It would be easy to jump all over UMass Lowell (8-11, 7-8) guard Bryce Daley for the decision he made at the end of the game on Saturday vs UNH (10-8, 9-6) at Costello Athletic Center. Down two, with Wildcats guard Nick Johnson at the free throw line, Johnson missed his second free throw attempt. The ball ended up in Daley’s hands and Riverhawks head coach Pat Duquette had decided that if they got the board they would take the ball and go. This is what Daley did, but the only problem was instead of taking the ball all the way to the basket, where several things, most of them good could have happened, Daley tried to kick the ball out for a possible three point try that might have given his team a buzzer-beating win. Instead, the pass was picked off by the Wildcats, and they were able to hang on to a 69-67 road win. With the victory, the Wildcats have locked up the #3 seed in the upcoming America East Tournament and will play at home next weekend. For Lowell, the loss may mean they are back on the road for the third straight year as they will look to get their first win in the postseason.
Both teams knew coming in what this game meant. For the Riverhawks, there was a little more at stake. For the fifth straight game, they would be without their best player in Obadiah Noel. He is nursing an undisclosed injury, and after the game, his coach said “we should have him back for the playoffs.” In those games, including Saturday’s affair, the team is 2-3. UMass Lowell controlled most of the first half having the lead for fifteen minutes and five seconds of it. Off the jump, they raced out to a 5-0 lead on baskets by Connor Withers (16 points) and a three-ball from Allin Blunt (14 points). Lowell would take a seven-point lead at 17-10 on a Max Brooks dunk and one, part of an 8-2 Riverhawk run. From there, the Wildcats, after starting the game with some very cold shooting, would start to turn things around. They would tie the game for the first time since it was 0-0 on a layup by Blondeau Tchoukuiegrio (19 points). It was 25-25 with four and a half to play before halftime. With under two minutes left in the half, the Wildcats took their first lead of the game on a dunk by Taylor Mattos who gave UNH some good minutes off the bench. It was now 25-23 with 1:26 to go. The teams traded points in the final minutes until Tchoukuiegrio (seven points in the first half) beat the clock with a driving layup to the basket to make it 29-27 Wildcats at the half.
UMass Lowell started the second half the way they began the game. They took the lead on back-to-back three-pointers from Daley and Kalil Thomas (12 points) and it was 33-29 two minutes in. UNH came right back to tie the game on consecutive buckets by Qon Murphy (10 points). The game was now on the see-saw for most of the half. The Wildcats seemed to get some separation in the game. A 7-0 run, fueled by a three from Tchoukuiegrio and four made free throws by Nick Johnson (13 points), gave the Wildcats their biggest lead of the game at 57-51 with 4:52 to play. Lowell cut it to a one-possession game on four quick points by Thomas on a layup going to the basket and made free throws by Blunt. With three minutes left, Lowell was down two at 57-55. UNH looked to put the game away with another run of 5-0. Free throws made by Jayden Martinez and a big three from the Wildcats best player Nick Guadarrama, who was held in check for most of the game but still came up with big shots when the team needed them finished with 13. The Wildcats had a seven-point lead with under a minute to play at 64-57. UMass Lowell fought to the very end. A Blunt three cut the lead to four at 66-62 with seconds left. Thomas knocked down one from long distance and it was now a one-point game at 68-67 with five seconds left in the game. Then came the end as Johnson was fouled. He stepped up to the line and made the first but miss the second. Daley took the rebound, raced down the court, and made a bad decision that sealed the win for UNH 69-67.
The Riverhawks head man was upbeat after the loss. He “likes where his team is right now” despite what he called a “tough Loss.” His only complaint was his team did not turn over the Wildcats enough as they forced just seven. They did out-rebound them 42-to-31 and played good defense. Now Lowell will have to play the waiting game to see if they go out on the road and who they play next weekend as the America East playoffs will begin with quarterfinal pods at two locations.
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