UML Nearly Knocks Off Catamounts
LOWELL -- Pat Duquette was upbeat and proud, and he had plenty of reason to be.
The UMass Lowell men’s basketball coach was minutes removed from watching his team nearly complete an incredible comeback against the best team that the America East Conference has to offer. Vermont held an 18-point lead with 12:39 remaining and appeared poised to roll to an easy road win at the Tsongas Center.
But the resilient River Hawks stormed back, led by freshman sparkplug and Lowell native Alex Rivera and cut it to a two-point deficit with 1:20 remaining when Rivera delivered a perfect drop-down pass to a cutting freshman Bryce Daley for a layup plus the foul.
An energetic crowd of 2,378 had the Tsongas rocking, but this was Vermont, after all, a team that always seems to respond and make the right play.
That’s exactly what the poised Catamounts did down the stretch as they held UML without a point the rest of the way and made their free throws to escape with a 74-65 victory. First-place Vermont (17-5, 7-1 AE) hasn’t lost a conference road game since Feb. 8, 2016, in Lowell.
The River Hawks dropped to 12-11 (4-4 AE) but the effort was a welcome sign just days after their most lackluster performance in recent memory led to a blowout loss to lowly Maine.
“I’m just really proud. It sounds funny because it’s a loss, but that’s the best team in our league, they are really good,” said Duquette. “We came off our worst performance on Wednesday, so it was a little bit of a gut-check time for us.”
On top of that, UML point guard Ryan Jones was playing through injury, and second-leading scorer Obadiah Noel suffered an apparent ankle injury 69 seconds into the game and never returned. Vermont and its superstar 6-foot-6 junior forward Anthony Lamb (29 points, 12 rebounds) outrebounded the River Hawks, 44-30, and made 23-of-28 free throws, while UML struggled through a 10-for-19 night at the line.
Yet, UML was right there at the end.
“Anthony Lamb is such a good player, so well-rounded. (Vermont) plays the right way and they make you play good just to stay in the game,” Duquette said. “Ryan is injured, Obie goes out right away, we’ve got to play guys that haven’t played a lot of the game. We played with three freshmen on the floor. We battled a lot of tough circumstances and we had a chance to win against the best team in the league. That’s all I can ask from my guys. I just told them that this is as proud as I’ve been since I’ve been the basketball coach at UMass Lowell.”
Rivera, who became a local legend by routinely making difficult crunch-time shots at Lowell High, had 12 of his 15 points in the second half. He drilled a 3-pointer and got fouled and converted the four-point play with 6:37 left to make it 61-53. He had a steal and a tough fastbreak layup with 2:42 left to make it 67-63. And he had the brilliant assist to Daley to send the Tsongas into a frenzy. Rivera made 4-of-9 from deep and had four rebounds and three assists in his 34 minutes.
“I thought Rivera was really good,” said Vermont head coach John Becker. “He kind of got them some confidence as a team. He was a tough guard, got loose and guys around him started making shots. It’s kind of contagious.”
Junior guard Christian Lutete played all 40 minutes and led UML with 18 points and five rebounds. Freshman forward Joey Glynn, who didn’t play in any of the previous five games, provided a huge 12 points in 18 minutes off the bench. Senior Josh Gantz added 12 points and seven rebounds.
“Bryce was on the floor late, Joey Glynn was on the floor late, it’s rare that you have freshmen that have that makeup and personality. Alex has that shot-making ability, which sets him apart. He believes in himself, not afraid of the moment,” said Duquette. “We got great contributions from freshmen tonight.”
The only other Vermont player to join Lamb in double-figures was sophomore guard Stef Smith with 14 points. It didn’t matter because Lamb, the AE’s leading scorer, was so dominant. He made 10-of-17 shots and 9-for-12 from the line, and was clearly the focal point of Vermont’s offense.
The Catamounts only made 3-of-16 from deep, but they methodically built their advantage by dumping the ball down to Lamb, who the River Hawks had no answer for.
“He’s really good,” said Gantz of Lamb. “When you know you’re going against him, you know you have to play every play and you know you’ve got to be tough.”
UMass Lowell’s only lead was a 5-4 advantage early on. Vermont’s Ernie Duncan got a friendly roll on a tough turnaround jumper at the buzzer to give UVM a 34-25 lead at the half.
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