The fans did their part, but the Massachusetts men’s basketball team failed to return the favor.
In front of a crowd of 9,341 at the Mullins Center, UMass (18-10, 8-7 Atlantic 10) was dominated on the offensive glass and couldn’t find its stroke from 3-point range on Thursday night, as Butler fought its way to a 73-62 victory.
The Bulldogs (23-7, 10-5 A-10) grabbed 17 offensive rebounds while the Minutemen managed just 15 defensive boards, which led to a 17-5 edge in second-chance points for Butler.
UMass also hit just 4-of-18 from beyond the arc in a game it never led.
“We really couldn’t find our rhythm or our groove today,” Chaz Williams said.
The Minutemen’s inability to string defensive stops together prevented them from making a legitimate run in the second half. Rotnei Clarke overcame a shaky first half to drop 11 points in the second half on a 3-of-6 pace from 3-point land after missing all six of his attempts from long range in the first.
The closest UMass got in the second was an eight-point deficit with 14 minutes, five seconds left, while the Bulldogs’ lead reached as much as 16 with 6:49 to go and they led by double digits for the final 9:48.
Terrell Vinson scored 13 of his team-high 17 points in the second half, but no other Minuteman could get anything going on the offensive end after the break.
“They outplayed us from start to the finish,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “They were a better team today, and today they looked like a top-notch team.”
Chaz Williams was held in check virtually the entire game, finishing with eight points and eight assists while coughing up five turnovers. Butler guarded Williams with constant double-teams at the top of the key – particularly on the pick-and-roll sets – which threw off the rhythm of UMass’ half-court offense.
“They built a pretty great wall against me,” Williams said. “They were forcing me to get the ball out of my hands.”
The Minutemen’s inability to rebound kept them from getting out on the break, as the Bulldogs’ muscle in the paint and ability to grab long rebounds kept UMass from picking up the pace. Butler even held a 9-6 advantage in fast break points.
“Our game is transition,” Williams said, “and we weren’t really getting any transition buckets, so we couldn’t really wear them down on defense.”
It wasn’t entirely bad for Williams, as he led a 6-0 charge midway through the first half to cut Butler’s lead down to 19-18 with 8:07 left in the opening frame, but the Minutemen missed their next five shots over the next 4:44 – including three layups – and coughed up two turnovers as the deficit grew to 28-18.
The UMass faithful came out in full force for the largest non-sellout crowd in Mullins Center history. The student section was jam-packed as early as 40 minutes before tip-off, with officially 3,526 students in attendance. Some UMass fans had already exited the arena by the closing minutes.
But unlike their fans, the Minutemen didn’t show up in what was a critical game not only for its playoff implications but also for reinvigorating a fan base that has been slowly creeping its way back.
“We’ve been asking all year to get a sellout crowd or a great fan base, and today guys showed up,” Williams said of the fans. “We couldn’t ask for a better crowd, so it kind of hurt that we couldn’t go out there and perform the way we wanted to and usually do for the crowd.”
UMass doesn’t have time to dwell on the loss, as it travels to Rhode Island on Saturday afternoon for its regular season finale.
Stephen Sellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.