The rematch of last spring’s America East Championship game lived up to its billing on Thursday night. The Vermont Catamounts (15-3, 5-0) placed four players in double figures led by Ileri Ayo-Faleye’s first double-double of the season (15 points, 10 rebounds) to defeat the UMass Lowell River Hawks 72-65 in overtime. The win at a sold-out Costello Athletic Center was the 20th straight league win for the Catamounts. It was not easy, but the defending champs took the River Hawks’ best shot and gave one better.
The game had seven ties and six lead changes. In the first half, there were no ties and only one lead change. Both teams made runs in this game that on any other night would have been the difference in the game. But as UMass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette said afterward “The two best teams in the league went at it tonight.” Because of that, each team fought off the other’s runs. This was a heavyweight fight from start to finish. In the end, it was a great road win for Vermont.
The Catamounts jumped on the River Hawks from the opening tip. A 12-5 run to open the game settled down a home crowd that was fired up once they arrived inside the building. Junior guard Shamir Bogues had a team-high 19 points in the game. He scored seven of those points in the first 3:58 of the game. Their largest lead of the half came at the 15:17 mark on an Aaron Deloney (12 points) second-chance basket to make it a 14-5 Vermont. The River Hawks picked themselves off the floor and started throwing punches of their own. A 13-0 run that would take 4:43, gave Lowell an 18-14 lead with 10:21 left in the half. Quinton Mincy had a game-high 20 points and had four points in the run. Cam Morris III (12 points) had six in that run. The crowd was back into the game. Lowell was able to hold on to the lead for the rest of the half. They would take a 29-26 lead with them to the locker room.
As the second half began, Vermont erased the halftime deficit at the 15:21 mark on two free throws by Ayo-Faleye to make it 32-32. The River Hawks took the lead back at 42-38 on a Mincy layup and two free throws by Morris III with 11:45 to go. Vermont answered back with a pair of Bogues baskets to take a six-point lead at 51-45 with 8:49 to play. The Catamounts then stretched it to a seven-point lead on a TJ Hurley (10 points) 3-pointer to make it 56-49 with 4:25 left in the game. A 9-0 run by UMass Lowell tied the game at 60-60 with 17 seconds left. A Morris III layup, Mincy was then fouled shooting a three, he would make all three free throws. Max Brooks off an Ayinde Hikim pass laid the ball in off a second chance to tie the game.
Off a Bogues miss, the River Hawks had a chance to win the game in regulation. Coach Duquette called what he would later say was an ill-advised timeout with 3.6 seconds left in the game. The timeout was called despite what looked like a clear path to the basket for Hikim. A play was designed in the River Hawks huddle and Mincy was option one. He received the inbound pass and instead of going to the basket, he settled for a 3-point shot that did not go in. It would be overtime at Costello.
Hurley gave Vermont a three-point lead at 65-62 on a three-pointer. The River Hawks answered with Branden O’Connor (16 points) knocking down a three of his own. TJ Long came right back and hit his only basket of the night, a 3-pointer to give Vermont the lead back at 68-65 with 42 seconds left in overtime. The Catamounts would close the game out at the free throw line as Ayo-Faleye made four free throws to give Vermont the final margin of victory 72-65.
Coach Duquette called the game a “real tough loss.” He also said he “did not think his team had their best stuff tonight.” As has been the case in recent games, the River Hawks turned the ball over (16 times) more than they had assists (14). Driving lanes to the basket were being cut off by double and sometimes triple-team by Vermont’s interior defense. The Catamounts led in points in the paint 36-34 and in points off turnovers 15-14. The River Hawks have the weekend off. The next time they play is on February 1 at home vs Maine. For Vermont, they head to Smithfield, RI. to meet Bryant on Saturday afternoon.
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