A great day of basketball took place on Sunday when four games were played in the quarterfinal of the America East playoffs. Three of the four home teams did advance. The lone exception was Binghamton who defeated UNH on the road to set up a Wednesday night semifinal vs Vermont. The other semifinal game has Hartford going to UMBC. Here is a look back at the quarter-finals played on Sunday.
The number eight seed, NJIT took to the road on Sunday to play the America East regular-season champs Vermont. The Catamounts brought their “A” game with them to the delight of the 2,199 fans in attendance as they road into the semifinals with a 98-59 win over the Highlanders. Vermont led from start to finish, shooting 60% for the game and 66% in the second half. They placed six players in double-figures, three from the starting unit and three off the bench. They scored 46 points in the paint as well as another 46 off the bench, and they completely dominated this game in every way you can think of. Miles Coleman did all he could do for NJIT to keep them in the game as he scored 22 points while Matt Faw added 11. Vermont has now won 20 of their last 22 overall and will be making their 20th appearance in the semifinals in the last 21 seasons. Ben Shungu led the Catamounts assault with 15 points.
Next up for Vermont is Binghamton, That’s because the Bearcats walked into Lundholm Gymnasium and beat UNH by a 72-69 score. The game featured six ties and 12 lead changes with free-throw shooting being a major reason why one team lost and one team won. Binghamton only went to the foul line eight times but they made five. UNH on the other hand went to the line 22 times and made only 10. Those 12 missed free throws would come back to haunt the Wildcats. The other thing that hurt UNH was the return of Jacob Falko to the Bearcats lineup, He had missed the past few games because of an injury, but on Sunday he was back in the starting lineup and gave his team 21 points in 33 minutes. Jayden Martinez led the Wildcats with 17 points and was one of four players who finished in double-figures. In the two regular-season meetings between Vermont and Binghamton, the Catamounts won both times. The first was an 82-51 beating, and the second one was a 66-49 win on Feb. 23.
The Hartford Hawks took advantage of some bad shooting, and the return of two key players to move on to the semifinals with a 61-49 win over Albany. Austin Williams and Moses Flowers were back in the Hawks starting lineup to the delight of their head coach John Gallagher. Both had been out with injuries. However, their return was big news for the home team. Williams finished with 14 points and eight boards, Flowers had six points and six rebounds. Their presence on the floor makes Hartford a better team. Albany had all kinds of trouble putting the ball in the basket. They shot 26% from the field (17-of-66), and from 3-point land, they were 4-19 for 21%. Those numbers will not get it done in the America East playoffs. Matt Cerruti had 13 points, Jamel Horton added 12.
On Wednesday night, the Hawks will head to UMBC who had a fight on their hands Sunday as they hosted UMass Lowell. A furious late second-half comeback by the River Hawks forced this on into overtime before the Retrievers took back control of the game and won 93-85. UMBC shot the ball well all day and in the first half alone, they shot 60% from the field and had a 44-38 halftime lead. The only thing that was keeping the River Hawks in the game was the hot shooting from Allin Blunt who finished with a game-high and career-high 33 points. With seven minutes left, it looked like gloom and doom for UMass Lowell. They were down 13 and would lose two starters, Max Brooks and Kalil Thomas to fouls. But instead of packing it in, the River Hawks fought back. An 18-5 run over the last seven minutes gave them a chance. In fact, UMass Lowell had an opportunity to win the game in regulation but failed to get a shot off in the final 9.6 seconds. In the extra frame, UMBC outscored UMass Lowell 15-7 to reach the America East semifinals for the fifth-straight year. Once again foul shooting was a key element of the Retrievers’ win. They shot 87% from the stripe (26-30) with Szymon Wojcik coming off the bench to score 17 points, nine of them at the foul line (9-10). Darnel Rodgers led the team with 23. UMBC won the two regular-season matchups vs the Hawks, 68-64 on Feb. 9, and 92-85 on Feb,23. Ayinde Hikim had 22 for Lowell.
The semifinals are set. Binghamton vs Vermont, Hartford vs UMBC. The winners will meet on Saturday for the tournament championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
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