UMass men’s basketball looking to get back into form in matchup against Duquesne

Minutemen looking to snap four-game losing streak

By Frederick Hanna III, Collegian Staff

In a season of struggles and injuries, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team has the opportunity on Saturday to get back on track when a strong Duquesne team comes to Amherst.

The Minutemen (7-12, 1-5 Atlantic 10) have struggled in A-10 play so far and will face one of their toughest opponents yet when they square off against Duquesne (15-3, 5-1 A-10), which has won five of its last six games. Duquesne has been sharp on all facets of the game so far this season and is off to a hot start in conference play, although it fell by more than 20 to Rhode Island last time out.

“We got to fight, and it starts with me,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “Regardless of wins, losses, and anything we got to keep punching and wake up every day and come to work hungry to get better and try to improve. Sounds cliché, but that’s the truth because if you don’t, it will eat you up and spit you out, and it will affect everything that you are doing.”

The Minutemen haven’t been strangers to fierce competition this season. The young squad has gone up against national reigning champion Virginia, faced a tough St. John’s team the day after losing to Virginia, and faced a Rutgers team which is currently ranked No. 24 in the country. UMass has relied heavily on the performances of freshman Tre Mitchell and junior Carl Pierre night in and night out and has faced the struggles of dealing with season ending injuries to TJ Weeks and John Buggs III. Weeks, who had a terrific start to the year, is now sidelined for the remaining part of the season, and with that UMass has lost a prolific perimeter shooter and consistent offensive production.

The recent acceptance of the transfer waiver from sophomore Dibaji Walker has given the Minutemen more depth offensively, yet they have still struggled to get consistent production aside from Mitchell and Pierre. McCall mentioned in his postgame interview against George Mason the need for a third and fourth guy to step up and put the ball in the net consistently. Walker has yet to make a hard impact for the Minutemen on the floor, as the sophomore has been limited in minutes and only has scored in double digits once in his seven games on the court. With time though, Walker said he is getting acclimated into the system the more he plays.

“I’m a lot more comfortable than I was in the beginning. I’ve been just slowing the game down letting my offense come to me, more so just focusing on getting whatever task done at hand that coach ask of me. Trying not to put a lot of pressure on me and focusing on each play in the moment,” Walker said. “First couple of games I was really passive, wasn’t looking for my own shot much, wasn’t in rhythm and not really thinking the game plan. It was a lot of anxiety that was hitting me the first couple games, but I am more relaxed and more myself.”

The Minutemen are facing a well-coached team in Duquesne. Coach McCall had high praise for Duquesne’s coach Keith Dambrot and spoke highly of the job he has done as head coach of the men’s basketball team.

“First of all,” McCall said, “I mean the job that Coach Dambrot has done has been phenomenal and really has them rolling in the right direction. I said to Keon, because me and him are from Florida, so we’re football guys, ‘Do you know what in the trenches means?’ and he kind of looked at me and was like ‘down on the line right?!’This game is going to be won on the trenches, down being physical. Soft stuff isn’t working tomorrow, you put your body in plays and be aggressive. Accept the physical confrontation of the game.”

Minutemen will tip off against Duquesne Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

Frederick Hanna III can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @FrederickHII.