Trent Buttrick flexes on former team as UMass basketball blows out Penn State

  • UMass point guard Noah Fernandes drives to the basket guarded by Penn State’s Jaheam Cornwall during action Monday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. The Minutemen won 81-56. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass’ C.J. Kelly (12) pulls up for a jumper during the Minutemen’s 81-56 victory over Penn State at the Mullins Center on Monday night. For a full version of the game story with quotes, visit gazettenet.com/sports CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • Trent Buttrick scored a career-high 19 points against his former team Penn State on Monday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/15/2021 10:20:33 PM
Modified: 11/15/2021 10:21:11 PM

AMHERST — Trent Buttrick chatted with his former Penn State roommate John Harrar up and down the floor in the first half Monday.

The UMass forward played with him for four years with the Nittany Lions and called him his best friend. At halftime, as the Minutemen held a slim lead, Buttrick realized he couldn’t play nice over the final 20 minutes.

“We’re not friends anymore,” Buttrick said. “It’s time to put it on them.”

He scored 16 of his career-high 19 points in the second half and added nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks. Buttrick turned and barked at the Nittany Lions bench after a few of his baskets.

“I took it a little personally. The last four years have been really tough for me,” Buttrick said. “I tried to come out with an edge.”

UMass (2-1) surged in the second half along with him in an 81-56 victory at the Mullins Center. 

The Minutemen outscored Penn State 39-23 in the second half and out rebounded the Nittany Lions 18-16. That was a drastic improvement from Penn State’s 18-10 advantage on the glass in the first half, including seven offensive rebounds. UMass only had seven defensive rebounds before halftime.

UMass (2-1) hit six 3s after halftime. Buttrick splashed two of them. The Minutemen opened the second half on a 13-2 run over the first 5:11. Their lead never dipped below double digits again. It hit 20 on a Buttrick free throw with 12:51 left and reached 25 with 17 to go.

Five Minutemen reached double figures. Rich Kelly (four assists, four 3s) and C.J. Kelly (three 3s) poured in 17 each, Noah Fernandes had 13 (three assists) and Dibaji Walker (four rebounds) contributed 10. 

“That’s what I want to see every single night on offense, understanding it could be five different guys,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “There’s balance and celebrating each other’s success.”

Walker started and sustained a run near the end of the first half that put UMass in a position to blow the game open in the second. 

The senior forward entered the game with 6 minutes left in the first half as the Minutemen held a 25-24 lead over the Nittany Lions. He missed a 3 then followed with a layup. That sparked a 12-4 run. Walker splashed two 3s – as many as he made all of last season – and injected energy and defense into the lineup.

McCall sat Walker during a timeout with 1:32 left, and the Nittany Lions scored four points in a row to get back to 37-33. Walker went back in for Penn State’s last offensive possession of the first half and forced a difficult shot that Myles Dread missed at the buzzer.

“It’s scary when he gets going,” C.J. Kelly said of Walker. “He had one 3 then hit a pull-up 3 and I’m like, ‘oh my god, we’re the best team in the world.’”

The result was a full turnaround from losing by 20 at Yale on Friday. UMass registered 15 assists and committed just eight turnovers. The Minutemen shot 48.1 percent from the field and held Penn State to 37.3 percent. McCall credited the defensive improvement to UMass not switching any action that didn’t involve the basketball, since that philosophy led to a lot of finger pointing and back cut layups against the Bulldogs.

“When you take away the switching, now you’ve got to take some ownership. You get beat back door, that’s on you. You get hung up on a screen or you’re late, that’s on you,” McCall said. “I think our guys took some pride in that.”

After opening the season with three games in six days, UMass will now travel to St. Petersburg, Fla., where the Minutemen will play three games in three days starting Thursday against Weber State (which beat fellow Atlantic 10 foe Duquesne on Monday).

“I was really proud of our guys. Even late in the Yale game the guys were talking in timeouts ‘this is one game,’ but the resilience they showed to come back on a short turnaround and get back to work and put our best foot forward,” McCall said.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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