UMass Lowell Looks at Home
LOWELL -- Home sweet home.
Led by red-shirt junior Christian Lutete, who poured in a career-high 28 points, the UMass Lowell men’s basketball team defeated New Jersey Institute of Technology with ease, 94-71, on Saturday at the Tsongas Center.
River Hawks 94, NJIT 71
The River Hawks (5-5) are now 3-0 at home this season.
“I’m really pleased with today’s win,” said UML head coach Pat Duquette. “It was a team effort. We took a step forward today and I think this is a moment we can feel good about ourselves. That’s a good NJIT team. They were 7-1 coming into our building and we still have a lot of fresh faces. That was a commanding win. We played with poise with a lead, which young teams don’t always do. And this was our best defensive effort.”
The Highlanders (7-2) handily beat Binghamton earlier this season so they were looking to stay undefeated against America East opponents.
Despite this confidence boost, NJIT would struggle as UMass Lowell grabbed control early.
Ryan Jones got the River Hawks’ offense going early, stringing together a few pull-up jumpers to score seven in the first few minutes. The senior guard consistently used his height advantage to get clean shots over NJIT guard Zach Cooks.
Despite the mismatch in size, Cooks proved to be the Highlanders’ bright spot of the game, scoring 25 points and snagging six rebounds. He kept NJIT in the game early by scoring seven of their first eight points, and consistently provided some offensive creativity.
The River Hawks had answers for his scoring in the forms of Obadiah Noel and Alex Rivera. Noel was up to his old tricks, stringing together two blocks to start the game and putting the exclamation point on UML’s first half with three consecutive dunks toward the end of the first.
Ex-Lowell High School star Rivera checked into the game with 12 minutes to go in the first half, and provided an immediate spark. The freshman point-guard hit three jumpers and had a nice dish to Josh Gantz in just four minutes of play. He would finish the game with 16 points, eight rebounds and two assists.
The second half was more of the same. Cooks was the Highlanders’ only real threat offensively, but was often exposed by UML’s larger and craftier guards on the defensive end despite recording a few steals.
Lutete stole the show. He was 9-for-13 from the floor and a perfect 6-for-6 on 3-pointers.
The sharpshooter couldn’t miss from behind the arc but continued to get open looks because NJIT defenders had to respect his ability to get inside.
Ultimately, UMass Lowell played a much cleaner game as NJIT continued to turn the ball over.
The visitors pulled within 13 on two occasions until the River Hawks used a 12-3 run to put the game out of reach, 75-52. UMass Lowell led by as many as 25 in the final minutes of the victory.
As a team, the River Hawks shot 58 percent (34-for-59) from the floor.
UML will visit Boston University on Tuesday (4 p.m.).