Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass puts winning streak on the line against Duquesne

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Life as a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference can be volatile, and the Massachusetts men’s basketball team knows it as much as any other team.

The Minutemen (15-9, 8-3 A-10) are suddenly tied for first place in the league, vaulting up the standings as they ride a five-game winning streak. Even then, UMass hasn’t won a game by more than seven points over that stretch and needed late heroics against St. Bonaventure Wednesday (55-53 win) to keep it alive.

Not long ago, the Minutemen were smashed by the Bonnies at home to open league play and let leads slip away against Davidson and Saint Joseph’s. The landscape is constantly changing, something UMass coach Derek Kellogg pointed out as the Minutemen prepare for their next opponent, Duquesne.

“There’s really no such thing as looking past anybody in this conference,” Kellogg said.

The Dukes (8-14, 3-8 A-10) arrive at the Mullins Center Saturday with the confidence of a team knowing it can hang with the conference’s best after knocking off George Washington 78-62 on Wednesday. Duquesne came within one point of beating Rhode Island, took the Bonnies to overtime and hung with Virginia Commonwealth.

A season ago, UMass needed late-game heroics from guard Trey Davis to edge Duquesne 78-74.

“I think they’ve proven they can play with anybody in the conference and we just have to come out and play well,” Kellogg said.

Kellogg said the first step in making that happen was to turn his team’s attention inward, and that started with an energetic practice Friday.

“I think we just have to lock in and be ready to go,” he said. “When we’ve practiced well, I think we’ve played pretty good. The focus is on ourselves and getting better every single day.”

“I think you have to worry about preparing and getting yourself ready every single day,” Kellogg later said. “That’s the most important thing – and be focused. You have to realize you’re dealing with college kids still and they follow the media and Twitter and things of that nature, so I’m going to try to have them as focused as possible.”

UMass’ surge entered the Minutemen into the outskirts of national conversation, as USA Today listed them in the “first four out” category of its recent NCAA Tournament bracketology projection. It’s a conversation UMass was expected to be a part of all season before a difficult start to the season.

A slip up against Duquesne would undo all the positive momentum.

Kellogg said the Dukes are a team playing with purpose and are a shooting threat. Specifically, he focused on Micah Mason (who scored 20 points against the Minutemen last season) and Derrick Colter.

“Their guard play as really improved, Mason and Colter are playing at a high level,” Kellogg said.

Colter is averaging 12.7 points per game as a point guard and is shooting 50 percent on 3-pointers. Mason’s averaging 11 points per game and shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.

“Mason’s one of the best shooters in the country,” Kellogg said. “If he’s open, that things down. Even if he’s not open, sometimes it’s down … Colter has really worked on his game to become a knock-down shooter. I mean, he’s shooting 50 percent from 3 in the league. That’s kind of unheard of to have guys making 3s at that clip. You have to make it tough on them.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. The game will not be televised, but is available on the Atlantic 10 Digital Network, which is an online stream.

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.

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