Three weeks to go in the America East regular season and it looks like the fight may be for the final spot in the post-season championship. A close race has unfolded between three teams vying for the last two spots. Maine, UMass Lowell, and Binghamton are all separated by one game in the loss column. A big game at the bottom of the standings takes place in Lowell as the River Hawks play host to the Maine Black Bears. Both teams have seven losses entering this contest, however, Maine holds the tie-breaker based on a win early this season in Maine, 104-98 back on January 15. Here is some other news going on in the league.
The two hottest teams in the league right now are Vermont and Maryland-Baltimore County. The Catamounts posted a 2-0 week with wins over Maine and a buzzer-beating win at Hartford on Saturday. With seven seconds left, Vermont was trying to inbound the ball under Hartford’s basket. Ryan Davis was left wide open by the Hawks zone defense on an out of bounds play. He took the pass and laid the ball in to give Vermont a hard-earned win on the road. Earlier in the week, Vermont took care of business at home defeating Maine. The Catamounts will take a nine-game winning streak into Wednesday night’s match-up vs New Hampshire at home. The other team that’s starting to play well is the Retrievers who also went 2-0 last week. They had wins over Hartford at home 70-59, then on the road at Lowell, in a game that UMBC trailed for 31 of the 40 minutes played. Then, they stole one away from the River Hawks 60-50. Maryland-Baltimore County has now won four of their last six games. The Retrievers have the week off before returning to action on Saturday at home vs UNH.
On Saturday afternoon, Stony Brook may have lost more than just a game at New Hampshire. The Seawolves lost the services of their best player, Elijah Olaniyi, who was injured in the second half and did not return to the court in Durham, NH. An injury to any player at any time can be a tough thing to overcome. But with only three weeks left in the conference schedule, if the injury is serious, this could be a major blow to any post-season hopes Stony Brook may have. They do get a bit of a break in that they have only one game this week at Binghamton. A game you figure that Stony Brook can handle without their star player on the road. However, their contest after that could determine where the Seawolves ended up in the regular-season race. On February 20, on ESPNU, they will host Vermont.
Senior forward Chris Lester of New Hampshire is this week’s America East Player of the Week. He came up big for the Wildcats in their win vs Stony Brook as he came off the bench to score a career-high 22 points. He got 16 of those points in the first half as UNH put on an offensive show in front of the home crowd by jumping out to a 21-point advantage. Lester shot 62% from the field (8-of-13) and also had three rebounds and a pair of assists. This is Lester’s first career weekly award.
The America East Rookie of the Week is Albany’s, Trey Hutcheson. In their only game last week, a win over Binghamton, Hutcheson contributed 17 points, six rebounds, and three blocks. He was good from three-point land as well as knocking down four-of-six shots in the game. This is Trey’s second rookie weekly honor. The last one came back on December 16. Albany, if the post-season were to start today, holds down the fourth and final home-court spot in the first round. The Great Danes have only one game this week, but it’s a big one on the road at Hartford.
On the women’s side of things, it appears that Stony Brook will be the queens of the league. Last Wednesday night in Lowell, they left no doubt as they took care of the River Hawks for the second time in a week. With three weeks left in the league season, the Seawolves have a three-game lead in the loss column on Lowell. They also have the longest winning streak in women Division 1 basketball at twenty games and show no signs of slowing down.
Next week, more from America East.