River Hawks Set for First Ever AE Championship Appearance at Hartford

River Hawks Set for First Ever AE Championship Appearance at Hartford

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. – The No. 6 UMass Lowell River Hawks men’s basketball team will be appearing in its first-ever Hercules Tires America East Playoffs championship matchup at No. 4 Hartford on Saturday, fighting for the chance at an automatic bid into the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

Saturday’s title game will pit the fourth and sixth seeds against each other for the first time ever, and be the first #AEHoops title game that doesn’t include either of the top two seeds.

The River Hawks are on a Cinderella run after not having earned a postseason victory at the DI level prior to this year. With wins against No. 7 Stony Brook and No. 3 New Hampshire, the River Hawks advanced to the semifinals, where they knocked off top-seeded UMBC.

This marks the River Hawks’ fourth season eligible for the postseason at the Division I level. The program is now 48-38 all-time in postseason games. The team earned three DII conference tournament titles (2003, 2004, 2010) before transitioning to DI.

The River Hawks and Hawks met in the quarterfinals of the AE Playoffs in each of the last two seasons. In 2019-20, the teams were tied at the break, 38-38, before Hartford earned an 89-75 decision. In 2018-19, the final minute proved to be the difference in a hard-fought, 78-70 setback for the River Hawks.

A win on Saturday would earn the River Hawks their first America East Championship and a berth into the NCAA Division I Tournament. Additionally, it would be UMass Lowell’s first postseason win against Hartford. A victory would also mark the first sixth-seed to ever win the America East Championship.

The River Hawks’ appearance in the America East title game marks the third time the league’s sixth seed has made it to the championship.

After trailing by 16 in the second half, UMass Lowell came back to shock top-seeded UMBC, 79-77, in the America East semifinals on March 6. Connor Withers tallied a career-high 28 points on nine made threes, matching the tournament record, while Obadiah Noel picked up 22 points on 7-for-13 shooting in the paint, in addition to chipping in with four assists. Kalil Thomas rounded out the double-digit point scorers with 10.

The River Hawks have now put together not one, but two,  impressive comebacks in this year’s tournament. The team erased 16-point, second-half deficits against both Stony Brook on Feb. 27 and UMBC on March 6. Those performances mark the program’s largest second-half comebacks at the Division I level.

Every one of Connor Withers’ nine field goals came from long range in the semifinals at UMBC, as the forward shot 9-13 (69%) on threes in that contest. That performance tied the all-time school record for made three-pointers, which was last set in 1987 by Bobby Licare.

Obadiah Noel is pacing the America East and is ranked sixth in the country with 21.8 points per game. Connor Withers is controlling the boards with 5.9 rebounds per game, in addition to chipping in with 11.5 points per game and a team-best 23 blocks. Bryce Daley is first on the team with 3.7 assists per game, as well.

Attaining 70 points has seemed to be the bar for the River Hawks this year, as the team is 10-1 so far when scoring at least 70 points and 1-10 when scoring less than 70.

The River Hawks, who led the America East in shooting percentage for the last two years, are shooting 46.0 percent from the field this year. The team shot a season-high 63.6% in the win at UAlbany on Feb. 12 and is now 9-0 when shooting 45% or better. Salif Boudie is currently pacing the squad with a field goal percentage of 63.2%.

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