UMass men’s basketball travels to Pittsburgh to take on struggling Duquesne Wednesday

By Adam Aucoin

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

It’s no secret that the Massachusetts men’s basketball team has faced serious trouble finding any consistency during Atlantic 10 conference play.

UMass (13-12, 3-9 A-10) has struggled routinely to finish off wins in late-game situations and in doing so has sputtered to a 3-9 mark in A-10 play thus far, leaving them in a tie for 12th place in the conference with Saint Joseph’s.

Good news has been hard to find since the turn of the new year for the Minutemen, but an 87-76 win over the Hawks last Saturday has UMass feeling optimistic as it heads toward the home stretch of the season.

“It was a big win because we had lost five in a row,” freshman guard Luwane Pipkins said. “We needed a road win and a confidence builder so it was a big win for us.”

The Minutemen are hoping more good news is on the way as they prepare to take on the team with the worst record in conference play, Duquesne (9-16, 2-10 A-10), Wednesday at the A.J. Palumbo Center in Pittsburgh.

The Dukes come into the game riding an eight-game losing streak.

Duquesne has seen a wide gamut of results during its losing streak, from a close two-point loss to George Washington to a demoralizing 37-point loss to Dayton. UMass coach Derek Kellogg is aware of the inconsistent play of the struggling Dukes but he won’t let his team take them lightly.

“They have a good roster. They’ve played really well in a lot of games and have been right there with some of the top teams. It kind of reminds me of a lot of teams in the conference where there’s not that much separation,” Kellogg said.

Duquesne hasn’t excelled in many parts of the game but one area it has been solid in is its rebounding, where it ranks tied for fourth in the conference with 37.2 boards per game.

Kellogg knows it will take a team effort to slow down the Dukes in that regard.

“We have to make a conscious effort, as much mental as it’s going to physical, of making sure we block out and really go to the boards,” Kellogg said. “I think because they rebound with a bunch of different players, that leads them susceptible to us maybe getting some transition baskets if we can rebound the ball. They shoot a lot of 3’s, so that leads to a lot of long rebounds, which hopefully we can capitalize on.”

Something both opponents have in common other than their conference struggles has been their turnover issues. The Minutemen and Dukes rank first and second in the conference in total turnovers.

Pipkins has been far and away UMass’ most consistent defender with 55 steals on the season. The Chicago native and his teammates will be looking to exploit the turnover-prone Dukes Wednesday.

“Full court pressure, press a bit,” Pipkins said about what he believes the Minutemen should employ to cause turnovers. “We have to take advantage every time they turn the ball over and get two points, three points, whatever it is.”

One of the major bright spots for UMass over the past two games has been junior Donte Clark. Over that stretch, Clark averaged 27 points and was picked as A-10 co-player of the week, along with the Colonials Tyler Cavanaugh, for his efforts.

The Minutemen will be looking for Clark to bring a similar effect Wednesday and through the end of the season.

“We were waiting for him to wake up,” Pipkins said. “We just want him to play consistently every game and step up every game. For him to just come out of his shell and have two good games, I think it’s big for us.”

Kellogg hopes that the veteran leadership that Clark brings continues to shine through for a young UMass team.

“To be able to look down on the floor and see a junior kind of taking the lead and giving us the offensive production is very important and something that our team needs,” Kellogg said.

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.