Not your average senior night

Finality stretched across the men’s basketball team

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Brianna Alexander?Daily Collegian

By Joey Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

As they are for every final home game, for every team, for every sport, seniors are honored with a pre-game ceremony for what they’ve accomplished on their team. For the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, this was far off from every other senior night.

Rich Kelly, Trent Buttrick, Michael Steadman and Greg Jones are all in their first year at UMass, but their last in college basketball. Meanwhile, it was announced Matt McCall would be fired after the end of the season, completely changing the atmosphere at the Mullins Center. All four came to join a Minutemen program after Tre Mitchell, Carl Pierre and Ronnie DeGray III transferred elsewhere after last season.

Kelly and Buttrick transferred from bigger programs for larger roles (Boston College, Penn State, while Jones and Steadman come from smaller schools looking for a bigger challenge (Southern Connecticut State, Montana). The season hasn’t been a success by any means, but that doesn’t mean they regret the decision to transfer to UMass.

“I’ve been to three schools and a lot of friends that play Division-I basketball, and it seems like an obvious thing that a coach would care about his players, but that’s not the case in Division-I,” Kelly said. “It’s pretty cutthroat and it’s a business and they could care less about how you’re doing off the court. McCall is an outlier there. He’s a good coach and even better person.”

With eight seconds left on the clock, a scramble of substitutions led to all four seniors subbing out for one last time on UMass’ home court, each embraced with a big hug from McCall that represented the end of a short era for both the players and the head coach.

“It was interesting [assistant coach Jacob Kurtz] before the game was talking about ‘It’d be pretty cool to [substitute] John Kelly in for Rich [Kelly],’” McCall said. “I said ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, okay that’s great, let’s make sure we win the game.’ And then [assistant coach Lucious Jordan] … said it to me too about getting Trent [Buttrick] out and getting Greg [Jones] out.”

“Lucious there’s going to be more possessions in this game, let’s just give it one more defensive stop before we do that,” McCall said with a chuckle. “But yeah I wanted to make sure [the four seniors] had their moment.”

Rich Kelly’s younger brother John — who is listed as a freshman — embraced his older brother with a hug as Rich left the court.

“It was a special night,” Kelly said. “I’m really glad I could share it with my brother and a lot of guys that are really close to me.”

With four of the eight rotation players and the head coach partaking in their last ever home game at the Mullins Center, the stadium energy was different. Loud boos after controversial calls, fans clapping along with the bench when the Minutemen are on defense and an overall sense of free-flowing spirit filled the Mullins Center Wednesday night. UMass’ season is quickly coming to a halt, and for the first time all year the team is playing without a dark cloud of doubt over its head.

“There’s been some ups, some downs, and just to finish it that way in the Mullins Center, I’m just really happy for our players,” McCall said.

Even with at least two more games to play this season, a sense of finality was felt. Players and coaches alike embraced for one last home game, knowing that the next men’s basketball team to play at the Mullins center will look vastly different.

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] and followed in Twitter @JosephAliberti1.