Solid UConn Dispatches River Hawks
STORRS, Conn. -- For the young UMass Lowell men’s basketball team, Tuesday night presented a challenge unlike any it had seen so far this season.
The River Hawks were facing a traditional college basketball powerhouse in a tough road environment. On top of that, UConn wasn’t at all interested in being added to the growing list of Twitter punchlines about teams suffering major upset losses in their own building.
Under first-year head coach Dan Hurley, UConn looked every bit the team trying to rediscover its glory of the past, and cruised to a 97-75 win over UMass Lowell in front of 5,507 fans at Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies (6-1) never trailed and led for 39:21 of the 40 minutes, as guards Jalen Adams and Christian Vital poured in 19 points each.
The Huskies finished just 14-18 last year and on Nov. 19 they received votes in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in two years.
“I thought we played a very good UConn team, a better UConn team than I think people expected coming into the year,” said UML head coach Pat Duquette, whose team dropped to 4-5.
“They’ve got a lot of good guards -- strong guards. I think they’re going to be tough to beat. They can shoot threes, they can get in the paint. I thought they were especially effective when they went with a smaller lineup in the second half.
“It’s a disappointing loss, obviously. But I’m not sure many people were expecting us to win. At times, I think we got better today, we learned a little bit about ourselves. It’s always a great opportunity to play a school like UConn in this type of atmosphere. As long as you approach it the right way, you’re going to get better from it.”
UML sophomore guard Obadiah Noel finished with a game-high 20 points on a highly efficient 9-for-12 effort from the floor. Freshman Allin Blunt and senior Josh Gantz added 12 points each, and freshman guard Alex Rivera had 11 points off the bench.
The River Hawks fought an uphill climb from the get-go. UConn pressured the River Hawks full-court and it resulted in 19 turnovers for the game and wore down UML, which ultimately negatively impacted offensive sets.
The Huskies raced out to a 16-4 lead to open the game and the advantage was 32-9 with less than nine minutes left in the first half.
“They’re just able to extend the lead so quickly and so easily,” said Duquette. “We have to work so hard to get it back. We’re not going to face teams that are that athletic and that big in our conference, thankfully.”
Hurley, however, wasn’t pleased with the way his team closed the first half, as UMass Lowell finished on a 25-12 run to make it just a 10-point game (44-34) at the break. The River Hawks found a lineup that was working, led by the freshman backcourt of Rivera and Bryce Daley (five points, six assists, six rebounds). UMass Lowell was able to pull UConn’s bigs away from the basket, which created some backdoor lanes and easy looks.
“At the end of the first half we showed our immaturity,” said Hurley. “Just not used to being in advantageous positions like that and we were badly outscored at the end of the first half. We had a chance to be up 25 instead of 10, it was incredibly frustrating.”
Winning by 22 and being displeased with the performance is a luxury only afforded to the big boys of college basketball. Hurley did say he’s always happy to win any of these “bye” games, a term used when major programs play much smaller programs like UMass Lowell, where blowouts are usually expected.
UMass Lowell’s next game will be against NJIT on Saturday at the Tsongas Center (2 p.m.).
Follow Matt Langone on Twitter @MattLangone