Win and in for Minutemen

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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12 of the game.

For two straight seasons, poor performances in the Atlantic 10 Tournament likely cost the Massachusetts men’s basketball team a bid into the NCAA Tournament.
With an 11-17 record, the Minutemen don’t have to worry about a similar fate this season. But if they can’t end their skid Wednesday night against George Washington, it may cost UMass a bid into the A-10 Tournament for the first time in school history.

Since Charlotte fell to 5-10 in conference play with a loss to Richmond Tuesday night, the Minutemen only need to win one of their final two games to clinch a spot in the tournament.
Wednesday’s senior-night tilt against the Colonials is simple: A win for UMass clinches a birth to Atlantic City. A loss would force the Minutemen to win their regular-season finale at Rhode Island on Saturday and hope GW falls to Temple later that night.’ ‘ ‘ ‘
UMass coach Derek Kellogg prefers his team clinches sooner than later.
‘With the potential of three to five teams all fighting for that last birth into the Atlantic 10 Tournament, it would be nice to hopefully get a win this week and put ourselves into position,’ Kellogg said in Monday’s weekly teleconference. ‘So obviously we have to come out and play with that kind of desire and intensity and passion that that’s on the line.’

The Minutemen, who have lost eight of their last 11 games in conference play, are only concerned about themselves and the Colonials right now.
‘We’re well aware, but we’re trying not to think about that and make this more about us. If we play the way we’re capable of playing on Wednesday that will be put to rest,’ said Tony Gaffney following Sunday’s loss to La Salle.
‘I hope we can get this win Wednesday so we can make it to Atlantic City,’ added Ricky Harris. ‘I feel as though if we get to Atlantic City a lot of teams won’t want to play us.’
Considering UMass has already beaten two of the top four teams in the standings (Dayton and Temple) and gave the other two (Xavier and Rhode Island) a serious scare, Harris may be right. But the Minutemen may not get a chance to show it in the A-10 Tournament for the first time in school history, dating back to the 1976-77 season when the conference was created.
If UMass can get past the Colonials, a team that has won two straight and three of its last four, Harris and the Minutemen would lock up that opportunity. According to Kellogg, doing that is up to the players.
‘At this point in the season your players have to take the team over, especially the older guys,’ he said. ‘They need to make a statement that we’re really trying to do something here.’
UMass will see a 10-16 Colonials team that has been playing much better recently than their overall record indicates. GW, which started the conference season with seven-consecutive losses, has topped Richmond, Charlotte and St. Bonaventure since Feb. 19. Its only loss in that stretch was a 71-53 defeat to No. 17 Xavier.
GW is a young group that loves to push the ball up and down the floor. But the Colonials are led by their big-men, forwards Rob Diggs and Damian Hollis, who both lead the team in scoring with 13.2 points per game. Diggs and Hollis also rank 1-2 on the team in rebounding, respectively, and Hollis can also hurt teams with his inside-outside game.
Hollis had 21 points and 11 rebounds last season against UMass, but GW fell just short in a 67-63 loss on March 8 in Washington, D.C. Harris had 20 points in that game for the Minutemen, and Colonials coach Karl Hobbs is worried he’ll have more than that this time.
‘The thing that makes [UMass] the most dangerous is that they got a guy that single-handedly can beat you in Harris,’ Hobbs said in the weekly A-10 teleconference. ‘For us, he creates a major, major problem. I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but we got to contain Harris and not let him throw up 30 points.’
Hobbs also had high-praise for Tony Gaffney and Chris Lowe, whom he thinks does a great job controlling the frontcourt and backcourt, respectively, for UMass.
Gaffney, who sat out much of the second half in Sunday’s loss with knee tendonitis, is expected to play Wednesday. Considering the magnitude of the game, the fact that its senior night and that he’s been playing through injuries all season long, the senior forward will find a way to play ‘- no matter the pain.
The Minutemen will need him in there to defend Diggs and Hollis, not to mention to defend their annual spot in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]