It is hard to beat experience on the road. That was the task at hand for the UMass Lowell Riverhawks (15-17) as they travailed down to West Hartford, CT. They went to battle a Hartford Hawks (18-14) team that possess six seniors who have been through the wars of playoff basketball. On Saturday night, that toughness and understanding of the moment paid off. All five Hawks starters scored in double figures, led by John Carroll who recorded his fifth double-double of the season (17 points, 13 rebounds). Hartford battled back from down seven early in the second half to defeat Lowell 78-70 and now waits to find out their next opponent in the semi-finals of the America East Tournament.
The key stat, of this game, was offensive rebounding. The Hawks finished the game with thirteen of them, which resulted in twelve second-chance points for Hartford. Not to mention, some big-time three-point baskets from Carroll and J.R. Lynch (21 points, six assists) down the stretch in the second half. Head Coach John Gallagher of the Hawks, called Lynch “the best point guard in the county”. Maybe that’s a little over the top, but in this game, when something needed to get done, Lynch was the man to deliver.
UMass Lowell had their chances to put this game away and could not. Twice in the first half, the Riverhawks had six-point leads. Their biggest advantage of the ballgame came early in the second half. After a free throw make by Shawn Jones, Lowell was up seven at 38-31 with 19:23 left in the game, but Hartford roared back with a twelve to nothing run by the home team and erased the deficit to give the Hawks a five-point lead at 43-38 with 16:31 to play. Three-point makes by Travis Weatherington (14 points) and Jason Dunne (11 points) started and finished the run.
The Riverhawks responded by outscoring the Hawks 7-4 to tie the game at 47 all. Four of those points came on offensive rebound putbacks by Christian Lutete (18 points) and a three-point bomb from Josh Gantz (14 points, eight rebounds). It was now a thirteen-minute contest to decide who was moving on.
After Hartford grabbed a four-point lead on a Weatherington layup in the paint (57-53), the Riverhawks went on a 12-3 run to take the lead back at 65-62. Key in that sequence was six of those points coming from Lutete, by way of a three-point play off a Hawks turnover. Then, a three-point jumper of a feed from Obadiah Noel (21 points). With five and a half remaining, the game was tied for the fifth time at 62-62.
Carroll and Lynch made tough three-point baskets from the right corner to give their team the lead back at 70-67 with two and a half to play. Lowell tied the game for the seventh time on free throws by Shawn Jones and two more from the foul lines by Noel. It was 70-70 with less than a minute to play.
But as Coach Gallagher said afterward “his seniors stepped up when they had to”. None bigger than Carroll who knocked down another three-ball dagger, part of an 8-0 finishing burst that gave the Hartford Hawks the 78-70 victory over UMass Lowell.
Riverhawks coach Pat Duquette call it “a great college basketball playoff game”. He was a little disappointed in the offensive rebounds his team gave up, but overall he though his team played well. They got beat by a team with a lot of experience.
The win gives the senior group at Hartford 37 total wins over the last two years. It’s the best two year period in school history. A milestone of note came in the first half. Senior George Blagojevic (15 points) recorded his one thousandth career point at Hartford.