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UMass men’s basketball hopes to get back on track Saturday vs. Dayton

“When we came back I didn’t want to watch SportsCenter and that’s usually what my TV is on,” Williams said at Friday’s practice. “I’m just freeing my mind from basketball right now, so I know when I come between these lines it’s all business. Once we clear our heads, things will be pretty cool.”

The Minutemen (16-9, 6-6 Atlantic 10) will get back between those lines Saturday at 1 p.m., when they host Dayton at the Mullins Center.

“We’re just putting the losses behind us and focusing on Saturday, staying upbeat, keeping a good spirit, focusing on what we have to do to pull a victory off,” Williams said. “We just took three horrible ones, three tough losses. It hurts in that sense, but it’s a learning experience, an eye-opener. It woke us up. Now we have to play with a huge sense of urgency. We have to do what we do under pressure. The Atlantic 10 is pretty tough this year. In this conference, every play matters.”

Minuteman coach Derek Kellogg thought his team would respond well to an important challenge.

“Obviously with a three-game losing streak you’d like to get off the schneid and play well. We want to make winning plays. I think we’ve played hard, we’ve just made some plays that come back to haunt us,” Kellogg said. “We have a good group of kids that have responded the way you hope they would respond. They want to play again.”

The Flyers will arrive in Amherst at 14-11 (4-7 A-10). They’re 2-4 in their last six games, but beat Xavier on Saturday and have had a week off to prepare for this game.

Kellogg dismissed any advantage Dayton might gain from having extra preparation.

“There’s no excuses this time of year. There’s four regular season games left. We have to come, compete and try to win a basketball game,” said Kellogg, who had things in mind that he’d like to see from his team early.

“I want to have a guy dive for a loose ball or take a charge or finish a tough layup around the rim. I want to see them make some tough plays to show that they’re here to compete. Saturday is a tough test. Dayton has played everybody tough even though they haven’t won as many as they would have liked.”

The Flyers’ annual struggles away from UD Arena have contributed to their A-10 woes. After winning its first true road game at Alabama, Dayton dropped its other six heading into this weekend.

It’s the league’s best 3-point shooting team at 38.3 percent.

Senior point guard Kevin Dillard leads the Flyers in scoring (15.0 points per game) and assists (4.6 per game).

“Dillard does for them what Chaz does for us. A lot of things go through him,” Kellogg said. “He does a good job facilitating and running the team.”

Dillard had Williams’ attention.

“He’s a good crafty left-handed point guard. Left-handers are always tough to deal with,” Williams said. “He’s got a little (Milwaukee Bucks) Brandon Jennings’ game. He’s a tough hard-nosed player. It’s not going to be an easy battle, but it’ll be fun.”

Georgetown transfer Vee Sanford has been an immediate impact player alongside Dillard in the backcourt. The 6-foot-3 junior is averaging 12.2 points per game.

VICTOR CRUZ ATTENDING — New York Giants Pro Bowl wide receiver Victor Cruz, a UMass alumnus, tweeted Friday that he planned to attend the game.

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

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