PRINGFIELD -- Maybe it was the New England weather. Maybe it was the the fifth road game in nine days for Oklahoma. Maybe it was the water.
Or maybe, just maybe, it was John Calipari's University of Massachusetts team that hoodwinked the high-scoring (104.6 ppg) and high-ranked (14th in the nation) Oklahoma Sooners, 86-73, last night at Springfield Civic Center.
The nationally televised victory over a previously unbeaten opponent established the Minutemen (11-2) as one of the nation's blue-chip teams as they prepare for their Atlantic 10 season.
"Why did we play so well?" asked Calipari, who has transformed UMass in Cinderella fashion. "Because we were scared. The players were scared that they were going to be blown out on national television.
"When they are playing a team they think they should beat, they play a lot of one-on-one and try to add to their statistics. But when they play a team like Oklahoma, they stick together and work on whatever it takes to win."
The record will show that UMass went ahead, 13-4, and never relinquished the lead. It will show that high-scoring Sooner Damon Patterson was held to 12 points, 3 in the first half. It will show that UMass broke the Oklahoma press early and often, and utilized the fast break for 26 points (to Oklahoma's 7 off the break).
But what will not show up in the record book is the effort and extraordinary focus displayed by the Minutemen, from high scorer Jim McCoy (20 points) to reserve freshmen Lou Roe and Jerome Malloy.
"They are a good team," said Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs. "They are a physical team. They did a great job. They simply outplayed us in just about every phase of the game."
"They got us down early and made us play their game," said Oklahoma's Brent Price. "And we never got a chance to play ours."
There were a host of standouts for Calipari's crew, right down the lineup.
There was McCoy, hitting running righthanders at crucial junctures, stopping any chance of an Oklahoma run.
McCoy, who missed much of the week's practice with the flu, "got out there and hit some of the softest -- and I mean softest -- jumpers, and that's hard to do in a physical game," said his coach. "Would I have played him if he was still sick? I would have played him if he was on crutches."
There was Anton Brown, who connected on three critical 3-pointers in the first half and made a gutsy dive and ensuing breakaway to make it 77-53.
And don't forget Tony Barbee, Harper Williams and Will Herndon, who played immense defense on Patterson.
"Will might have scored only 2 points, but he did a heck of a job," said Calipari.
Roe played 28 minutes and came up with 13 points and 9 important rebounds.
"You can see what kind of player he is going to be," said Calipari.
Malloy came off the bench for 14 minutes and scored 14 points, many of them key.
"Jerome plays behind McCoy, and in that position, there aren't many playing minutes," said Calipari. "I've got to find some for him."
If it hadn't been for Oklahoma center Bryan Sallier, who scored 20 of his 30 points in the first half, it would have been a runaway.
The Sooners came into the contest unbeaten, but against the likes of Coppin State, Missouri-St. Louis, Morehead State and Mississippi Valley.
Last night, maybe for the first time this year, they faced a real team.
PRINGFIELD -- Your State U went somewhere it had never been before last night.
That somewhere was Big Time.
The Dr. J. squads were nice, but, really, who'd they ever beat? The Alex Eldridge-Mike Pyatt-Derek Claiborne teams were also nice, but who'd they ever beat? And since then, forget it.
But last evening, before a capacity gathering of 8,469 at the Springfield Civic Center, and with an ESPN audience (Jimmy V himself on the color) taking it all in, Your State U demolished -- that's right, stomped, smashed, slaughtered and sliced into bite-sized chunks -- the cocky Sooners of Oklahoma by a far more commanding margin than the 86-73 finale would remotely suggest.
It was worth driving over mountains or deserts just to see Billy Tubbs suffering in the flesh. The world's worst sport was reduced to coaching buffoonery by John Calipari's squad. There he was, resplendent in his olive- colored suit with the double-breasted jacket, crying about calls he couldn't get when he was 21 points behind (74-53) with just over five minutes to play. His team had basically been out of the game sine the first three minutes, unable to run, unable to get a decent perimeter shot in any half-court set and unable to match the sheer emotionalism of the University of Massachusetts, for whom this game was a complete hoop Crusade.
For this was, without any doubt, the biggest intersectional game ever played in the entire basketball history of Western Massachusetts. Oklahoma was not the Oklahoma that played in the 1988 national championship game, but Oklahoma came into this game undefeated, ranked in the Top 20 (14) and in possession of the requisite carload of highly recruited athletes who have formed the cornerstone of Tubbs' spectacularly successful program.
Your State U last defeated a Top 20 team over 14 years ago with a buzzer job against Providence. During the ensuing 14 years Your State U has known the hoop miseries as few have. Your State U has had stretches where it was in the Bottom 10, or worse, among all Division 1 schools. Your State U is not used to playing major intersectional opponents at all, and it surely isn't used to beating them.
But Your State U took the lead at 5-4 on a 3-pointer by point guard Anton Brown and that lead was nonrefundable. If there was one defining moment in the game, it came on the ensuing UMass possession when Brown spotted a loping William Herndon on the right wing and fed the forward an alley-oop pass that the amazing Mr. H jammed through the hoop.
Herndon is a 6-foot-3 inch major college forward. He wears the baggiest, droopiest basketball shorts in creation. He wears a T-shirt underneath his jersey and he has a goatee. The shirt is always hanging out. The combined effect makes him look as if he's lugging around a piano, but the truth is that William Herndon is one of the great leapers in all of college basketball. When he sent that sucker down in an Oklahoma Sooner's face, the Minutemen had delivered a very important message.
"We like to use the dunk as a motivational tool," Herndon explained. ''When Anton threw me that lob, it really got the crowd into the game."
Often times, a game can be tracked very nicely by the timeouts. This was such a contest. At TV timeout No. 1, it was Your State U in front, 13-6. At the second timeout it was 20-14. At the third it was 28-16, and it was clear that things were getting worse for the visitors, who would be kept in the game by the Herculean efforts of center Bryan Sallier, who scored, believe it or not, 26 of Oklahoma's first 42 points.
Your State U came out fanatically, which surprised coach Calipari not at all. "I know this team better than anyone in this room or in the stands," he said afterward, "and I know that when we're playing a team we think we can beat we don't play with any passion. But when we play a better team, we lean on each other."
Your State U leaned all over the place. Jim McCoy, who came into the game shooting 39 percent because he ordinarily takes more bad shots than any player in America, made five consecutive squared-up jumpers. Anton Brown, a highly underrated point guard, did all the necessary point guard things (9 first-half assists) while make vital outside shots. Herndon, who never scored another basket after the aforementioned show-stopper, played defense, hit the boards and made nice clever release passes. Tony Barbee played a solid all-around game. And when someone needed a blow, or a lift, there was a guy like Jerome Malloy to score 14 points in 14 minutes, or a Louis Roe to contribute 13 points and a team-high 9 rebounds.
Your State U was never in any serious trouble during the entire second half. An Oklahoma team averaging 103 points a game had to huff and puff just to break 70. "They put great pressure on us," said Oklahoma guard Brent (brother of Mark) Price. "There was always a hand in our face."
Even the players have a difficult time reconciling such a destruction of such an opponent. "My freshman year I would never have thought we could do anything like this," said McCoy. "My sophomre year, the same thing. Last year I knew we could be a Top 20 team, if we had more depth. Now we can go eight or nine deep and not get hurt."
Now Your State U can claim a major, major scalp. Until further notice, last night was the absolute pinnacle of Your State U's basketball history.