On Wednesday night, the UMass Lowell River Hawks (12-17, 6-8) finally put a complete forty minutes together. The result was a wire-to-wire victory over UAlbany (14-15,7-7). The River Hawks placed five players in double-figures scoring 52 points in the paint and received at least one assist from every player but one. They totaled 22 dimes on 35 made baskets and as head coach Pat Duquette said afterward “one of our best performances since I have been here.” The River Hawks get the job done and defeat Albany 88-69.
After the game, the coach was most proud of the way his forwards played. In the first half alone, they accounted for four of the nine total assists and 25 of the 39 first-half points. The interior passing was top-notch and their ability to post up and score made life so much easier for the guards. The River Hawks got solid play off the bench from both Kalil Thomas (10 points) and Allen Blunt who combine to provide 15 of the 17 bench points on the night. On defense, they took away one of the Great Danes weapons that hurt Lowell the first time they met back on January 22. Sophomore guard, Cameron Healy, torched the River Hawks for a program-record 41 points on that night. On Wednesday night, he was a non-factor as he could muster only two points on one-of-four shooting and 0-1 from deep. The River Hawks played both ends of the floor and it paid off in a big way.
They also turned over the Great Danes to the tune of 14 turnovers which lead to 17 Lowell points on night. Albany never had a chance as they could never get the lead. A tough night on the road for the Great Danes and a really good night at home for the River Hawks. It started off at the opening tip. Back-to-back baskets by Josh Gantz (21 points) and Christian Lutete (16 points, nine rebounds) got things going for Lowell. It continued with the help of nine straight points from freshman Connor Withers (19 points) who was knocking down shots from in the lane as well as from deep. Lowell was up only 15-11 with under thirteen minutes to play, but it felt bigger than that. Albany was able to hang around and by the halfway mark of the first half, tied the game at 19-19 on a Trey Hutcheson layup. The River Hawks then went on a 7-0 run to go up 26-19 with under nine to play. A 7-2 run by the Great Danes cut the lead to one at 28-27 with 6:44 left in the half. Albany would again get it to a one-point contest on a Sasha French fast-break dunk. It was 30-29 Lowell with five and a half to go. UMass Lowell would outscore Albany 9-6 down the stretch of the first half to take a four-point lead with them to the locker room at 39-35.
The second half was all River Hawks. It started with a 7-2 run right off the bat. Withers had five of the seven points. It did not stop there as a Lutete three gave his team a double-digit lead of twelve at 54-42 with fifteen minutes to play. It grew to fourteen on a Obadiah Noel (13 points) dunk and it was 59-45 with 13:14 to play. A Blunt layup increased the lead to sixteen at 61-45 with 12:36 to go. That was part of a 7-2 River Hawk run. Albany took one last shot at getting back into the game. A quick 5-0 run brought the lead back down to single-digit at 61-52 with 11:27 left. Ahmad Clark, who was the Great Danes best player all night with 23 points, knocked down a three, his only one of the game to give his team some life. But after that three, it was all River Hawks. The lead never dipped below double-figures as they would win going away 88-69.
Afterward, Josh Gantz, now two points away from a thousand for his career at Lowell, said: “No better time to start playing well than now, heading into post-season.” Kalil Thomas stated he is now starting to feel more comfortable with more playing time. Tonight he got twenty-five minutes off the bench and as the coach put it “We got balance tonight which makes guarding our guards harder to do.”
The River Hawks play one more time in front of the home folks. On Saturday, they host Vermont.
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