Despite a snowstorm that dumped a foot of snow in Massachusetts, the Vermont Catamount and the UMass Lowell River Hawks went ahead and began their America East season. They played in front of a crowd that was said to be 289, but in reality was only 74. Vermont opened with an 88-77 victory over the River Hawks behind 32 points from Ernie Duncan on 10-of-11 shooting including 5-of-6 from three and a perfect 7-of-7 from the free throw line.
The recap of this game, which was a good contest considering the elements it was played in, was more about the elements itself. Realizing that conference basketball has a short window to be played in, did playing last night’s these conditions make sense? Vermont spent this past week in Massachusetts playing on Tuesday night at Harvard, then making the bus trip to Lowell, spending two days and nights there waiting for this game to be played. In the meantime, weather forecasters were predicting a serious snowstorm that was and did impact the Lowell area. Maybe its just me, but going ahead and playing this game does not sound like the right thing to have done. Even Vermont was on the hook for a two-night hotel stay in Lowell.
UMass Lowell is not without some blame here as well knowing what they did about the impending storm. Would it have not been a better idea to try to reschedule the game? Now maybe that was tried and the two schools could not come up with a date that made both parties happy. But I think its a question that is at least worth throwing out there.
As for the game, Vermont took the lead from the opening tip and never lost it. The first double-digit lead for the Catamount came with four minutes left in the first half. A Drew Urquhart free throw gave Vermont a 35-25 advantage. The River Hawks would cut the lead to five on a Rinardo Perry basket (38-33), with 43 seconds left. Perry had 15, 12 in the first half. Ernie Duncan, who was on fire all night, knocked down a three to give the visitors an eight-point halftime lead at 43-35.
The second half saw the River Hawks climb that mountain, several times, making the game a one-possession contest. Every time they would get to the mountain summit, the Catamount would have an answer. If it was not Duncan, then it was Payton Hanson would have a response and he finished with 15 points. The River Hawks would not give in, not as long as Jahad Thomas was able. Thomas was a one-man show for the home team, you name it and he did it. Baseline line drives, three-point shots, and perimeter shots. He did all he could to keep his team in the game. Thomas finished with a team-high 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting, 7-8 from the foul line. The thirty points were his first 30-point game of his career.
In the end, Vermont had too many answers for UMass Lowell. With the Cats up five, 78-73 with a minute left to be played, Urquhart came up with the play of the game. First, he tipped in a miss free throw, then completed the three-point play by hitting his foul shot to give Vermont a 10-point lead back at 84-74 with 45 seconds left. Urquhart finished this game with his first double-double of the year 19 points and 12 rebounds.
With the win, Vermont moves to 10-5, 1-0 in the conference. The River Hawks are 6-8, 0-1 in the league.