The Massachusetts basketball team hopes their match-up with Duquesne Thursday night has a more successful ending than last season’s first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament.
The Minutemen (8-15, 2-7 A-10) saw their season end in 2009 at the hands of the Dukes, 91-81 in the opening round of the conference tournament, and will look to end a three-game skid in Pittsburgh, Pa., a place where they have won three games in a row.
UMass also fell to the Dukes in a regular season A-10 contest (12-11, 3-6 A-10) back on Feb. 25 of last season by a score of 94-77, despite setting a school record for most 3-pointers made (16).
The Minutemen are coming off a 93-85 road loss to Rhode Island Saturday, and have won just one A-10 game away from the Mullins Center, an 87-80 victory over Saint Joseph’s back on Jan. 27. UMass has played one of the toughest schedules in program history, as the game against the Dukes marks the seventh team in a nine-game span with an RPI in the Top 100.
“They’re [Duquesne] a team that’s started to play a little bit better as of late,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “They’re a team that has had some injuries, and with the loss of their point guard last year, they have a young point guard who’s starting to feel his way.”
The Dukes are coming off a two-game road trip with a 76-60 loss to Temple and a 70-63 victory over George Washington.
The Dukes started their A-10 schedule with four straight losses to Richmond, Saint Louis, Dayton and the Rams, before winning against St. Bonaventure, Saint Joseph’s and GW.
“It’s two teams in a similar position that really are playing a similar style,” Kellogg said. “We’ve played great in spurts, as they have, and there have been other times where both teams haven’t played so well, so, it’s going to be a test of who’s going to take care of the basketball, who’s going to take better shots, and really play their game in the 40 minutes.”
The Minutemen had 21 turnovers against the Rams, including 17 in the first half, despite senior guard Ricky Harris scoring a season-high 32 points.
Redshirt junior Anthony Gurley added 15 points, while forward Sean Carter added 11 points and eight rebounds, and freshman forward Terrell Vinson contributed 10 in the loss.
With his performance, Harris moved to fourth on UMass’ career scoring list with 1,760 points.
Junior forward Damian Saunders led the Dukes with 27 points against the Colonials, and had 18 against UMass in their first meeting last season.
“He’s a great player, he’s athletic and strong, and he plays hard for the whole 40 minutes, and I think that’s his best trait,” Kellogg said.
Saunders leads the A-10 in rebounding and steals, with 12.4 rebounds per game and 2.7 steals per game respectively, and is also 11th in scoring with 15 points per game. He is also ranked third in the nation in double-doubles (17) and third in rebounds.
Along with Saunders, the Dukes are led by junior Bill Clark, who averages 12.9 points per game, and is tied with Saunders for the team lead with 52 career double-digit scoring games.
As a team, the Dukes are third in the conference in rebounding offense, behind the Minutemen who are first.
“We’re going to try to take care of the ball,” Kellogg said. “We’ve really improved in a lot of areas, rebounding the ball, defensive toughness, intensity, but we need to improve on the turnovers and transition game.”
UMass is 33-23 against the Dukes all-time, including winning four of the last six meetings.
David Brinch can be reached at email@example.com.