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UMass men’s basketball struggles to slow down Rodney Bullock in second half in loss to Providence

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(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

PROVIDENCE –– Coming into Saturday afternoon’s matchup against Providence, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team knew it would have to shut down Friars forward Rodney Bullock to have any chance of coming out with a victory at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

After PC lost both Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil to the NBA draft last season, Bullock entered the contest leading the Friars with 20.8 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game.

For the first half, UMass (6-3) did exactly what it sought out to do, holding the junior to just eight points on 2-for-8 shooting. But when Bullock came out for the second half, the Minutemen would not find the same success they did in the first 20 minutes of play.

Bullock scored 18 points in the second half, running his game-high total to 26. He was also strong on the boards, pulling down 10 rebounds to complete the double-double as UMass would go on to lose a closely-contested game against PC 75-69.

Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg credited Bullock for stepping up his play in the second half and the effect that had on his team coming out on the losing end.

“He’s a really good player and he’s kind of a tough mismatch because he can shoot threes and he can score in the mid-post and he can drive it to the rim. He just ended up with 26 on some good basketball plays,” Kellogg said.

The Friars as a team struggled from the free-throw line Saturday, shooting just 19-for-32 from the charity strike, but Bullock was not one of the guys who faced those struggles. The Hampton, Virginia native shot 10-for-12 from the free-throw line, including a perfect 6-for-6 in the second half.

“He got to the free-throw line a ton, which I thought was big for him,” Kellogg said. “That was how he was averaging six points a game on the free-throw line of his 20.”

Although, Bullock ended as the star of the game, Kellogg was happy with how his team defended 6-foot-8 forward, especially in the first half where he shot just 25 percent from the field.

“I actually thought that we did a pretty good job at him at different junctures during the game,” Kellogg said.

Friars (8-2) coach Ed Cooley recognized the struggles his star forward faced in the first half, but that didn’t break his confidence in him.

“He’s been in college for four years now. As you’re developing your team and developing personnel, you give guys the most confidence, he talks to you in the huddle,” Cooley said. “When I have leaders like that, I ask them what they want, where they want it, how they want it and as much as they want it. I think that breeds confidence amongst a group.”

Bullock credits his success in the second half to the players around him.

“It’s just been my teammates giving me advice and telling just telling me to stay up,” Bullock said. “My coaches telling me ‘you’ll get it, just keep shooting.’ I’m never down.”

UMass will see many players similar to Bullock when Atlantic 10 conference play begins Dec. 30 against Saint Bonaventure. Players like Richmond’s T.J. Cline, La Salle’s B.J. Johnson and George Washington’s Tyler Cavanaugh, among others, all fit a similar mold as Bullock in the fact that can score efficiently and rebound the ball at a high level.

Kellogg believes games like Saturday will help the Minutemen prepare for those types of players.

“It’s like playing VCU or Dayton or [Rhode Island] or whoever,” Kellogg said. “That was a good learning experience for them that you have to play a certain way for forty minutes to be able to beat a team like this, especially on the road.”

Adam Aucoin can be reached at aaucoin@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.

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