Sometimes winning ugly is the only way to break out of a funk. At least that may be the way the UMass Lowell basketball team is looking at how things went on Wednesday night. Coming into a must-win at home vs the Maine Black Bears, the River Hawks were looking to put a solid forty minutes together and pick up a win. While a win was accomplished, a solid game from start to finish? maybe not. But a win is a win and UMass Lowell (10-16, 4-7) will take it as they defeated Maine (7-18, 3-8) 71-63.
For the first time in a while, there was balanced scoring from the River Hawks. Four players were in double-figures led by freshman Connor Withers, a season-high 17 points, seven rebounds, and a few bumps all the way. When asked after the game how tough was it on the blocks, Withers said, “Like any other game, when you are battling 6-8, 6-9 guys you get hit and sometimes it hurts.”
The key to this win, however, may have been the play off the bench from sophomore Allen Blunt. In twenty-two minutes of action, one minute shy of a tying a season-high, he scored 12 points, It was the first time all season he has scored in double-figures. Asked after the game if he is starting to figure it out coming off the bench, Blunt said: “I am not trying to do too much, trying to finish what the starters start.” His coach Pat Duquette said “Allen played a simple game tonight. I want him playing twenty minutes a night.” The coach also pointed out the win feels like a relief to his team and he called it a “great win” and said Maine is a tough team.
The Black Bears did not help themselves with the way they handled the basketball. Fourteen turnovers and only nine assists on twenty-two made baskets is not the way to win on the road. Maine has now lost twelve of thirteen games played away from home. Their coach, Richard Barron, was not a happy man afterward telling their play-by-play radio announcer, ‘terrible performance by the team, you could see it coming at shootaround this morning.” It did not help matters for the Black Bears that their main go-to player, senior Andrew Fleming, was a game-time decision with a shoulder injury. Fleming did play thirty-seven minutes and had twelve points and nine rebounds. Not bad for a guy that may have been playing with just one arm.
Lowell jumped out to a 10-4 lead four minutes into the ballgame. Withers had back to back baskets to open the game. He was joined by freshman guard Ron Mitchell (16 points, eight rebounds) with a couple of free throws. The River Hawks were good from the foul line Wednesday night going 25-of-30 for the game. Maine hung close as a 7-2 run got them back to within one at 12-11 with 13:24 to play in the half. Ja’shonte Wright-McLeish had four in the run and a fast-break dunk by Nedeljko Prijovic helped the cause. Maine took their first lead of the night on a fast break layup by Precious Okoh at 15-14 with eight minutes left in the half. Maine would up the lead to eight at 24-16 with the help of four points from Fleming. A 12-4 River Hawk run tied the game at 28-28 with 1:51 to go. Two three-point baskets by Withers and an and-1 from Blunt helped tie the game. The last minute of the first half saw the game see-saw back and forth. Lowell went to the break with the lead thanks to two free throws from Obadiah Noel (11 points).
In the second half, Lowell went up by four on a Christian Lutete three-point make and it was 42-38 with sixteen minutes to play. It was a tough night for Lutete as he struggled from the field going 2-of-8 and 1-of-7 from three. The game would be tied three times before the ten minute mark. A Blunt three-ball gave Lowell the lead back at 52-49 with under ten to play. Maine tied the game again at 54-54 on a quick 5-0 run. Sergio EL Darwich had four of the five points on his way to 13 for the game., A three-pointer by Mitchell gave UMass Lowell the lead back at 57-56 with six to play. The River Hawks would never give the lead back for the rest of the night and they came away with the 71-63 victory.
UMass Lowell will now head off on the road for the next two games starting with a trip to Hartford on Saturday afternoon. Then, it’s on to Binghamton for a game on the 20th.