with 29 seconds left after Smith and DePina combined to miss four straight free throws that could have salted the game away for UMass.

Crooks hit two freebies with 25 seconds left for a 65-60 lead, but even the five-point bulge wasn't safe. Iona center Nakiea Miller's tip-in with 14 seconds left cut the UMass lead to 65-62. Though Crooks created a sliver of room with another made free throw, DePina would do the unthinkable on the other end.

With four seconds left, he fouled Iona guard Earl Johnson in three-point territory - an instant headache that turned into a migraine when Johnson hit all three free throws. Only Smith's interception of an entry pass that followed Crooks' last free throw with 2 seconds left ended the Mullins Center fans' worrying. Video clip: Iona forced to foul Crooks late.

No one, of course, sweated the final seconds out more than DePina.

``I knew the screen was coming, but the guy (setting the pick) leaned into me, and then I went into (Johnson),“ DePina said of the foul. ``I was relieved when the game was over.”

He wasn't the only one on campus with that feeling last night.

UMass edges Iona
By Guy Falotico,, 11/18/2000

Iona battled and battled, but their final surge fell just short as the Minutemen hold off the Gaels 67-65 Saturday in Amherst in the season-opener for both teams. Nakiea Miller led the Gaels with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Next up: at Coppin State Tuesday night.

At Iona, there's no such thing as a moral victory.

But while this is the case, the Gaels can certainly come away encouraged by Saturday's 67-65 loss to UMass in Amherst in the season-opener for both teams. What's so encouraging is the fact that the Gaels weren't at their best, and still almost took a win away from a team that has a great chance to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“I'm proud of my guys,” Iona coach Jeff Ruland said. “We played very hard, but we didn't play our best. The good news is we play Tuesday (against Coppin State); the other good news is that we don't play anybody else as good as (UMass). We should be all right.

“I'd like to congratulate UMass, they played very well and did a very nice job on defense. Obviously when they get Monty back they'll be a quality basketball team.”

Ruland is referring to Atlantic 10 Player of the Year candidate Monty Mack, who missed the game due to a suspension for a shoplifting incident.

Iona trailed throughout the second half, but never by more than nine points. The Gaels made runs, and the Minutemen answered each time. However, horrible UMass free throw shooting in the second half (33.3%) enabled the Gaels to get one last run, and with 13 seconds remaining the game was still in doubt. The Minutemen held a 66-62 lead when Jonathan DePina fouled Iona's Earl Johnson on a 3-point attempt. Video clip: DePina whistled for the foul on Johnson. Johnson made the first two, setting up a potential intentional miss. However, Johnson's attempt swished in rather than clanked off the rim. A Shannon Crooks free throw closed out the scoring, as Iona didn't get another chance.

“I did ask (Johnson) to miss it, and Courtney (Fields) did get inside his guy,” Ruland said.

“I was nervous that whole last minute,” said DePina, who played all 40 minutes and had 9 points and 7 assists. “I was relieved when the game was over.”

The teams were tied at 28-28 with three minutes remaining in the first half when Iona's Nakiea Miller picked up his second foul and had to go to the bench. UMass responded by closing out the half with a 12-5 run, a run that Iona never recovered from completely.

“UMass scouted us well and they did a nice job,” Ruland said. “They shot the ball better than I thought they would. We gave up (59.2% shooting) in the first half; it's tough to recover from that. But we fought back. We had a chance.”

Crooks led UMass with 20 points and 6 steals, while Eric Williams, who was considering Iona before deciding on the Minutemen when he transferred from Syracuse, added 14 points and 9 rebounds.

Miller was Iona's only player in double figures, scoring 20 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. He played 34 minutes as Iona protected him by playing a 2-3 zone for most of the game rather than their traditional man-to-man defense.

“We knew coming in to this game that foul trouble was going to be a problem for us,” Ruland said. ”(Miller) has to be in the game for us–this game especially–for us to win, so that's why we played zone. I thought we would be able to press more, but they were prepared for it.“

With Miller playing most of the game, the expected advantage for UMass on the boards never materialized. In fact, Iona outrebounded the Minutemen 30-29. However, Iona turned the ball over 21 times while allowing UMass to shoot 54% from the field for the game. Other than the turnovers, Iona played well offensively, shooting 46.7% from the field against probably the best defense they'll see this season. The Gaels made 4 of 9 3-pointers (44.4%) and connected on 70.4% of their free throws.

Courtney Fields provided a spark off the bench with 9 points on a day where Iona's primary scorers other than Miller–Dyree Wilson, Phil Grant and Earl Johnson–combined for just 22 points.

“I still don't know where to play him,” said Ruland of Fields. “But he's got to play. We ask him to do a lot of things, but he's talented.”

Despite the loss, Ruland was upbeat: “We're disappointed, but there's a lot of positives. We'll get better.”

Iona returns to action Tuesday night at Coppin State.

Daily Hampshire Gazette

Minutemen defeat Iona, 67-65
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 11/20/2000

AMHERST - The University of Massachusetts men's basketball team never could quite deliver the knockout blow in its season opener against Iona Saturday, but the Minutemen settled for a win by decision, 67-65, in front of 6,147 fans at the Mullins Center.

Jonathan DePina recorded 9 points and 7 assists.

Playing without star guard Monty Mack, the Minutemen withstood 20 turnovers and missed free throws down the stretch to eke out the victory.

Eric Williams shined in his UMass debut with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Shannon Crooks led the Minutemen with 20 points. Nakeia Miller had 20 points and 13 rebounds for the Gaels.

More encouraging news for the Minutemen was that Williams, who sat out last year after transferring from Syracuse, said he has more to offer down the road.

“I'm still a little rusty and I twisted my ankle last game, but I just had to play,” Williams said.

UMass' inability to hit free throws kept Iona in the game in the second half. From Jackie Rogers' two misses with 8:40 left to Jonathan DePina's two back rimmers with 45 seconds left, the Minutemen went 1-for-9, with Williams, Crooks and Winston Smith among the guilty parties. During that stretch Iona pulled within three at 63-60.

Miller answered two Crooks free throws with 14.5 seconds left to make it 65-62. Iona put Crooks on the line again with 12 seconds left. He made one of two to make it 66-62, but DePina fouled Iona point guard Earl Johnson behind the 3-point line with 4 seconds left.

“I was just trying to get over because I knew he was going to shoot it and he leaned in to me,” DePina said.

Johnson made all three shots and the Gaels fouled Crooks with 2.5 seconds left. Again he made one of two, but Smith intercepted Norris' pass and UMass escaped.

“I was nervous the whole last minute,” DePina said. “We weren't hitting our free throws and they were stepping up and hitting theirs. I was relieved when the game was over.”

Micah Brand will eventually get control of this for one of his six rebounds.

“If we make some foul shots, the game is over with three minutes to go,” Flint said. “We pretty much held the lead the whole game, but we did some things to let them get back in it.”

The Gaels took an 8-2 lead on the strength of Miller's early dominance in the paint. The Minutemen answered with a 12-4 run, capped by a long jump shot from Williams to pull ahead, 14-12, 7:50 into the game. The teams went back and forth for the rest of the half. UMass pulled ahead, 23-16, but Iona staged a 10-2 spurt to take a 26-25 lead. It was their final lead of the game.

In the absence of Mack, DePina stayed on the floor for all 40 minutes and the first 20 produced some of his best play for UMass. He knocked down an open 3-pointer from the top of the arc to give the Minutemen back the lead, 28-26, with 4:09 left in the half. He buried another three with 2 seconds left in the half, sparking an ovation from the UMass crowd, to give the home team a 40-33 lead at intermission.

DePina finished with nine points, seven assists and six turnovers. Flint disputed the last statistic.

“I thought Jonathan played great,” Flint said. ” There is no way he had six turnovers.“

Iona coach Jeff Ruland predicted good things for the Minutemen.

“They did a very nice job on defense,” Ruland said. “Obviously, when they get Monty back, I think they'll be quite a basketball team.”

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Hoops hauls in win
By Adam White, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, 11/20/2000

A good first step toward making it to the Big Dance is besting one of last year's guests. That is precisely what the Massachusetts men's basketball team did Saturday night, downing Iona 67-65 in the regular season opener at the William D. Mullins Center.

Micah Brand battles for the board.

UMass seized a 28-26 edge with 4:10 to go in the first half and never trailed thereafter, holding off a late Gael charge and locking up the victory at the free throw line. UMass guard Shannon Crooks netted a team-high 20 points in place of Monty Mack, who completed his three game suspension by watching the win from the bench.

“We pretty much had the lead from the first half, without our best dude,” UMass Head Coach Bruiser Flint said. “We make some foul shots, and this game's over with three minutes to go.”

The teams came in with a certain degree of familiarity, having locked horns in last year's season opener at Iona's Mulcahy Center and the year before at Mullins. UMass prevailed last year, 85-77, behind 21 points from Mack.

“This is the third year in a row that they've played us,” Iona Head Coach Jeff Ruland said. “I don't think Bruiser or myself have reinvented the wheel or anything.”

UMass took a few minutes to get rolling on Saturday, as the Gaels rode a six-point burst from senior center Nakiea Miller to an early 8-2 edge. That lead was short-lived, however, as the Minutemen came alive and attacked the Iona hoop with crisp, patient passes and thundering dunks.

Jonathan DePina was the Minuteman Ironman, playing all 40 minutes.

Pointman Jonathan DePina started the show, swiping the ball at half court and finishing off the ensuing transition by sticking a pull-up off a Winston Smith feed. Smith dropped another dime on his next trip down the floor, rerouting a Jackie Rogers miss back out to Micah Brand for a foul line jumper. A third assist from the senior tri-captain set up Rogers for a fast break flush that closed the gap to two, and Rogers then locked the game at 10-all by slamming home a Crooks pass.

“When we execute our stuff, we're going to get what we want,” Flint said. “Penetrate, pitch - create the action a little bit.” A 15-foot jumper by forward Eric Williams gave the home team its first lead at 14-12, a margin that would balloon to seven over the next 3:28. Iona then put together a 10-2 run and retook the lead on a three-point bomb by guard Leland Norris from the top of the UMass key that made it 26-25. That was the last lead the Gaels would enjoy. DePina tore the edge away from Iona by drilling a three from the left elbow, then following up two trips later by taking a Ronell Blizzard block the length of the court and dishing to Crooks, who buried a three from the right corner.

DePina didn't stop there, as he piloted another UMass breakaway that Blizzard finished off and then knocked down a trifecta from just left of the top of the key with time winding down on the half. The tri-captain hit the locker room with nine points and six assists, a big reason for the Maroon and White's 40-33 lead at the break.

“We gave up 59 percent shooting in the first half, and we couldn't recover from that,” Ruland said of UMass' 16-for-27 field goal performance in the initial set. “They shot the ball better than I thought they would.”

Williams owned the opening action of the second half, as the 6-foot-8 Brooklyn native came up big on both ends of the floor in three straight series. He first cleaned up a Rogers miss with an airborne put-back, then tipped an errant Iona entry pass into the hands of Rogers.

The exclamation point came when Williams found himself facing Miller one-on-one in the low post; the junior transfer spun past his Gael foe for an easy deuce that gave UMass its biggest lead of the night, 44-35. Williams' perfect 5-for-5 night from the floor marked a big coming-out party for a player who has watched a lot more hoop than he's played over the last few seasons.

“Sitting out has let me learn a lot of things,” said Williams, who spent last year on the UMass bench to fulfill transfer regulations. “I never played at Syracuse, so I really sat out three years in a row. I should be ready.” Crooks appeared ready to put the Gaels away with a swipe and breakaway sequence, but Iona senior Phil Grant swatted away the Everett native's layup attempt to keep the Gael run alive. The visitors keyed off the block and had the UMass advantage whittled down to one by the 10:35 mark, behind big buckets from Miller and sophomore swingman Courtney Fields.

Fields scored all of his field goal points in the second half, something that Flint and company admittedly weren't prepared for. “One thing that threw us off was that people told me Fields couldn't shoot,” Flint said. “The kid hit the biggest threes of the night to keep them in the game.”

The second of Fields' big threes, launched flat-footed from the top of the key, pulled Iona within four at 61-57 with 4:01 to play. Crooks and Miller then traded layups before both teams reeled into an absolute scoring funk, broken over two minutes later by a Miller free throw at the 30-second mark. Crooks converted 3-of-4 freebies as Iona played the fouling game over the next 17 ticks, leaving the Gaels with a 66-62 deficit and only 13 seconds of life left. That's when DePina did the unthinkable, fouling Iona guard Earl Johnson on a three-point attempt near the right elbow to breathe new life into the fading Gaels.

“I kind of knew there was a screen coming, but nobody called [it] out,” DePina said. “I tried to get over it, and he just leaned into me. They were calling any contact.”

Johnson calmly converted all three free throws, then fouled Crooks with :02.5 showing on the clock. The junior missed his first shot but benefited from a shooter's role on the second, leaving Iona with a two-point deficit and one last gasp.

But Norris' Hail Mary inbound pass was picked off by Smith, sealing up the closer-than-necessary win for UMass.

“We practice that; it's the Duke play, with Laetnner,” Ruland said of his team's final desperation set. “He takes three steps toward the rim, and comes back to the ball.”

UMass won despite making only 10 of its 22 foul shots, including five of 15 in the second half. In spite of that fact the team took comfort in knowing it could pull together and prevail despite having its marquee player, Mack, on the pine.

“We'll be a lot better when he gets back,” DePina said of the preseason Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. “But it just shows that if he's playing and he gets in foul trouble, we can win without him.”

* * * * *

The Minutemen get little time to savor the victory, as they return to action tonight at Marquette's Bradley Center. The Golden Eagles (0-1) present UMass with its second playoff team in as many games; Tom Crean's crew parlayed a 15-14 record last season into a National Invitation Tournament berth.

UMass will get Mack back just in time, as his scoring punch will be necessary against the Blue and Gold. Senior Brian Wardle leads the Marquette charge; the 6-foot-5 guard posted nasty numbers (16.6 points, 14.6 rebounds) for the Golden Eagles last year and has reached double figures in 12 of his last 13 home contests.

The Illinois original poured in a team-high 17 points in Marquette's season-opening 67-54 loss to South Alabama on Nov. 14. Wardle enters the game just 13 points from moving past Damon Cobb (Alabama-Birmingham, 1996-99) into 10th place on Conference USA's all-time scoring list.

Though only in his second season at Marquette, Crean is a 10-year veteran of the college hoops clipboard. A former assistant at Pittsburgh, Western Kentucky and Michigan State (twice), Crean employs a seemingly endless array of offensive sets to maximize his team's output.

“I thought we run a lot of plays,” Flint said. “They run an unbelievable amount of plays.”

Tip-off is slated for 7 pm.

UMass defense keys win over Iona
By Jesse Greenspan, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, 11/20/2000

The student body should have been chanting “defense” instead of the choice words they instead threw at the Iona players.

Because as the offense of the Massachusetts men's basketball team began to sputter in the second half of Saturday's contest against the Gaels, it was the defense that kept the team on top. And if not for the defense, than the Maroon and White would have never been able come away with the win after shooting an atrocious 10-22 from the line.

With a new assortment of big bodies at his disposal, namely Eric Williams and Jackie Rogers, UMass Head Coach Bruiser Flint was able to throw a large amount of post players at Iona's 6'10” senior center, Nakiea Miller. And it was this, along with the continued success of the Minuteman perimeter defense, that kept Flint's squad on top throughout the game, even though it was able to garner only 27 second half points.

“We had enough guys to throw at [Miller],” said Flint after the game. “Eric [Williams] did a good job on him because he didn't just stand behind him. He beat him to the spot and made him work a little.”

Even though Miller's final totals included 20 points and 13 rebounds, it was mainly a matter of his shots just falling, and not a result of poor defense by the Maroon and White. For the game, Miller was exceptional from the field, going 6-8 with most of his points coming off turn around jumpers. He was also solid from the line, where he connected on 8 of 12 foul shots.

Another reason Miller was able to have some success against the Minuteman defense was because he had been used to playing against a variety of players in practice. So, when Flint decided to use a combination of Kitwana Rhymer, Micah Brand and Williams on the Iona center, it did not have the desired effect. However, it was still a far cry from last season, when Rhymer was left in charge to single-handedly face any opposing big man threat.

“I go against two or three different players in practice and get beat up,” said Miller. “So I am used to the contact by now and going up against different players.”

Holding a quality player like Miller to 20 when he is shooting well must have been somewhat of a relief to Flint, especially after watching last year's team get out muscled and out played by such mediocre big men as Virginia Tech power forward Dennis Mims and Marshall center J.R. VanHoose.

Miller's point total begins to look like even less, considering that foul trouble limited Rhymer to only 11 minutes throughout the game.

While the post defense was good, the perimeter defense might have been even better. Although Miller was able to get his points inside, the Minutemen were able to almost completely shut down the Gaels' other scoring threats, forward Dyree Wilson and guard Phil Grant.

“We did a great job on Wilson and a great job on Grant,” said Flint. “Those guys are going to get better as the year goes on…and [Wilson] is especially tough to guard. Winston [Smith] did a great job defensively.”

For the game, Smith held Wilson to only eight points on 4 for 10 shooting, while Shannon Crooks also held Grant to a measly eight points, on only 2 for 7 shooting.

This in-your-face defense was the thing that especially frustrated Iona Head Coach Jeff Ruland. “They did a nice job on defense,” he said. When they get Monty [Mack] back, they will be quite a basketball team.“

The Gaels also played solid defense throughout the game, but it was with a completely different style of play than the Maroon and White. While UMass went with its customary man-to-man pressure defense, Iona attempted to disrupt Minuteman point guard Jonathan DePina with a full court press, and then dropped into a 2-3 zone when Massachusetts moved the ball past the half court line.

“I just wanted my guys to be aggressive and to show what we can do,” said Flint. “But at times we were a little tentative. When teams play zone and back off on you, you've got to take it to them. They couldn't guard us man-to-man and that is why they played zone.”

Former Minutemen Donta Bright (center) and Francois Firmin (right) take in the game. photo

Of course, having Mack out on the floor would have done a lot to disrupt the zone that the Gaels were playing. Fortunately for UMass, though, Crooks and DePina were both able to step up and sink just enough outside shots to keep Iona from sagging in on Williams and his frontcourt mates.

And this was a good thing, considering the fact that no one did as much to beat the zone as Williams. For the game, he went 5-5 from the field, and by the end of the contest, was the main post threat for the Minutemen. In addition, not only did he fail to miss anything he took from the field, but he was also one of the few players wearing maroon and white that actually remembered how to shoot free throws, going 4-6 from the charity stripe.

“Eric played great,” said Flint. “He can score and we knew we had an advantage over them in the post. He got a lot of rebounds and a couple of put backs.”

By game's end, Williams was able to post a solid 14 points, as well as a team-leading nine rebounds. Even though the Minutemen did an adequate job of beating the Iona zone, Ruland still believed that it was the right move after the game.

“At times tonight it was pretty successful,” he said. “We knew with the new rules that foul trouble could be a problem, and we had to keep [Miller] in there.”

When UMass heads to Milwaukee tomorrow, in order to challenge the Marquette Golden Eagles, it will be a different kind of defense that the Maroon and White will be forced to play. Instead of rotating big men in an attempt to stop the other team's center, Massachusetts will be faced with the task of guarding two talented guards.

In this matchup, Mack and Crooks will be forced to match up against the tandem of Brian Wardle and Cordell Henry. Both of these guards enjoy chucking up threes, and in this contest, it will be the perimeter defense of the Maroon and White that decides the game, not the Minuteman post presence.

Video clips

More pictures


Box Score

IONA (65)
                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Matthews        16   1-4   0-0   0-1  0  2    3
Wilson          35  4-10   0-0   0-4  3  3    8
Miller          34   6-8  8-12  4-13  0  4   20
Grant           32   2-7   4-6   2-4  2  3    8
Johnson         31   1-4   4-5   0-0  2  5    6
Fields          18   3-6   1-2   0-4  1  3    9
Norris           7   1-2   2-2   0-0  0  1    5
Wofford         11   1-2   0-0   0-1  0  2    2
Jenkins         16   2-2   0-0   1-1  0  1    4
TOTALS         200 21-45 19-27  7-28  8 24   65

Percentages: FG-.467, FT-.704. 3-Point Goals:
4-9, .444 (Matthews 1-2, Grant 0-1, Fields 2-4,
Norris 1-1, Wofford 0-1). Team rebounds: 2.
Blocked shots: 2 (Miller, Grant). Turnovers: 21
(Wilson 5, Fields 3, Johnson 3, Miller 3, Norris
3, Grant 2, Matthews 2). Steals: 8 (Fields 3,
Norris 3, Johnson, Miller).

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Rogers          19   4-9   0-2   0-0  0  2    8
Smith           35   2-4   0-2   1-4  5  3    4
Rhymer          11   2-2   0-0   1-2  1  3    4
Depina          40   3-7   1-3   1-3  7  3    9
Crooks          39  7-15   5-8   0-0  2  2   20
Blizzard         6   1-1   0-0   0-0  0  2    2
Jenkins          5   1-2   0-1   0-0  1  2    2
Williams        26   5-5   4-6   2-9  0  2   14
Brand           19   2-5   0-0   1-6  0  3    4
TOTALS         200 27-50 10-22  6-24 16 22   67

Percentages: FG-.540, FT-.455. 3-Point Goals:
3-9, .333 (Depina 2-4, Crooks 1-5). Team
rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 2 (Blizzard,
Williams). Turnovers: 20 (Depina 6, Crooks 4,
Brand 3, Rogers 2, Smith 2, Williams 2, Jenkins).
Steals: 11 (Crooks 6, Smith 3, Depina, Williams).
Iona               33   32  -   65
Massachusetts      40   27  -   67
Technical fouls: None.  A: 6,147. Officials: Joe
Demayo, John Hughes, Mark Distaola.
game20001118_iona.txt · Last modified: 2020/10/31 11:44 by mikeuma