Minutemen look to break losing streak

By Herb Scribner

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

As the Massachusetts men’s basketball team made its way to the court for practice on Monday, it looked like soldiers returning from battle.

Sophomore guard Freddie Riley stepped onto the court with a stiff limp and then sat down on one of the chairs on the sideline, a result of an ankle injury suffered in Sunday’s loss against George Washington. UMass coach Derek Kellogg said that Riley is “going to be out for awhile.”

Next onto the court was center Sean Carter, his arm in a sling as the result of a hyper-extended elbow he suffered against GW, according to Kellogg.

Then there was Raphiael Putney who, after waiting on the sideline for one of the UMass trainers to arrive, had his wrist taped up.

The injured Minutemen will join their teammates on Wednesday night at the Mullins Center as UMass hosts Duquesne, which will pit the banged-up Maroon and White (13-10, 5-5 Atlantic 10) against the fourth team in the A-10 conference table.

“It’s going to be a tough one because of how good Duquesne is, but at the same token we’re going to get back in the gym, try to work even harder than we’ve been and try and tighten things up on the offensive end,” Kellogg said.

The offensive side of the ball was the missing piece in the Minutemen’s 59-51 loss to the Colonials on Sunday night, as usual top-scorer Anthony Gurley was held to seven points in the contest. This loss was the UMass’ third-straight loss, which is the first streak of losses for the Minutemen in conference play.

“I think our effort has been good, I think our defense has been good, our offensive struggles have been difficult to coach and watch,” Kellogg said. “We’re going to have to do some things offensively to put some points on the board and get out and run a little bit to make the game more exciting for our team so that they want to play a little bit harder.”

The Minutemen will be trying to revamp their offense against a tough Dukes squad who, until Feb. 5, were 8-0 in the conference. They are now 8-2 (16-7 overall) in the conference after two-straight losses to St. Bonaventure and Xavier.

With these pair of consecutive losses by the Dukes and three-straight from UMass, both teams will go to work at the Mullins Center with hopes to snap their losing streaks.

“I’m going to go with UMass [needing the win more],” Kellogg said. “This time of year, every game is paramount and important for spots in the standings and to see if we can get out of a little bit of a rut here. It’s one of those ones where I think it’s important for both teams. I would say each coach or each team to think it’s more important for their squad to come away with the victory.”

Coming away with a victory is easier said than done for UMass, as the Dukes sit first in the A-10 in scoring offense and second in both 3-point percentage and field goal percentage.

These high-scoring numbers come from the quartet of double-digit scorers on the Dukes side, including guard Bill Clark, who leads the team with 17.2 points per game, good for seventh in the A-10.

On the defensive front, Duquesne is first in the conference with steals and second with blocked shots. Both of these categories are a specialty of forward Damian Saunders, who leads the team in blocked shots (59) and is second in steals (47). Guard T.J. McConnell leads the team and the A-10 in steals with 67 robberies.

As the defensively and offensively strong Dukes head into the Mullins Center, UMass holds a .500 record for the first time since its first A-10 loss to the Musketeers. The result following the loss at XU was a 74-71 win against La Salle. Kellogg and UMass will be looking for a repeat situation this time around as the A-10 schedule starts to close down.

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected]