Game #9-455: Butler Bulldogs at Massachusetts MinutemenMarch 7, 2013 7:00 pm
AMHERST, Mass. - They came in out of the snow by the hundreds and thousands. The students filled their allotted seats and spilled over into other sections of the Mullins Center nearly an hour before tip-off. The building, which is rarely full these days for much of anything these days, almost got there, despite the deteriorating conditions.
Who could UMass be playing to draw this kind of attention? Former boss John Calipari and Kentucky? North Carolina? UConn? One Direction? Justin Bieber?
Nope, it was just Brad Stevens and Butler.
Really? Yes, that's really the world that exists these days in Our Game. You could argue that the nearly 3,500 students and the largest non-sellout crowd in Mullins Center history was there in part because this was a massive game for a bubble-riding UMass squad that hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998.
But you're not going to convince me that a lot of it didn't have to do with Butler. It continues to be fascinating here at Mid-majority to follow Butler before - unless hundreds of reports are dead wrong - will officially leave us at the end of the season by jumping to the Big East. Do we cheer them next season? Do we call them sell-outs? They did so much for us over the years.
Luckily that's still in the future, and maybe it's fitting that Mid-majority will close its doors soon after Butler goes to the big-time.
On Thursday night, though, Butler put on a clinic on how to keep a potentially raucous crowd from becoming uncivil. They slowed things down, rarely giving UMass - which thrives in up-tempo basketball through point guard Chaz Williams, especially at home - an opportunity to hit the accelerator for more than a couple of seconds. And when Williams tried to push the issue, Butler forced mistakes.
The Bulldogs got off to a 14-6 behind seven points from Rotnei Clarke, which led the fan next to me to mutter, "That little guy is killing us." Yea, he's done that to a few teams this season. Clarke, to his credit, was about more than superhoops Thursday, managing 17 points on just a pair of three-pointers. Williams did make his life miserable when he tried to dribble, but - as he does plenty - did enough to help his team win.
It was a horribly late-arriving crowd, which you can blame in part to the weather and the fact that the UMass campus is pretty secluded when it comes to main roads, but it was still quite annoying when your view of the action is blocked by people haggling over seats and it's more than midway through the first half. This wouldn't happen at Hinkle Fieldhouse, would it?
The Minutemen made a run midway through the half, but Butler led 30-22 at the break and quickly extended the lead to start the second half, running clinical offensive sets and knocking down shots. On back-to-back possessions, Kameron Woods - who had a huge game despite going down hard in the opening minutes - had omgdunx on lob passes off back screens.
UMass never get within single digits the rest of the way, as Butler applied the choke hold and the Minutemen eventually had no choice but to tap out.
The massive crowd which was late in arriving was extremely early to depart. By the final media time out, half the seats at the Mullins Center (and in the student section as well) were vacated, and I would tell you the game closed with a whimper, but I don't think we even got that out of it.
UMass was 18-for-21 from the free throw line, but only attempted 44 shots and was outrebounded 37-20, with Butler getting 17 of them on the offensive end. Another team that underestimated how physical the Bulldogs could be.
I know the crowd didn't leave happy, but hopefully they could fully appreciate the clinic in how to win a road game they just got from Stevens and the Bulldogs (a good name for a band that could play alongside the Taylor Coppenrath Experience).
Because, in the end, as they may prove again later this match, as much as we want to keep Butler a part of Our Game in the Mid-majority, even now, they've just about outgrown us. In a way, it's sad, obviously, but part of us has to be proud, no? I have confidence they'll never forget us.
The rest of the month will be a combination of skill, luck, and opportunity, making correct decisions when they are not so obvious. I debated making the drive to Amherst because of the weather, but arrived safely. I tried to bolt as soon as the final buzzer sounded, but the people that had already left had held up traffic and so it was no use, it took me at least 30 minutes to get back on the main road headed toward the highway.
I feared the worst, but - although slightly slower - made it home in decent time and in one piece, a 10-mile stretch near home being the worst part.
Six hours later, I woke up for school only to see everything blanketed in several inches of snow (gee, that's never happened here before) and the day was postponed (the 13th cancellation this school year, five of which were for Sandy way back in October).
My timing and execution were absolutely perfect. Just like Butler's. With the regular season now done, and every game from here on out an elimination battle, which teams in Our Game will follow suit?
BUTLER 73, at MASSACHUSETTS 62
BUTLER 23-7 (10-5) -- R. Clarke 6-16 2-2 17; R. Jones 2-4 2-3 6; A. Smith 2-8 9-13 13; A. Barlow 2-2 0-0 4; K. Woods 7-11 3-3 17; K. Marshall 6-7 2-4 14; K. Dunham 1-7 0-0 2; C. Stigall 0-0 0-0 0; E. Fromm 0-0 0-0 0; J. Aldridge 0-0 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0; D. Morgan 0-0 0-0 0; A. Smeathers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-55 18-25 73.
MASSACHUSETTS 18-10 (8-7) -- C. Williams 2-9 4-4 8; S. Carter 3-6 5-6 12; F. Riley 2-6 0-0 5; T. Vinson 6-9 5-6 17; C. Lalanne 2-4 1-2 5; R. Putney 2-3 1-1 5; M. Esho 0-3 2-2 2; T. Davis 2-3 0-0 6; T. Bergantino 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 20-44 18-21 62.
Three-point goals: BUTL 3-19 (R. Clarke 3-12; A. Smith 0-1; K. Dunham 0-6), MASS 4-18 (S. Carter 1-3; F. Riley 1-5; T. Vinson 0-2; C. Williams 0-4; M. Esho 0-1; T. Davis 2-3); Rebounds: BUTL 34 (A. Smith 15), MASS 18 (S. Carter 4); Assists: BUTL 18 (R. Jones 8), MASS 15 (C. Williams 8); Total Fouls -- BUTL 19, MASS 18; Fouled Out: BUTL-K. Marshall; MASS-None.
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