Minutemen Advance To Atlantic 10 Finals
March 9, 2001
By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Massachusetts watched another big lead slip away against St. Joseph's. This time, though, the Minutemen refused to fold.
Monty Mack scored 27 points to lead the Minutemen to a 75-70 upset of No. 21 St. Joe's on Friday night and into the finals of the Atlantic 10 tournament.
"We never lost our cool," UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. "The last game we did. We rushed our shots and lost our patience. Tonight, we took our time, got the ball inside and the guys made plays."
In the teams' only other meeting this season, the Minutemen (15-14) squandered a 19-point first-half lead before losing 84-69 on Feb. 27.
On Friday night, UMass let a 16-point lead with nine minutes left in the first half turn into a five-point halftime deficit.
But the Minutemen opened the second half strong and never trailed by more than six to hang on for the victory against the Hawks (25-6).
"Last time, they hit us with a knockout blow and we didn't get up," Mack said. "This time, we got up and hit them back. We just calmed down a little and tried to be patient."
Marvin O'Connor scored 26 points, including 15 in an impressive offensive display late in the first half, to lead top-seeded St. Joseph's. The Hawks, who have lost two of their last three, made just one field goal in the final 4:40.
Jameer Nelson, who scored a career-high 23 points in Thursday's quarterfinal win over La Salle, was held to six on 1-of-5 shooting.
"We have a sense of disappointment in that we didn't get done what we wanted to do tonight," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. "We just couldn't get that one play. We just have to be big boys."
Mack shot 10-of-16 from the field, including 5-of-10 from 3-point range, as
the Minutemen reached the conference championship game for the first time since
winning the last of their five consecutive titles in 1996.
Kitwana Rhymer added 15 points and 13 rebounds for fourth-seeded Massachusetts.
"We knew it was do-or-die time for us," UMass guard Shannon Crooks said. "We knew coming in we'd have to play hard. They had their big run and we got down a little, then came out in the second half and really played hard. We'll be disappointed if we don't win the whole thing."
After O'Connor made a long 3-pointer with 4:41 remaining to give St. Joe's a 65-61 lead, UMass went on an 8-0 run to take the lead with 2:54 left. Crooks made a driving layup, Micah Brand hit a short jumper, Mack scored on a fast break and Jonathan DePina made two foul shots during the spurt.
St. Joe's Bill Phillips made a free throw at 2:40, and Alex Sazonov made two more 29 seconds later to cut the deficit to 69-68. But Mack's driving layup at 2:04 made it 71-68.
O'Connor shot an airball, and DePina dove for the loose ball and called timeout while sliding on the floor to give the Minutemen possession with 1:10 left.
O'Connor made a layup with 2.2 seconds left to make it 73-70, but DePina made two free throws with 1.5 seconds left to seal the upset.
"Maybe we're losing our focus a little bit," O'Connor said. "The last few games we've had to fight back. It's going to be difficult psychologically. We're not used to losing."
Massachusetts controlled the first 11 minutes with tight defense and high-percentage shooting, building a 28-12 lead.
O'Connor missed his first five field-goal attempts and was held scoreless until 6:56 remained in the half.
But once O'Connor found his shooting touch, the Minutemen's lead disappeared quickly as the Hawks ended the first half on a 25-4 run for a 37-32 halftime lead.
O'Connor often scores in bunches. He had 18 of his career-high 37 points in the last minute of a 91-90 loss to La Salle on March 3.
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