Republican Looks At Sunday's Hoop Game Vs. Dayton - UMass Athletics

Republican Looks At Sunday's Hoop Game Vs. Dayton

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The Springfield Republican has a look ahead to Sunday's game vs. Dayton.

It's not every day that a men's basketball team enters conference play with an 8-5 record, trying to convince its fans the sky isn't falling. But that is what the University of Massachusetts will try to prove, starting with Sunday's Atlantic 10 opener against Dayton at the Mullins Center.

"Our backs are against the wall, but guys have been coming to practice with unbelievable intensity,'' UMass senior guard Anthony Gurley said. "The chips are stacked against us, but we have to put the last game behind us. We're a family, we lose together and we win together.''

Even at 8-5, UMass basketball has much to prove against Dayton Sunday

Published: Saturday, January 08, 2011, 5:00 AM
Ron Chimelis, The Republican By Ron Chimelis, The Republican 
Anthony GurleyMassachusetts' Anthony Gurley says his team can rediscover its winning form in the Atlantic 10 basketball season.

AMHERST - It's not every day that a men's basketball team enters conference play with an 8-5 record, trying to convince its fans the sky isn't falling.

But that is what the University of Massachusetts will try to prove, starting with Sunday's Atlantic 10 opener against Dayton at the Mullins Center.

"Our backs are against the wall, but guys have been coming to practice with unbelievable intensity,'' UMass senior guard Anthony Gurley said.

"The chips are stacked against us, but we have to put the last game behind us. We're a family, we lose together and we win together.''

The UMass family was disrupted this week when freshman point guard Daryl Traynham was suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

That came on the heels of one of UMass' most embarrassing nights in memory. Monday's 92-63 loss at Central Connecticut was a total blowout against a mid-major opponent that dominated the Minutemen from wire to wire.

It was the fifth loss in six games for UMass. Now comes Dayton (13-3, 1-0 Atlantic 10).

"They're 'only' 13-3. They 'only' won the NIT last year,'' UMass coach Derek Kellogg said, using mock understatement to portray the Flyers as the real deal.

"They have a 6-foot-8 senior (Chris Wright) who might wind up as the A-10 player of the year. AndDayton is probably one of the top three teams in our league, which makes them an NCAA tournament-level team,'' Kellogg said.

Dayton has won six straight. Known for years as a terrific home team, but vulnerable on the road, they are 3-2 away from home.

The road wins include a 69-65 victory at Seton Hall, which beat UMass 104-79 at the Mullins Center, and Wednesday's 60-50 Atlantic 10 opener at Saint Louis.

Wright is averaging 13.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game for Dayton, which leads Atlantic 10 teams with 41.1 rebounds per contest.

UMass is looking to rebound in a different way. The Minutemen want to bounce back from their recent tailspin.

Five weeks ago, UMass was talking about building on its 7-0 start. Now, its welcome a fresh start, an 0-0 record in the Atlantic 10.

"We were embarrassed (at Central Connecticut). We've got a lot to prove,'' Gurley said.

"We still believe we can make a run. We're 8-5, not the end of the world.

"We've been in worse positions, going into conference play. I know I have.''

This is the first time in Gurley's' three seasons at UMass that the Minutemen enter A-10 play with a winning record.

Two years ago, UMass was 5-8 entering Kellogg's first A-10 opener as coach. The opponent was Dayton, which was 14-1 before losing 75-62 to UMass in Springfield.

Gurley said the Minutemen worked largely on defense and rebounding this week. The offense is anybody's guess.

UMass had two assists and 22 turnovers at Central Connecticut, and that was with Traynham still available. With his suspension and Gary Correia's stomach ailment UMass has no true point guard.

Nobody has told Kellogg it's all coming apart, though.

"I feel good about where we are mentally. Absolutely,'' he said.

"Our positive attitude is at a high level.''

Dayton edged Central Connectict 63-61 at home on Dec. 7. Their point guard is freshman Juwan Staten, who is averaging 8.8 points and 6.7 assists per game.

He is one of only five freshmen among 66 players on the ballot for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation's top point guard.

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