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N.E. COLLEGE BASKETBALL; UMass-Lowell in perfect position

By From the Boston Herald By Rich Thompson

The bull's eye keeps getting bigger.

That opinion was expressed by UMass-Lowell coach Ken Barer after his team improved to 12-0 overall and 9-0 in the Northeast-10 with a 66-60 victory over Pace Saturday in Pleasantville, N.Y.

The River Hawks entered the season an obvious target after being ranked No. 13 in the NABC Division 2 poll. After winning the Quincy University Holiday tournament and consecutive league victories over St. Michael's, Le Moyne and Saint Rose, the River Hawks are perched on the No. 3 spot. Humboldt State (Calif.) and South Dakota State are currently first and second, respectively.

Any internal preseason pressure the River Hawks experienced evaporated after beating Adelphi, 81-66, on Dec. 13. Lowell improved to 6-0, surpassing its previous best start of 5-0 in 1986-87. As the River Hawks began piling up wins and taking giant steps up the Div. 2 poll, the external pressures on the squad grew accordingly.

'They got beyond 5-0 and that was good,' Barer said. 'But I told the kids that with every win they get, the target on their backs just gets bigger and bigger.

'I told them we are going to need bigger backs.'

Barer believes the quality of his team's performance corresponds directly to the quality of individuals he inherited and recruited in his two-year tenure. The River Hawks are a virtual culture club in a municipality that prides itself on its diverse immigrant past.

'I have a great group of guys and I've never been associated with a team as a player and a coach where every guy on the team is a quality person from A-to-Z,' Barer said. 'They are a very diverse group on this team. I've got four guys from Israel, three guys from New York City, one from Florida, one from Albany (N.Y.), two from Chicago and one from Canada, so we are all over the globe.'

Junior forward Elad Inbar is among the NE-10 leaders in five categories and was averaging 18.1 points per game prior to the Pace game. Inbar was held to four points by Pace, but Ty Brunson made up for it with 26. Teams preoccupied with taking Inbar out of the equation do so at their own peril according to Barer.

'He conceptualizes the game at a higher level than most players,' Barer said. 'He is 6-7 and about 195 pounds, but he may be the best post-up player in the league.

'He's a good athlete, not a superior athlete, but he knows how to play and he's incredibly poised. If he gets double-teamed he's making passes to open players. If teams want to put a box-and-one on him, that's fine because we have a lot of other weapons.'

Junior guard Ira Grunwald has 975 points and is poised to become the 13th player in River Hawks history to eclipse the 1,000-point barrier. James Whyte is a proven scorer and shot blocker, Brunson is tough on the offensive glass and sophomore point guard Dana Jones drives the engine. Jones averages 3.1 steals a game.

'We are very fortunate to get Dana because he is a very tough competitor,' Barer said.