Playing a game uphill is never a recipe for success. The UMass Lowell Riverhawks (2-7, 1-4 in AE) learned that lesson on Saturday afternoon. They got off to a bad start at home vs NJIT Highlanders (3-2, 2-1 in AE), which forced them to scratch and claw the rest of the game. They did give themselves a chance to steal this game in the final four minutes of the second half but the Highlanders survived and won their second straight conference contest 73-67 over Lowell.
The final score is not an indication of how this game started. The Highlanders were in complete control for the first ten minutes of the first half. They started it on a 7-1 run. From there, it would get better. The run became 14-1 run at the 14:36 mark, 17-1 by the 12:34 point. The Riverhawks did not get their first basket until there was 11:54 left in the first half on a layup by Gregory Hammond. They did not reach double figures until there was under seven minutes left in the half (30-10) on a jumper by Obadiah Noel. To make matters even more difficult, was the absence of starting forward Connor Withers who was in sweats due to an undisclosed injury.
Lowell’s best basketball of the first half came toward the tail end of it. An 11-0 run brought them back to within nine at 30-21. The run was fueled by the three-point shooting of Anthony Blunt who knocked down two of them and Noel. In fact, Lowell’s bench was the reason the team was able to stay in the half at all as they outscored the Highlanders bench 14-6 in the first twenty minutes. A 5-2 run by the visitors allowed them to go to the break with a 35-23 lead. NJIT was led by San Antonio Brinson who led his team with 15 first-half points.
The second half got going much the same way as the first. The Highlanders began with a 7-2 run. Junior guard Antwuan Butler hit back-to-back layups helping his team get going. It looked for all the world like the Highlanders were going to run the Riverhawks out of their own gym. When Brinson scored a layup and one in the paint, the lead was at seventeen, 56-39 with 11:26 left in the ballgame. Lowell began showing some fight with a mini 5-0 run that gave them a little hope. Noel had four of those points with three coming on his own three-point play. Noel finished with 26 for the game, 21 in the second half alone.
That fight they started, was beginning to get somewhere as the second half moved along. In fact, the Riverhawks would somehow get the deficit to ten at 65-55 with under five minutes left. NJIT would squash that run on a left-wing three by Zach Cooks. Lowell’s bench took one last shot at taking the game. There was Hammond with a layup and Darion Jordan-Thomas with an offensive rebound put back. He had 11 off the Lowell bench. Noel knocked down two at the line and things were starting to get interesting. They became even more interesting when Noel, off of a Bryce Daley assist, scored inside again to chop the lead to five at 68-63 with 2:17 left. The comeback stalled when Hammond was stripped by Brinson and Cooks took it to the basket for a layup to make it 70-63 with 90 seconds left. Cooks had 10 for the game. From there, the Highlanders were able to hold UMass Lowell at bay and get their second straight conference win on the road, 73-67.
After the game, UMass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette thought “the Highlanders were too comfortable in our gym”. He praised his bench for the way they kept his team in the game, especially in the first half. Two players he pointed out were Jordan-Thomas and Anthony Blunt saying he was “happy with the group that finished the game”. Maybe some lineup changes may be in order for a team that will try to snap a four-game losing streak on Sunday when the same two teams will meet at 1 PM.
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