AMHERST, Mass. -- Thursday night’s visit to the University of Massachusetts by Butler, in all likelihood the Bulldogs’ one and only game in Amherst as an Atlantic 10 foe, certainly created a buzz in the area.
But from start to finish, the visitors took most of the sizzle out of the matchup.
The 9,341 fans at the Mullins Center, just shy of being the first sellout at UMass since 2006, were willing, but Butler controlled the tempo largely by dominating on the boards, handing the Minutemen a 73-62 loss that deals a serious blow to any hopes UMass had of garnering an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
UMass, which hasn’t been to the Big Dance since 1998, had been on the fringes of the bubble conversation. But a high profile win over Butler, which had been in the Top 25 for 11 weeks before dropping out in the most recent polls, plus a season-ending win over Rhode Island on Saturday and a couple of wins in next week’s A-10 tournament would have made UMass a legitimate talking point for the selection committee.
Instead, at 18-10 overall and 8-7 (tied for seventh) in the league, the Minutemen likely will be an NCAA afterthought unless they win the A-10 tourney.
“We couldn’t find our rhythm or our groove,” said point guard Chaz Williams, who normally drives the UMass offense but was given little room to maneuver by Butler’s defense. Williams finished with 8 points and 8 assists. “We weren’t getting any transition points and we weren’t getting any rebounds. Our game is transition, and we weren’t getting any transition chances. It was real frustrating.”
To Williams’ point, UMass had only six fast-break points and were outrebounded, 37-20. Butler had 17 offensive rebounds, which often led to open shots and hoops that demoralized the Minutemen and the crowd.
“You get outrebounded by 17, that’s unacceptable,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “When you don’t get any defensive rebounds, you’re not going to get any transition baskets and that’s what happened tonight. They actually out-toughed us.
“We understand it was a missed opportunity with a great crowd. The fortunate thing is the season’s not over. We still have an opportunity in front of us.”
UMass missed its first three shots and trailed from wire to wire. The Minutemen got within a point midway through the first half, but were behind 30-22 at the break, their lowest output in the first 20 minutes this season.
Butler built the lead to 14 in the first 2:30 of the second half, and while UMass got within 8 and briefly caused the Bulldogs some problems with its pressure defense, it failed to capitalize on the other end. And while Butler was flummoxed by VCU's "havoc" defense in an 84-52 blowout on Saturday, the Minutemen's pressure was nowhere near as relentless or disruptive.
A pair of wide open dunks by Kameron Woods (17 points off the bench) on passes by Roosevelt Jones (8 assists) on back-to-back possessions extinguished any flicker of fire for the Minutemen, giving Butler a 54-41 lead with 8:47 to play.
Butler, which got 17 points from Rontei Clark and 13 points and 15 rebounds from Andrew Smith, held a double-digit lead the rest of the way.
The Minutemen rode their 3-point shooting to a big win at Xavier last weekend (13 for 25), but were just 4 for 18 beyond the arc on Thursday. Senior Terrell Vinson (17 points on 6-of-9 shooting) was their only reliable option offensively.
Despite the disappointing outcome on his Senior Night, Vinson isn’t ready to pack it in.
“Yeah, I’d rather have the win,” he said, “but the season is far from over. We’ve got a lot more games.”