Jimmy Kelley is an RTC correspondent. He filed this story after Thursday night’s game between Butler and UMass in Amherst.
Brad Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs suffered one the most lopsided losses of the conference season last Saturday when they were on the wrong end of an 84-52 blowout at the hands of VCU. In the days following the loss the Butler players had team meetings while Stevens and his staff ran some of the most intense, focused practices they have had all season. The result? A convincing 73-62 victory over a scrappy UMass team on the Minutemen’s senior night Thursday. Eleven points may not sound convincing but Butler played their game the entire night and had a near-capacity crowd of 9,341 scrambling for the exits before second-to-last media timeout of the second half.
“[The VCU loss] hit hard,” Butler’s Andrew Smith said. “We knew we had to make changes, define everyone’s roles. We told certain guys ‘we need you to do more of this and less of this.’ If everyone plays hard we’re a tough team to beat.” The win was Butler’s first in over a week after losses to VCU and St. Louis sent the Bulldogs into a bit of a tailspin. Ranked as high as #9 in the AP poll this season and with wins over Indiana and Gonzaga on their resume it was apparent that something had changed over the last week and it was something Stevens was going to have to work on fixing. UMass had given several teams scares this season and employs their own fast-paced style under coach Derek Kellogg, but the Bulldogs had seen what real pressure defense is and would not be shaken by the Minutemen.