UMass Lowell’s head coach Pat Duquette said it best after his team’s win over Maine, 82-54. “We are playing really good basketball.” It is hard to argue with his thinking. The River Hawks have now won eight of their last nine games. Saturday afternoon, they had the lead for 37 minutes and 21 seconds of the game. The aggressive nature of the guards allowed the River Hawks to get easy baskets at the rim. They scored 42 points in the paint and once again got solid contributions off the bench. Freshman Brayden O’Connor played 21 minutes off the River Hawks bench and made every minute count. He led the team in scoring with 14 points, one of four UMass Lowell players in double figures. Not only was O’Connor productive from the field (4-of-7, 1-of-3 from 3-point land, 5-of-6 from the foul line), but he also did not turn the ball over while in the game. After the game, O’Connor talked about being “loud and active.” In fact, the UMass Lowell guards committed only five turnovers while passing out ten assists. Numbers that usually lead to winning basketball.
The sold-out crowd at Costello Athletic Center was treated to another dominating performance by the home team. The win on Saturday gives the River hawks a 16-0 record at home. Their 25-7 overall record and their 12-5 league mark continue to add to their season of firsts. The overall record of the league (23-49) is tilted toward the home team. Having home court in the playoffs is about as good as having money in the bank. The Black Bears (13-17, 7-10) were able to hang with Lowell for the first five minutes and fifty seconds of the first half. In that span of time, there were two ties and three lead changes. At the 14:10 mark of the first half, a basket by Maine’s Gedi Juozapaitis (16 points, 7-of-11, 2-of-5 from deep) gave his team an 8-7 lead. It would be the last time that the Black Bears would either be in front or tied with the River Hawks. An 8-0 run by Lowell started them on their way to putting the game away. The run started with a 3-pointer from the left wing by Mikey Watkins, There was a three-point play from Cam Morris, who was big for UMass Lowell in the first half after Abdoul Karim Coulibaly (10 points, 4 boards) and picked up two early first-half fouls. Max Brooks finished the run with a hoop at the rim and the River Hawks were rolling at 15-8 with 12:11 left in the half. O’Connor gave Lowell their first double-digit lead at 20-10 finishing off a fast break at the rim. The lead grew to twenty on a 3-point basket by Yuri Covington at 35-15 with 5:26 to play. It would reach its highest margin of 22 on a jump shot made by Ayinde Hikim (12 points, two steals) at 39-17 with 3:52 to go. Lowell would settle for a 44-26 halftime lead. The River Hawks were 21-3 when leading at the half, and appear to be in good shape to make it 22-3.
The second half was about the River Hawks not taking their foot off the gas pedal. Their solid defensive approach in the second half contributed to maintaining the lead and adding to it. They held the Black Bears to 16% shooting from 3-point land (1-of-6) and because they were moving their feet on defense, they kept Maine from scoring at the foul line with the clock stopped (3-of-4 for 75%). The River Hawks were called for just 10 fouls for the game and were able to sub freely allowing coach Duquette to keep fresh guys on the court. This kept the tempo of the game in their favor. As Maine’s head coach, Chris Markwood said afterward “they made adjustments from the last time we played them.” Which was on January 25 at Maine, a game won by the Black Bears 75-70. His team was never able to handle “ball screens” UMass Lowell ran on offense. In the end, Markwood believed that “Lowell was the more aggressive team.” It would be the River Hawks bench that pushed the lead to 30+ points late in the game. They settled for a 31-point victory at 85-54.
Markwood believes the Black Bears program “has moved the needle” in the right direction. That direction starts with his young backcourt of Kellen Tynes (11 points, four assists) and Jaden Clayton. He knows it is a work in progress, but thinks he has the pieces in place to get started. The 13 wins by Maine are the most victories they had in several years. For Lowell, it is on to the semi-finals and a home game with UNH. The Wildcats defeated Bryant on Saturday 67-60. The last time these two met was in Lowell on February 25 with the River Hawks running away with a 92-55 victory behind 58 points in the paint and 37 points off the bench. Coach Duquette said he expected “a different game this time around.” For the conference season, the two teams split the two games played with each winning on their home court. Game time on Tuesday night is set for 6 PM.
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