Minutemen down Bonnies

Saturday afternoon marked the conclusion not only of the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s 2003-04 home schedule, but also of two careers that have gone largely unnoticed and under-appreciated over the last four years.

For the final time on the Mullins Center hardwood, senior walk-on Paco Kotaridis of Athens, Greece and senior student manager Eric Schwager, a sports management major from Long Island, N.Y. completed their duties within third-year UMass coach Steve Lappas’ program, and Rashaun Freeman helped assure they went out as winners.

In an effort that earned him his sixth Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week award of the season, Freeman put together one of the more dominating performances in UMass history, tallying 31 points and grabbing 18 rebounds in an 82-71 victory over St. Bonaventure before 3,140 on Senior Day. The win was the 100th for UMass at the Mullins Center since the building opened in 1992.

The Minutemen (10-16 4-10 A-10) return to action on Wednesday night at Temple, while the Bonnies (6-19 2-12 A-10) will also head to the Philadelphia as the last remaining hurdle between No. 2 St. Joseph’s and a record-setting unbeaten season.

Nonetheless, the talk surrounding the Maroon and White focused on its dominant big man.

“I thought Ray played a tremendous game,” Lappas said. “It has to rank right up there with anything [former UMass star Marcus] Camby did as a freshman.

“I don’t know how many [first-year players] play a game like [Freeman]. The game that kid played was unbelievable.”

“Obviously, every time Ray touched the ball, he did something good with it,” sophomore forward Jeff Viggiano added. “Why not go to him as often as we could?”

Freeman’s point total was the highest for a Minuteman since Monty Mack scored 32 in 2000, and was the highest for a first-year player since Camby also scored 32 in a 1994 NCAA tournament game. His 18 rebounds also established a new Mullins Center record.

“Freeman was too much to handle,” St. Bonaventure coach Anthony Solomon said. “If ever there was a day with an inside presence, UMass had it today.”

The Bonnies, who dropped their 10th straight, were also led by an outstanding individual performance, as senior guard Marques Green went for 33 points, including eight 3 pointers, while playing all 40 minutes.

“Don’t get me wrong, Green is a great player,” Steve Lappas said. “But he shot 11 for 26, and Rashaun shot 14 for 19. I’ll take the 14 for 19.”

UMass also received solid contributions from freshman guards Art Bowers (13 points and a career-high nine assists) and Maurice Maxwell ( 10 points), as well as Viggiano, who chipped in with 14 points.

Maurice Young also contributed 14 points for SBU.

The Minutemen were able to seal the game from the free throw line down the stretch, after the Bonnies pulled within four with less than five minutes remaining, Maxwell converted a 3 point play to push the lead to

68-6, with 4:23 remaining. From there, SBU never got closer than five as UMass hit seven of 10 from the line to seal the victory.

“To play like that shows what we can be at some point when we do that on a consistent basis.” Lappas said of his team’s effort.

The Minutemen seemed poised to turn the game into a rout in the early going, as they jumped in front 11-2 while holding St. Bonaventure without a field goal over the first 5:09. However the Bonnies fought back, tying the score at 15 with a Patrick Lottin bucket at the 10:09 of the first half.

With the score 34-34 at the half, UMass took control of the contest with a 21-5 run over the first 7:56 of the second frame to open its biggest lead of the afternoon at 55-39, and led the rest of the way. Kotaridis, who says he plans on playing professionally next season in his native Greece, received the starting nod from Lappas and played the first four minutes. He scored a point on a foul shot and also recorded his first assist of the season, exiting the game with the Maroon and White up 7-0.