Massachusetts head coach Derek Kellogg talks to his team from the bench area during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Duquesne on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, in Pittsburgh. Massachusetts won 78-74. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
PITTSBURGH — For the past few weeks, University of Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg has often tried to avoid sounding sure that his team had done enough to earn an NCAA tournament bid.
But after the Minutemen secured Wednesday’s 78-74 win over Duquesne, Kellogg was confident.
“It was a big win for us, one that I think solidified us being an NCAA tournament team,” said Kellogg, whose team is now 23-6 (10-5 Atlantic 10).
Feeling secure for his own team, Kellogg campaigned for his Atlantic 10 brethren when asked how many A-10 teams would make the field of 68.
“If you look at (ratings percentage index) VCU, Saint Louis, us, GW and St. Joe’s are pretty close to being in,” Kellogg said. “I would say Dayton’s right on that cusp if you ask me. What happens if somebody else wins the A-10 tournament. Are you going to put seven teams in? That would be great for the league. Not great for us because we’d like to win. But we’ve played a lot of great teams around the country. St. Joe’s and VCU and Saint Louis and Dayton and GW are as good as any of those teams we played that are considered locks.”
Senior Chaz Williams said he likes his team’s mindset with postseason looming.
“We’re all ready. Guys were focused today,” Williams said. “I can only imagined how focused guys are going to be for Saint Louis on Sunday.”
RACE FOR THE BYE — UMass’ win keeps it in contention for a top-four finish and one of the four byes into the quarterfinals of next week’s Atlantic 10 tournament.
UMass is tied for fourth with George Washington and the Minutemen would earn the higher seed if they finish tied. But the Colonials, who beat Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday, face last-place Fordham Saturday at 4:30 p.m. The Minutemen will either have to beat Saint Louis on Sunday or have Fordham pull the upset for them to finish ahead of GW. UMass could also lose and still finish fourth if it got help and VCU (10-4) lost its last two games — Thursday at Richmond and Saturday at home against St. Bonaventure.
Duquesne needs to beat George Mason on Saturday at 7 p.m. to avoid being in the No. 13 vs. No. 12 play-in game that the league is calling “the opening round.”
MILESTONES — Williams will have to wait to hold the UMass career assist title by himself as his six assists tied Chris Lowe for No. 1. The milestone pass came on a critical basket as he fed Trey Davis for a 3-pointer that gave UMass the lead to stay late in the second half.
Raphiael Putney entered the game needing six points to become UMass’ 46th 1,000-point scorer. After two free throws and a putback, he got the ball just to the left of the top of the key. He ball-faked his defender and made a driving scoop shot to cut the Minutemen’s deficit at the time to 27-20.
Putney had two dunks in the game giving UMass 100 this season.
MISCELLANEOUS — It was Duquesne’s final home game, but it wasn’t senior night as the school held the event on the final weekend home game of the year. ... Former Minuteman big man John Tate (1991) was in the crowd and visited the team at shootaround prior to the game. Kellogg was a freshman during Tate’s senior season. ... Former NHL forward and coach Rick Tocchet was in attendance.