Despite tough early going, UMass right on schedule

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Since coming home from the Maui Classic, Maryland had feasted on two teams from the nonscholarship Patriot League and two from Baltimore. The Terps' average margin of victory during that recent four-game stand at Cole Field House exceeded 38 points.

Massachusetts' competition has been considerably stiffer. It opened with a 24-point blitz of Arkansas, the defending national champion. A week later, it lost to Kansas, another of the nation's premier programs, in the John Wooden Classic in Los Angeles. Even its cupcake, Pittsburgh, is from the Big East Conference.

Depth and shooting were two of the key factors in UMass' 85-74 victory over Maryland at the Baltimore Arena, but recent experience also aided coach John Calipari's team.

When the Terps came back from a nine-point deficit to lead with less than five minutes to go, the Minutemen never panicked. They just drew on the strength of their early-season schedule.

"Our first four games have been easy," Calipari deadpanned. "We opened with Arkansas, then had an unbelievable experience at the John Wooden Classic. It was absolutely a Final Four atmosphere. There were 250 media types, fans from every team, the hype to it was incredible.

"You know what? Our guys said they were too hyped. Today, they were calmer."

No. 11 Maryland needs to schedule some breathers in December, because it will spend the next two months facing a steady fare of No. 1 North Carolina, No. 9 Duke, No. 17 Georgia Tech, No. 20 Virginia, No. 25 Wake Forest and the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Atlantic 10 Conference has made great strides in recent seasons, but the fifth-ranked Minutemen are the only A-10 team ranked, and Calipari purposely stacked his early schedule. There isn't a team in the current Top 25 on the remainder of UMass' schedule, and it might not have another game with as much national interest as yesterday's until the NCAA tournament.

The Minutemen have fed off adversity, starting with the preseason scrutiny over their academic shortcomings.

Sophomore center Marcus Camby, weakened by the flu, didn't start, but he finished with a season-high 15 points to go with 11 rebounds and five blocked shots.

UMass went the last seven minutes without foul-hindered senior forward Lou Roe, a candidate for national Player of the Year. Maryland had shown great balance in its first seven games, but it was the Minutemen who put five players in double figures, and none of them was named Roe.

Nothing was going to stop the Minutemen, not Roe's absence, nor a sellout crowd that shook the Arena after Joe Smith's free throws gave the Terps their only second-half lead with 4:36 left.

"The crowd didn't rattle us," said Donta Bright, the junior forward who was playing his first game in Baltimore since he teamed with Maryland's Keith Booth at Dunbar. "I told our guys that I've never lost in this building."

Bright, 6 feet 6, finished with 12 points, four rebounds and five of the Minutemen's 13 blocked shots. He had one basket in the first half, but his offense picked up in the second half, when he made three of six attempts, including a crucial put-back of Mike Williams' air ball with 2:12 to go that stretched their lead to 76-72.

"I ain't going to say nothing," Bright said when asked if he would remind Booth about yesterday's outcome.

While his Minutemen were motivated by revenge -- Maryland beat Massachusetts in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season -- Calipari said the thought never crossed his mind.

"Do you think I had to talk about motivation today?" Calipari said. "To me, revenge is not a factor at all. That was in March. This is December."

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