March 2, 2015

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UMass basketball set to take on Duquesne in final regular season road game

Taylor C. Snow/Daily Collegian

Taylor C. Snow/Daily Collegian

It might not look like the toughest test on the schedule for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, but Wednesday’s game at Duquesne isn’t one it wants to overlook.

Coming off a loss at Dayton on Saturday, UMass will travel to face a Dukes team that is fresh off a 71-64 upset victory over Saint Louis. That win for Duquesne (12-15, 4-10 Atlantic 10) showed that it has talent, which is something the Minutemen (22-6, 9-5 A-10) can’t overlook.

“It’s taken them a little while to get the kinks out and work their lineups together,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “And now, later in the season, they probably have a higher ceiling to improve than some teams that are more mature.”

Following the loss to the Flyers last weekend, Kellogg stressed the importance of tightening up the defensive side of the ball for his team.

The Dukes possess some of the best pure scorers that the A-10 has to offer, with hybrid big man Ovie Soko averaging 18.1 points per game and Micah Mason shooting an outstanding 57 percent on 3-pointers. Both players pose threats inside and outside for the Minutemen, making matchups and defensive assignments even more important.

“He’s a tough matchup,” Kellogg said of Soko. “He’s big enough to be a five, but he plays like a four. He’s kind of like a hybrid with a little more length and size. We’re just going to hope our UMass basketball plan can overcome some of their individual matchups.”

As for Mason, he poses a completely different set of problems.

He’s a threat from deep and doesn’t need much of an opening to knock down a shot. Against the Billikens, he led all scorers with 22 points, going 4-of-5 from 3-point range. The threat of him scoring and creating opportunities will most likely force UMass guard Derrick Gordon to match up against him defensively.

“He sounds like the type of guy that on any given night he can just catch fire,” Gordon said. “So my job is to make it as hard as possible for him not to do that. They’re going to be playing at home, so he’s going to have the crowd around him and his teammates, so my job is to go in there and stop that from happening.”

Kellogg and the Minutemen have stressed time and time again this season that good defense is the recipe for their offense to click. So much of their offense is geared around getting stops, that when they do, it makes it harder for the opposition to slow them down.

“It’s easy to transition,” senior point guard Chaz Williams said. “A lot of easier baskets. When we play defense, it just brings that much more out of us and our energy is through the roof and we get more stops that lead to fast-break opportunities.”

But one thing that has been a constant in recent losses for UMass has been the inability to continuously establish a presence down low. In the first half against the Flyers, the Minutemen got Cady Lalanne and Sampson Carter involved early, but once it stopped, scoring the ball became harder for them.

Against Duquesne, if UMass wants to continue to find production on offense, it needs to be willing to go inside to Lalanne and Carter and keep attacking the rim.

“My focus is that we’re not pushing tempo enough,” Kellogg said. “We’re not getting the ball up the floor fast enough, which means the defense has been set and then they’re not wearing down energy wise because we’re not attacking. … We have to get the game to a certain number of possessions because then everyone gets a little touch of the ball.”

Wednesday’s game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at A.J. Palumbo Center.

Patrick Strohecker can be reached at pstrohec@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @P_Strohecker.

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