Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass looks to clinch A-10 Tournament berth against La Salle

By Jeffrey R. Larnard, Collegian Staff

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Collegian Staff

The best way to head into a conference tournament is red hot and on a run.

For the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, there’s not much time left to get hot, and before they can do that, they may want to make sure they make the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

With three games left and a trip to Philadelphia on Sunday to take on La Salle at 5 p.m., the Minutemen will have an opportunity to get back in the win column as well as inch closer to an A-10 Tournament berth.

It would take a collapse from UMass (10-16, 5-8 A-10), coupled with a George Washington resurgence to knock the Minutemen to 13th in the conference standings and out of the tournament. But with GW (9-16, 3-10 A-10) coming to Amherst next Wednesday, anything is possible.

With a victory on Sunday over the Explorers (14-12, 5-7 A-10), the Minutemen can bring their magic number to one, or, with a George Washington loss on Saturday at Richmond, clinch an A-10 berth. A victory will also give UMass the opportunity to string a few wins together in the conference before the tournament, something they haven’t done all season.

The Minutemen, who are 3-9 on the road this season, will be out for revenge on top of everything else come Sunday, after losing at home to La Salle, 62-54, on Jan. 24. Much of the loss could be blamed on UMass’ poor shooting (33.9 percent), but the Minutemen had a warm up Wednesday when they hit a school-record 16 3-pointers in the loss to Duquesne, and will hope to carry their hot hands over till the weekend.

Senior Tony Gaffney led the Minutemen back in the first meeting with a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Chris Lowe (10) was the only other player to score in double figures for UMass. At the same time, Ricky Harris had the worst scoring output of his season when he scored just six points on 3-of-11 shooting and missed all six of his 3-point shots.

While the Minutemen will hope to carry over their shooting from Wednesday’s loss, it’s a different story for their defense ‘- they gave up a season-high 94 points against the Dukes, not to mention 14 layups and seven dunks.

‘When Duquesne came back at us, we didn’t respond very well,’ UMass coach Derek Kellogg said Wednesday after the loss. ‘I thought we went on our heels. We didn’t quite battle back as hard as I would have liked.’

The Explorers (70.5 points per game) are not as prolific a scoring team in conference play as Duquesne (79.3 ppg), but will come at UMass with a balanced attack. Four of La Salle‘s players average double figures in points, led by Rodney Green’s 16.7 ppg. Even on the boards the Explorers are very balanced and averaging 37.5 rebounds per game in conference play compared to UMass’ 34.4.

While UMass has Gaffney dominating the boards with 10.4 rebounds per game ‘- 16th in the nation ‘- La Salle’s leading rebounder, Yves Mekongo Mbala, grabs just 6.4 per game and five other Explorers average at least 3.7 rebounds per game.

Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at [email protected]

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