Before a near-capacity crowd at Costello Athletic Center, the UMass Lowell River Hawks (22-7, 9-5) moved one step closer to an undefeated home season with an 84-70 win over the Binghamton Bearcats (12-14, 8-5). The River Hawks placed four players in double figures led by Allin Blunt’s 21 points (his first 20-point game of the year). They took advantage of some sloppy ball handling by the Bearcats to score 32 points off of 23 Bearcats’ mistakes. The River Hawks once again had another strong inside game scoring 42 points in the paint. They improved to 14-0 at home with one home game left on the schedule, next Saturday vs New Hampshire.
The win was also big for the River Hawks in that it gave them a split of the season series with the Bearcats. With home court being so important in the league this year, road teams have a 17-39 record to date. Every win could mean more time at home in March, and who doesn’t want to be at home during conference tournament time in March?
Assistant coach Louis Hinnant called Saturday’s win “a really good win against a really good team.” In the first half, those words were true. The first twenty minutes featured five lead changes and four ties. Two stats jumped off the sheets by the time the half was over. First, was the River Hawks having a 13-0 advantage in points off turnovers and the second was a 6-0 advantage in second-chance points.
Lowell had the only double-digit lead of the half on a second chance put back from Blunt. It gave the River Hawks a 36-25 lead with 4:47 left in the first half. Binghamton responded with a 9-0 run to cut the lead to two at 36-34. The run was established by three-point shooting. Dan Petcash (21 points, game-high for the Bearcats) hit back-to-back 3-pointers. His threes were followed by a Christian Hinckson bomb from behind the arc and the Bearcats were right back in the game at 36-34 with 3:10 to go. Lowell finished the half by scoring the final four points to take a 40-34 lead to the locker room. When leading at the half, Lowell is 18-3. When trailing at the half Binghamton is 1-12.
In the second half, the River Hawks never gave the lead back to the visitors. In fact, they kept it around 10 or more for the final 6:31 of the game. The River Hawks’ backcourt once again was aggressive in driving the ball to the basket. Ayinda Hikim (18 points) gave his team their first ten-point lead of the half by turning a Bearcats turnover into points in the paint to make it 51-41 at 14:59 to play. Brayden O’Connor’s three-ball gave them a 12-point lead at 55-43 with twelve minutes to go. After the game, O’Connor said his first year in UMass Lowell “has been pretty good, treated well by his teammates.”
The Bearcats did make one more run at stealing the game. A 6-2 run got them back to within six at 59-53 with 10:27 to play. That would be as close as Binghamton would get. The River Hawks quickly got it back up to double digits. Five straight points from O’Connor restored the lead to eleven at 66-55 with 7:16 to go. It would pretty much stay at double digits with a highlight being an ally oop dunk by Max Brooks (10 points, 8 rebounds) off a feed from Hikim to get it to 78-66 with 1:40 left. The River Hawks closed the deal and won 84-70 over Binghamton.
With two games left in the regular season, finishing in second place is still very much in play. It would allow UMass Lowell to be at home through the semi-finals of the AE tournament. Something they have not done since entering the league. Saturday’s win also gives the team 20 Division 1 wins, a first for this program. The nine league wins set a new record for conference wins at the Division 1 level. This team is making history with bigger things still in front of them.
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