After an eight-day break to take care of first-semester final exams, the UMass Lowell River Hawks (8-4) were back on the basketball court on Sunday afternoon to take on the Sacred Heart Pioneers (4-8). Led by the first double-double of the season from Max Brooks (15 points, 10 rebounds), the River Hawks battled through some rough stretches to get a 70-62 win at Tsongas Center. This was by no means a work of art. There were missed defensive assignments by the River Hawks and they allowed too many second-chance opportunities especially in the second half. Afterward, coach Pat Duquette said were “hustle plays” and he was also not pleased with “unforced turnovers” that plagued his team. But as he pointed out “this can be a learning experience that can help us down the road.”
Sacred Heart played with toughness which was on display in the second half. 13 of the 17 offensive rebounds for the Pioneers came in the second twenty minutes. Their guards drove the ball to the basket. When shots went up, five guys crashed the glass to try and get offensive boards. They outscored the River Hawks 17-1 on second-chance points for the game. That led to an advantage in points in the paint at 34-18 for the Pioneers. This was how they were able to stay in the game despite only one tie at 33-33 with 18:59 left in the game on two free throws by Tyler Thomas (9 points for the game). Lowell was able to keep some distance between themselves and Sacred Heart despite the mistakes the team made.
The River Hawks were also good from the perimeter shooting 54% for the game from 3-point land (12-22). Kalil Thomas (11 points, nine rebounds, three assists) was three of five from deep with all three makes coming in the second half when it looked like the Pioneers were in position to take control of the game. He got help from Justin Faison (15 points) who was five-seven from behind the arc. It would be the outside shooting of the River Hawks that would be the story of this game. UMass Lowell had a double-digit lead on one occasion. That was in the first half at 26-16, on a Brooks layup, after he went diving to the floor for a loose ball. It was part of a 7-0 run by the River Hawks that may have been their best stretch of basketball in the game.
Sacred Heart came back with their own 9-3 run to make it a one-score game at 29-27. Thomas had four of those points on a three-pointer and free throw made. Lowell went to the break up 33-31. In that second half, the River Hawks would push the lead to seven on four different occasions. Every time it looked like Lowell was ready to deliver the knockout punch, the Pioneers would answer. In fact, this was a one-point game at 63-62 Lowell, when Aaron Clarke drove to the basket hit the layup and was fouled by Faison. Clarke would miss the foul shot that would have tied the game with two minutes to go. Lowell ended the game on a 7-0 run a three-point basket by Faison was followed up by free throws made by Allin Blunt and Everette Hammond to make the final score 70-62 UMass Lowell.
Coach Duquette is looking forward to getting his team back in the gym to work on some things. He and the team have some high expectations for the rest of this season. However, to meet those goals, playing a solid forty minutes of basketball will be required.
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