Duquesne junior Sean Johnson has a vivid memory of the quickness and game-changing ability Chaz Williams brings to the court, even though he has not faced him in an Atlantic 10 Conference game.
But he remembers that, back in Queens, N.Y., as a player for Christ the King High School, he squared off against Williams, a star for Brooklyn's Bishop Ford.
After going to Hofstra for a season, Williams transferred to Massachusetts last year and already ranks No. 5 in scoring in the Atlantic 10 with 16.2 points a game and is one of the best newcomers in the league.
Johnson is just a hair behind, tied at No. 7 with 16 points per game.
- Matchup: Duquesne (11-7, 2-2 Atlantic 10) vs. Massachusetts (14-4, 3-1), 7 p.m. today, Palumbo Center.
- Radio, Internet: WPGB-FM (104.7), GoDuquesne.com.
- Duquesne: Coming off a 78-71 win at Rhode Island. ... Sean Johnson leads the team in scoring with 16 points a game. ... B.J. Monteiro leads the team in rebounds (5.8 a game). ... T.J. McConnell is ranked No. 2 in the nation with 2.9 steals per game. ... Still has A-10's worst rebounding margin (minus-6.7).
- Massachusetts: Riding 8-1 hot streak since early December. ... Coming off a 71-62 win against Saint Joseph's in which it rallied from a 20-3 deficit. ... Leads league in rebounding (40.9 per game) and in steals (9.9 a game). ... Ranked No. 2 in the league in assists behind Duquesne (16.4 per game) with 15.8. ... G Chaz Williams leads team in scoring with (16.2) and averages 5.9 assists.
- Hidden stat: Duquesne is 8-1 when four or more players score in double digits.
The Minutemen visit Duquesne tonight, where the pair will meet again.
"He's a real good player," said Johnson.
"We just have to stop him in transition. He's real quick, a real good passer. We just have to limit his touches with the ball."
The Dukes (11-7, 2-2 A-10), have been up and down since winning three games in a row to end December.
They are coming off a 78-71 win at Rhode Island last week that followed a 28-point loss at Xavier, but they are 7-2 at home.
"That was a big win for us. It boosted our confidence back up," said Johnson. "We've had our ups and downs a lot this year, so we just want to be consistent with our play. Force turnovers, play defense and get rebounds, push the ball."
Coach Ron Everhart said the response was important for his young team.
"I'm excited to see that guys are really battling. The best thing about it from a coach's standpoint is you have some kids in your program who realize they don't like to be embarrassed. That's a pretty good feeling from a coaching perspective."
The biggest defensive challenge against the Minutemen, however, will be defending the 3-point shot and getting back into position to rebound. They have been shooting just over 40 percent from 3-point range.
"We're really going to have to guard the 3-point line and we're going to have to be able to rebound," said Everhart.
"A lot of time that's tough for a team like ours to spread out and defend and still get back to the glass and collect it on a miss. We're going to have to really do a good job stretching defensively in order to give ourselves a chance in transition."
Williams will be a key to that, said Everhart.
"UMass is a really good team. Chaz Williams is playing like an all-league player," he said.
"He's certainly capable of changing the game. Right now, the biggest thing is, they can score. They can shoot it [from the 3]. We're really going to have to guard the 3-point line."
The teams both like to press, but the Minutemen, on an 8-1 tear of late, have a height advantage.
"I like the way they actually play the game. They play a small lineup, play run and go ball [and are] trying to create the steal defensively," said Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg.
"Offensively, they're shooting a lot of 3s. Attacking off the bounce. I think they play a fantastic style. We've got to make sure we can handle their pressure ... especially going into Pittsburgh [where] they're even much more formidable."
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com or 412-263-1959. First Published January 18, 2012 5:00 AM