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UMass men's hoop focused on taking down St. Bonaventure

Coach Derek Kellogg and the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team play at St. Bonaventure on Wednesday night in a game they need to win to improve the possibility for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Derek Kellogg and the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team play at St. Bonaventure on Wednesday night in a game they need to win to improve the possibility for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Purchase photo reprints »

OLEAN, N.Y. — University of Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg isn’t focusing on the impact today’s 7 p.m. game at St. Bonaventure will have on the Atlantic 10 standings or its effect on his team’s postseason picture.

“I don’t even really think about that. It’s really pretty early to even worry about it until like two games left in the schedule, maybe one, because any loss can move you either way. I still think we’re in a decent position. I think we probably need to do a little more than we would have had to have done before last week, but I think we’re in a decent spot. Not a great spot, but a decent spot,” Kellogg said Monday. “I haven’t really thought about anything much past that. I haven’t even thought much beyond today’s practice actually. I know we’re playing St. Bonnie’s on Wednesday, and I think we need to have a great practice today and get ourselves mentally in the right frame of mind.”

His definition of “mentally in the right frame of mind” was to make sure his players were still having fun despite coming off of two losses.

“It’s the ups and downs of a college basketball season. It’s the time of year where you’ve got to be having some fun. Whether you win every game or lose every game, they’ve got to be enjoying what’s going on,” he said. “I think when you’re winning it’s easy to enjoy it and then when you have a couple of losses, I’ve got to make sure that these guys are energized and feeling like, ‘let’s go play.’

“I met with the guys individually (Monday) morning just to talk to them and let them know that we’re all in this together,” Kellogg continued. “It’s kind of like we have a mini-tournament going on right now. We have five games left, 13 practices, five shootarounds and five games, so let’s try to take care of business in this tournament and then you’ve got one more tournament (the Atlantic 10) and then hopefully one more tournament.”

With five games left in the regular season, this is a game UMass needs to win to help its postseason positioning. The Minutemen (16-8, 6-5 Atlantic 10) are in a three-way tie for sixth place with Charlotte and Temple.

A loss to the struggling Bonnies would hurt the Minutemen’s potential seed in next month’s A-10 tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y., and would deal a big blow to UMass’ NCAA tournament hopes.

The Minutemen are on an NCAA bubble that is weaker than it’s been in recent years. A strong finish to the regular season and a solid showing in the Atlantic 10 tournament would likely at least keep them in consideration for an at-large bid.

St. Bonaventure is the defending A-10 tournament champions, but if the Bonnies (11-13, 4-7) want to defend their crown, they’ll have to finish strong. They are tied for 12th with Dayton and only 12 teams make the field.

The game pits two squads led by Brooklyn natives as UMass junior guard Chaz Williams will face Bonnie senior Demetrius Conger. Like the Minutemen do with Williams, St. Bonaventure relies on Conger to be involved in just about everything it does. The 6-foot-6 forward leads the team in scoring (13.6), rebounding (6.6) and assists (3.0) per game.

“He’s an interesting player,” Kellogg said. “He’s actually hurt us because of how he drives hard to the basket and he’s done a good job of attacking our pressure and press.”

Chris Johnson (12.5 ppg), a 6-5 senior wing, and Eric Mosley (11.5 ppg), a 5-10 guard, have also scored in double figures.

“I think the kid Mosley has really picked up his play and has given them a huge kind of offensive boost that they didn’t think they were going to have. They become a dangerous team,” Kellogg said. “They’ve lost some games that maybe you look and say they shouldn’t have lost but they’ve also beaten some teams that on paper maybe they shouldn’t have beaten. They’re an interesting team that’s well capable of beating just about anybody in the country in Olean, New York.”

The Bonnies are coming off back-to-back overtime losses to La Salle and Richmond. After losing six straight from late December to mid-January, St. Bonaventure has gone 4-4.

Defense has been a problem for the Bonnies, who have allowed a league-worst 44.7 percent shooting, including 37.0 from 3-point range.

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

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