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UMass ready for Saint Joseph’s, second half of Atlantic 10

AMHERST — University of Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg had hoped for a big crowd to provide atmosphere for Saturday’s game against Saint Joseph’s at the Mullins Center.

But even if the crowds are thinned by the weather, he expected his team to be up for what looks like a big game to start the second half of the conference season.

“It’s a big game because it’s the next one on our schedule, but it’s a big 2 p.m. game on ESPN2 against a team picked at the top of our conference,” he said. “I feel like they’ve got some of the more talented players in our conference. When they’re clicking on all cylinders, I feel like they’re as good or better than anybody in the league. They’re a dangerous, dangerous team and our guys recognize how good that team is.”

Kellogg said with teams close in talent and in the standings throughout the league, any result could have huge ramifications.

“If you win a couple or lose a couple you can’t really let that affect your mindset because the next one is coming very quickly. We just have to get our share, however many that is. We need to get our share of the next eight games,” he said. “If you win or lose you can go from fourth in the conference to 12th. Every game is important right now, which makes it fun.”

Senior forward Terrell Vinson said while student fans might be more excited for a TV game, the Minutemen (15-6, 5-3 Atlantic 10) are more focused on their opponent than the cameras.

“You can’t get overexcited for a national TV game or you’ll go out there and play badly,” he said. “We have to lock in and focus on what they like to do and try to take it away. We’ve played them like 12 times since I’ve been here. We know what they like to do and how (Phil Martelli) likes to coach. You can’t get down against them because they milk the clock if they get ahead.”

Saint Joseph’s (13-8, 4-4) arrives in Amherst with a solid record, but not what the Hawks or their fans had hoped for coming into the season, when St. Joe’s was picked to win the league.

The Hawks fell to Butler, Virginia Commonwealth and St. Bonaventure, and beat Duquesne to open league conference play at 1-3. They bounced back with three straight wins over Xavier, Fordham and Temple before falling at Dayton, Wednesday.

Martelli said his team being picked first in the preseason poll was a bit of an overreach.

“I like my team, but we were overblown,” Martelli said. “Our athletic ability was overblown. We’re not very fast. We’re a little bit of a puzzle. We have three really good forwards. We’re short a player on the perimeter. But I like our team and I like our chances going forward.”

Senior guard Carl Jones leads St. Joe’s in scoring at 14.9 points per game, which is ninth in the A-10. Junior guard Langston Galloway isn’t far behind at 13.7 per game.

Already one of the nation’s best defensive players, junior center C.J. Aiken has expanded his offensive game and averages 11.5 points to go with his 5.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocked shots per game. Junior forward Ronald Roberts leads the Atlantic 10 in rebounding with 8.8 per game to go with 11.1 points per game.

WEATHER OPTIONS — Because of the weather, UMass is offering options for fans holding tickets that don’t feel comfortable driving. It released the following statement:

“Due to the unpredictability of the snow storm and challenges it may present to snow removal efforts on and off campus we are advising everyone with tickets for the men’s basketball game vs. Saint Joseph’s to use extreme caution when deciding to attend the game. For those individuals holding tickets who decide not to attend we will make the following accommodations:

Season ticket holders:

* May exchange their tickets for an equal number of tickets to any of our remaining home games. Ticket exchanges are for equal value tickets and subject to availability. Ticket exchange must be made at least 2 days prior to game date.

* May receive a discount on next year’s season ticket renewal (must renew by early deadline). Premier level ticket holders will receive a $10 discount per Saint Joseph’s ticket not used and returned to the Athletic Ticket Office. Value level ticket holders will receive a $5 discount per Saint Joseph’s ticket not used and returned to the Athletic Ticket Office.

Individual game ticket holders:

* May exchange their tickets for an equal number of tickets for any of our remaining home games. Ticket exchanges are for equal value tickets and subject to availability. Ticket exchange must be made at least 2 days prior to game date.”

NOTES — UMass assistant coach Shyrone Chatman is on crutches after turning his ankle during a practice drill. ... Senior Javorn Farrell, who is redshirting this season following ankle surgery, has returned to practice.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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