FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Despite trailing by 10 with less than four minutes remaining in regulation, the UMass Lowell men’s basketball team (8-7) battled back to earn an exciting, 100-91 overtime victory at Sacred Heart (4-9) to close out its 2018-19 non-conference campaign on Saturday.
Down 81-71, senior Ryan Jones (Rio Rancho, N.M.) and redshirt-junior Christian Lutete (Silver Spring, Md.) drained big threes on back-to-back possessions to ignite a 10-2 run that was capped off by another triple from redshirt-senior Josh Gantz (Grove City, Ohio) in the last minute to knot the score at 82-82 and force overtime. The River Hawks kept the momentum, scoring the first nine points of the extra period, including five from sophomore Obadiah Noel (Frederick, Md.) to pull away en route to the come-from-behind decision.
“I didn’t know how we were going to turn the rhythm of the game, especially with about eight minutes left in the second half,” said Head Coach Pat Duquette. “I just felt like we were in foul trouble and they were playing well on their home court. I just kept telling our guys that it’s a long game, we still have a chance to get back in it. They believed in it and continued to play loose on offense. That’s when our shots started going down and that actually energized our defense a little bit. Such a great win for this young group, so we’re really excited heading into conference play.”
With eight non-conference wins this season, the River Hawks will enter America East Conference play above .500 for the first time at the Division I level. The decision also marks the second time this season that the River Hawks have battled back for the win after trailing by double-digits in the second half. Lutete paced UMass Lowell on both sides of the ball with 29 points and nine rebounds. Three other River Hawks scored in double figures in the outing, including Noel with 22 points, Jones with 18 and Gantz with 10.
Freshman Darius Henderson (Pasadena, Calif.) won the opening tip and scored the first two baskets of the game for the River Hawks. The Pioneers knotted the score once before Lutete knocked down his first three of the day to spark a quick, 9-3 spurt that gave the visitors a 14-8 advantage at 14:08 in the first half.
SHU put together an 8-2 stretch that erased the difference at 18-18 with 11:19 to go in the period. Freshmen Allin Blunt(Bowie, Md.) and Alex Rivera (Lowell, Mass.) quickly regained the upper hand for their squad, but the Pioneers would even the board twice more and took a 42-39 edge with just over a minute left. However, Jones drew a foul inside of the final second and converted at the line to put his team back within one at the break, 42-41.
Coming out of halftime, Lutete drained a long ball to make it a tie game at 44-44, although SHU would work to outscore the visitors, 21-10, taking their largest lead at 65-54, with 11:29 still to go. The home squad led by as many as 11 once again at 8:42 before the River Hawks mounted their comeback.
Sacred Heart still owns a 25-20 edge in the all-time series, although UMass Lowell finishes 2-0 against the Pioneers this year. The River Hawks will begin America East play in the new year, hosting Stony Brook on Saturday, January 5 at 1 p.m.
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