No team sums up the unpredictability of the Atlantic 10 Conference this season better than Massachusetts.
The Dayton Flyers (18-9, 10-4) play the Minutemen (10-17, 3-11) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Amherst, Mass., and on the surface, it appears to be a sure Dayton victory. It’s a matchup of the third-place team and the 13th-place team in a 14-team league.
On the other hand, it’s hard to know what UMass team Dayton will see: the team that lost 85-67 at home to Fordham on Feb. 6 or the team that beat second-place Davidson 54-51 three days later and then lost 80-75 in overtime on the road against fourth-place George Mason four days after that.
In short, UMass could upset Dayton or lose by 20, and no one would be surprised. The Flyers haven’t won a regular-season game at the Mullins Center since 2004, so they know they have to bring their best game no matter what they see from the Minutemen.
“They’re all tough,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said Saturday after a 70-62 victory against Saint Louis. “This will be our fourth game against them (in the last two seasons), and every one has pretty much come down to the wire. They play extremely hard. They reflect their coach in terms of the energy he brings. We understand that walking in the door. It’s always tough to win on the road. We’ll have to be as prepared as we can be and understand what we’re walking into and the opportunity we have in front of us.”
Here are four things to know about the game:
1. Better play: UMass lost its first six A-10 games and is 3-5 since then. It overcame a 54-37 halftime deficit to beat Saint Joseph’s 80-79 on Saturday in Amherst.
Forward Jonathan Laurent, a transfer from Rutgers who averages 8.8 points, scored 24 points off the bench. Carl Pierre scored 21 and made a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left to cut the Hawks’ lead to 79-78 and then a go-ahead jump shot with three seconds to play.
“After what was probably the most uninspired half of basketball we’ve played all year,” UMass coach Matt McCall said, “to follow it up with probably the most inspired half we’ve played all year, I was really proud of our team.”
2. Rotation changes: Two players who started for UMass in a 72-67 loss at UD Arena on Jan. 13 didn’t start their last game.
Center Rashaan Holloway — the largest player in the conference at 6-foot-11, 300 pounds — has seen his minutes decline in recent weeks and played only two minutes against Saint Joseph’s.
Guard Luwane Pipkins, the team’s leading scorer with 16.6 points per game, has battled a hamstring injury and didn’t play against Saint Joseph’s. It’s the third game he has missed in February.
3. Close games: Pipkins scored 25 points in a 62-60 victory at UD Arena last season. Then in an 86-82 victory against the Flyers a year ago in Amherst, he scored 28 points, hitting a tie-breaking 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 55 seconds left in the second overtime.
Dayton won the first matchup this season 72-67. Pipkins scored 19 points. Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 55 seconds to play.
4. Standings picture: Third-place Dayton trails VCU (21-6, 12-2) by two games and Davidson (20-7, 11-3) by one game with four games to play. A trio of teams sit one game back of Dayton: Duquesne, George Mason and St. Bonaventure (all 9-5).
If Dayton gets the No. 3 seed in the A-10 tournament, it would play the last game in the quarterfinal round at 8:30 p.m. March 15 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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