Atlantic 10 logjam makes Duquesne-UMass game vital

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They all fit and serve to paint the most accurate description -- call it a logjam, a cluster, a tight bunch in the standings.

The middle to bottom of the Atlantic 10 Conference men's basketball race is tighter than a rim for a poor free-throw shooter late in a game with the score tied. Going into this week, there were six teams in the 14-team league that had either two or three victories in conference play.

Two such teams will meet tonight at the A.J. Palumbo Center, when host Duquesne (12-11, 3-6) plays Massachusetts (8-15, 2-7) in a game that could propel one squad into an upswing before the conference tournament and send the other reeling into the home stretch.

And just because the Minutemen have lost three consecutive games, don't look for that to be the most accurate barometer of their recent play.

Scouting report
  • Matchup: Duquesne (12-11, 3-6 Atlantic 10) vs. Massachusetts (8-15, 2-7), 7 p.m. today, A.J. Palumbo Center.
  • TV/Radio, Internet: CBS College Sports Regional; KQV-AM (1410);
  • Duquesne: Looking to win three in a row against the Minutemen for the first time since 1988-90. ... Junior swingman Damian Saunders has pulled down 15 or more rebounds in a game nine times this season. ... Is 8-2 in games played at the Palumbo this season and 29-11 in the building the past three seasons.
  • Massachusetts: Is 1-8 on the road. ... Guard Ricky Harris, at 18.8 points per game, leads the Minutemen and ranks fourth on the school's career scoring list with 1,760 points. ... Opponents are averaging 75.4 points per game.
  • Hidden stat: Duquesne has held second-half leads in 18 of 23 games.

Massachusetts played close games against two of the league's heavyweights this year, dropping an eight-point game Feb. 3 against Xavier and pushing host Rhode Island to the limit Saturday before falling, 93-85.

"I have always looked at UMass as one of the more dangerous teams," Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said. "They have lost some tough games, but they are very deep and very talented and have guys who can change a game."

No one is a bigger game-changer than senior guard Ricky Harris, who is averaging 18.8 points per game and recently shifted to point guard because of a foot injury to David Gibbs.

"Extremely good," Everhart said of Harris. "That guy can really, really play. He is extremely good."

Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg understands the key to slowing down the Dukes is simple in its approach.

It involves slowing down the Dukes in a literal sense.

"They are a very good transition team and they space the floor not only in transition but also in the half court," said Kellogg, who as a player at Massachusetts played in four NCAA tournaments.

"While they are not going to get you with a lot of back-to-the-basket baskets, they do a nice job at getting to the paint off the dribble and off the pass and they are an explosive team. When they are going on all cylinders they are as good as any team in the league because they do have the ability to put the ball in the basket from many different places. ... Now that they are getting more acclimated having [Melquan] Bolding back, they are getting better every game."

NOTES -- Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus, who has been an outspoken critic of his school's affiliation with the conference, again publicly decried his university's decision to continue on as a member. After Tuesday's win at Saint Joseph's, he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "The answer is, first, get the hell out of the league. Most successful people in life make mistakes and say, 'You know what, I made a mistake and I'm not going to let that happen again.' So, the school is afraid to say they made a mistake, that's all." Majerus has often said Saint Louis -- in its fifth season in the Atlantic 10 -- puts its student-athletes at an academic disadvantage because of the amount of travel associated with his university participating in the conference.

Colin Dunlap: or 412-263-1459.


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