Courtesy of Leon Chuck, Pressbox Photo LLC UMass' Derrick Gordon defends at the top of the key against University of Dayton guard Vee Sanford.
PITTSBURGH — With two games left in the regular season, the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team is trying to build some momentum, while Duquesne is trying to extend its momentum as the two teams get set to play Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Palumbo Center.
After Saturday’s loss to Dayton when he questioned his team’s toughness, UMass coach Derek Kellogg was eager to see how his team responded.
“This would be a nice time to get a couple wins going into the Atlantic 10 tournament,” Kellogg said. “As some point we need to get a little momentum going heading into postseason play. ... I just want to play well.”
Kellogg said the Minutemen, who have tried to play fast for the past three years, are further emphasizing pace in this final stretch of the season.
“We’re going to play faster. We want to have the game a little more wide open than it’s been,” Kellogg said. “We have to have that in our repertoire to win — to win in the A-10 Tournament, to beat a team like this. If we’re fortunate enough to play in the NCAA Tournament, a nontraditional way to play is probably beneficial for us.”
The Dukes are coming off last week’s 71-64 upset of No. 10 Saint Louis. It was Duquesne’s first road upset of a top 10 team since 1962. The Dukes have had a week to prepare for UMass.
Dukes coach Jim Ferry felt like his team had been building toward that win.
“We’ve been playing better. I’ve been saying that all along. We’ve been close,” he said. “We had two heartbreakers prior to the Saint Louis game. We were up in both games (vs. St. Bonaventure and Dayton) and we lost both of them. As a coach I’ve seen us getting better and better every day.”
Kellogg said, “We have to approach it like any other game against a team that’s playing well and capable of beating you. They’re a dangerous team. They’re a young team still playing for something. We have to come out and play well.”
UMass sophomore Derrick Gordon agreed.
“They’re a team that’s very hungry,” Gordon said. “We can’t have let ups. We have to go all out. We need that game.”
Ferry said his team didn’t celebrate long.
“We can’t sit back and enjoy anything. We’ve got UMass coming in,” Ferry said. “We’re not feeling ourselves too much. That was one game that we won. We still only have 12 wins. It’s not like we’re going to be over confident. I just hope we can sustain our confidence.”
The Dukes have struggled defensively. Their 73.6 points per game allowed is 12th in the A-10. If UMass can get hot from outside, which it has struggled with lately, the shots should be there. Duquesne foes have shot 39.4 percent from 3-point range.
UAB transfer Ovie Soko has given the Dukes the league leading inside scorer at 18.2 points per game. The senior needs to outscore faltering Fordham freshman Jon Severe by three points over the final two games to win the league scoring title. He’s also sixth in the league in rebounding a 7.7 per game.
Dukes sophomore Micah Mason leads the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (56.5). He’s second on Duquesne at 10.6 points per game.
UMass (22-6, 9-5 Atlantic 10) is currently tied with George Washington in fourth place, which is the last spot that comes with a bye in the first round of next week’s Atlantic 10 Tournament. The Colonials play Saint Joseph’s, Wednesday at 9 p.m. At 4-10, the Dukes (12-15) are in 10th place, a half game ahead of Rhode Island (4-11).
SIX TO GO — Raphiael Putney needs six points and Chaz Williams needs six assists to reach milestones. Putney is trying to reach 1,000 in his career. Williams needs six assists to tie Chris Lowe (678 career assists) for the all-time lead in program history.