UMass Lowell’s head basketball coach, Pat Duquette called Saturday’s win over NJIT “The best win since I have been with the program”. It would be hard to argue with him. The 94-71 victory came against a Highlanders team that had won seven of their first eight games and were undefeated on the road at four and zero.
No matter, as the Riverhawks placed five players in double-figures led by redshirt junior Christian Lutete career-high 28 points and nine boards. UMass Lowell evened their record at 5-5 with the win at Tsongas Center.
For the Highlanders (7-2), it was a rough afternoon. They never became a factor in the game. They had the lead for all of ten seconds and that happened in the first half on an Abdui Lewis put back layup. It made the score at the time 13-11. They shot only 42% for the game and 27 % from three-point range. They had trouble on the defensive end guarding Riverhawks shooters.
UMass Lowell jumped out fast on a 9-3 run to set the tone for the day. The home team reached a double-digit lead on a Joey Glynn put back. 26-15 Riverhawks with eight minutes to play.
That double-figure advantage was sparked by the local guy, Alex Rivera (16 points). He knocked down consecutive treys to the home crowds delight and could be heard at courtside telling the man guarding him, Highlander guard Zack Cooks (25 points team high) “you can’t guard me”.
The Riverhawks went to the locker room up by eleven 37-26. They started the second half the same way they began the game by knocking down shots. Ryan Jones (12 points) hit a jumper to get things going.
NJIT did make a brief run to try and get back into the game. A 10-2 run chopped the Riverhawks lead down to ten at 46-36 with 16:34 to play.
After the media timeout, UMass Lowell went back to work restoring the margin and expanding it. A three by Jones, and then six straight points by Lutete pushed the lead back to seventeen with fourteen minutes left at 54-37.
The lead ballooned to twenty on a fast break layup by Lutete off a pretty lead pass assist from Rivera. 72-52 eight minutes to go. A three from Josh Gantz (12 points) jumped the lead to twenty-three at 79-56 with 6:25 left.
It reached its highest point of twenty-five on another layup by Lutete, part of thirty-four points in the paint scored by the Riverhawks. 89-64 with 2:38 left. The final score ended up 94-71 UMass Lowell.
Afterward, coach Duquette also praised his team poise with playing almost the entire game with the lead. He thought they played loose, and “liked the overall team effort”. He was especially happy with 23 assists on 34 made baskets. The ball movement was excellent all game long and the coach loved it.
Lutete was asked about playing his first game at Tsongas Center, he said: “it was an easy adjustment to make”. Judging by the result he was correct.
The Riverhawks also got a double-figure game from Obadiah Noel who finished with 15.
For NJIT, Cooks tied his career best that he set in the Highlander only other loss vs Cornell back on November 17. They got 13 points from Shyquan Gibbs.
Up next for UMass Lowell is a trip to Boston to take on Boston University on Tuesday night.
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