The game plan is simple for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team: Get a defensive stop, grab the defensive rebound, get on the fast break and convert transition buckets.
When one of those ingredients goes missing, it spells deep trouble, and that’s exactly what happened in UMass’ 73-62 loss to Butler on Thursday night at the Mullins Center.
The Bulldogs outrebounded the Minutemen 37-20, which included 17 on the offensive glass, as they continuously found ways to get second chances and prevent UMass from doing what it does best – get on the break and run. It was by far the Minutemen’s lowest rebounding output of the season and only the second time they have pulled down less than 30 boards in a game.
UMass coach Derek Kellogg had no answers and was left scratching his head during the postgame press conference.
“I’m not sure, honestly,” he said. “I mean, they just came up with balls. … When you don’t get any defensive rebounds or clean rebounds, we’re not gonna get any transition baskets, which happened tonight. I just think they out-toughed us.”
Early and often, Butler controlled the glass, as it got out to a quick lead – which it never relinquished – with the help of second-chance points. The Bulldogs finished with 17 second-chance points to just five for UMass, constantly frustrating a Minutemen team that was desperate to push the tempo.
At the head of it all was Butler center Andrew Smith, who grabbed a season-high 15 rebounds – including five on the offensive end. Time after time, Smith was able to either pull down the board or tip a miss out to open teammates, who did the rest of the work for him.
“As long as you can keep the ball alive, go ahead and do it,” Smith said. “I don’t really care if I can get the rebound or not. I mean, if you get a tap out to Rotnei (Clarke) or Kellen (Dunham), that’s as good as three points. That’s something we focus on and try to do.”
It was especially frustrating for UMass because, more often than not, it was able to get the initial stop before getting beat on the boards. Terrell Vinson said that over time that began to wear down on the Minutemen mentally.
“You don’t want them to get the offensive rebound and then you get your coach mad at you because you didn’t,” Vinson said. “It’s kind of frustrating and wears you down, but sometimes the game just goes that way when teams execute their offense well and they can kind of get their guys in the right rebounding position.”
And for a Minutemen team that thrives on getting the defensive rebound to jump-start their offense, it spelled defeat. They finished the game with just six fast break points and simply were never able to get in a rhythm.
A quick turnaround
UMass has no time to dwell on its loss to Butler as it has to travel to Rhode Island for its regular season finale on Saturday afternoon at the Ryan Center.
The Minutemen (18-10, 8-7 Atlantic 10) currently sit in seventh place in the conference standings. With a win, they could move up to as high as sixth place if Xavier loses to Butler on Saturday. A loss could potentially put them into a six-way tie at 8-8 in the standings depending on other results, and they can finish as low as 10th for next week’s A-10 Tournament.
As complex as the scenarios can be, Kellogg is just trying to make it simple. UMass hits the road Friday morning.
“We get on the bus, we have breakfast, we get on to practice, have dinner and really play,” Kellogg said. “It’s as much mental at this point. … 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.”
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.