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Near sellout expected for UMass men’s basketball game against Butler

The Mullins Center holds 9,493 for basketball. There has not been a sellout for a basketball game since Dec. 2, 2006, when the Minutemen fell to Boston College in the back half of a playoff football-basketball doubleheader in Amherst.

The Bulldogs have seen plenty of sellouts, playing before a sold-out arena in all seven Atlantic 10 road game in their first year in the conference. Butler has been ranked for most of the season with wins over current No. 1 Gonzaga and former No. 1 Indiana on its resume.

UMass ticket manager Sean Quinn said there are still tickets available, but interest in the game is strong.

“They’re selling pretty well, but there are good seats still available,” he said. “There was a pretty nice uptick after Saturday’s (win over Xavier). We’re guessing between 8,000 and 9,000. There’s a chance it will sell out.”

UMass junior point guard Chaz Williams said he hopes seniors Freddie Riley and Terrell Vinson are honored with the biggest crowd of their careers in their final regular-season home game.

“We’re trying to get this place sold out at least one time for these guys. They haven’t played in front of a sold-out crowd here yet,” Williams said. “It would be a great way for them to go out as seniors and a great way for the students to help us finish a great year, to push us on and go forward.”

Williams in person and on Twitter has encouraged fans to attend. He said the players feed off crowd energy.

“It would give us a huge advantage. Even when it’s not packed and there are just a couple of people in the student section, we feed off of that,” he said.

“With a sellout crowd, somebody might try to do something crazy. I might try to dunk on somebody,” said Williams, who is listed at 5-foot-9 but has dunked. “I told guys I was waiting for the end of the year (to dunk). The end of the year is now so I should reveal it soon.”

UMass coach Derek Kellogg is enthusiastic about the potential atmosphere for Thursday’s game.

“We’re going to have a crowd,” he said. “I think we’re going to have good energy. I think we’ve had good energy when we’ve had great crowds. It doesn’t mean you’re going to win or play great or make every shot, but we’ve brought good energy.

“I’m anticipating 8,000 or 9,000 here on Thursday night which would be great,” Kellogg added. “This is fun. It’s great for the area. It good for UMass. It’s good for our recruiting and good for a national television audience.”

The Mullins Militia — the UMass student booster group — and the Minuteman football team are leading a “March to Mullins” parade of student fans to the game. They will leave from Berkshire Dining Commons in the Southwest Residential Area at 5:30 p.m.

BEARD VISIT — Among those expected in the crowd is Anton Beard, a well-regarded 6-foot-1 point guard from Little Rock, Ark., who is visiting UMass for Thursday’s game.

Beard, a cousin of UMass assistant coach Marlon “Smoke” Williamson, is ranked as a four-star recruit by Rivals. He has interest schools in the ACC, SEC, Big East and Catholic 7 conferences.

NBC SPORTS — Thursday’s game will be the first appearance by the Minutemen on the new NBC Sports Network, which is expanding its college basketball coverage.

The network announced Tuesday that it will televise the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Brooklyn on March 14.

The conference quarterfinals (March 15) will be streamed for free and are expected to be broadcast on regionally syndicated markets, but no announcement has been made about which stations. NESN and Comcast SportsNet are both possibilities in Massachusetts as neither the Bruins nor Celtics are playing that Friday.

The semifinals (March 16) are on CBS Sports Network and the final (March 17) is on CBS.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at @GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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