Top Story, Men's Basketball

UMass Lowell Steals Victory Against Depleted Eagles

There was a battle of the birds on Sunday in Conte Forum, and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks came out on top against Boston College men’s basketball, beating the Eagles 68-66, thanks to a 19-8 run to close out the game.

Sunday’s defeat is arguably the worst of the Jim Christian era, as the Eagles dropped their fifth straight game, three of which have come against mid-major opponents.

Excuses abound.

BC (3-5) played without 7-foot center Dennis Clifford, who watched the game through a nebulous haze as his stomach churned from food poisoning. He sat uncomfortably on the bench for the first half but returned to the locker room just minutes into the second period.

Freshman point guard Jerome Robinson succumbed to the same stomach bug, and he trudged through a 4-for-12 shooting night from the field to go along with five misses in 10 tries from the foul line.

“Jerome, he tried to play,” Christian said in his postgame press conference. “You know, he was sick all day, right up until game time. That’s why he didn’t start the second half, because he was up there throwing up.”

Fifth-year transfer Eli Carter, who leads the team with 30.9 minutes and 16.4 points per game, suffered a sprained left ankle during Sunday morning’s pregame walk-through, and he sat for the entire afternoon. The timetable for his return is unclear.

With 4:28 remaining in the contest, UMass Lowell (4-4) forward Jahad Thomas, who stands all of 6-foot-2, fouled 6-foot-10 BC center Johncarlos Reyes, sending the freshman to the line for a one-and-one. Reyes sank the first shot, pushing the Eagles’ lead to 7. The scoreboard read 61-54, and it appeared that Christian’s undermanned group was set to pull away for the victory.

But then UMass-Lowell head coach Pat Duquette threw the Eagles a knuckleball, dusting off an aggressive 1-3-1 zone and calling for intense pressure in the perimeter passing lanes from his point man and wings.

It worked. The River Hawks’ zone proved a tautly wound Gordian knot, and all BC had at its disposal to cut through it was a flimsy butter knife.

“We didn’t have guys in the right spots because we had five guys on the court who hadn’t played those positions,” Christian said. “We had a gameplan coming in, but all the guys who were in the gameplan were on the sidelines.”

Time ticked off the clock, but the Eagles’ tally remained at 61. Freshman forward A.J. Turner bricked a pair of 3-pointers—he was 0-for-7 from downtown on the afternoon—and fellow newcomer Ervins Meznieks clanked both of his free throws with 1:01 to go and the Eagles trailing 62-61.

Freshman guard Sammy Barnes-Thompkins finally broke through with a pull-up triple in transition to bring his team within a point of UMass Lowell with 21 seconds left to play, but it was too little, too late. The River Hawks connected on three of their next four chances at the charity stripe and played lockdown defense on the other end to seal the deal. Players and coaches on Lowell’s bench erupted.

According to Christian, there were no silver linings.

“There is no bright side—we lost,” he said. “They should have executed and played better. I mean, there’s no bright side today.”

After taking a six-point lead into the break, BC went cold in the second half, hitting only 9-of-34 from the field, including a measly 2-of-15 from beyond the arc. Christian’s group coughed up 17 turnovers and collected only 10 assists, and the Eagles misfired on 11 of their 23 free throws throughout the game.

Injury-plagued sophomore Darryl Hicks contributed 19 stellar minutes off the bench, deflecting a number of passes to the wings on defense and knocking down 3-of-4 from deep.

Reyes gobbled up 14 rebounds—five offensive—in 26 minutes against the undersized River Hawks. The center made his first career start in place of the ailing Clifford, and dropped in eight of his 11 points via offensive rebound putbacks. Though his defense is still somewhat of a liability––he got burned twice when switched onto a guard—and most of his boards came over UMass Lowell’s 6-foot-6 forward Tyler Livingston, Reyes flashed a feathery touch near the hoop.

Next up for the Eagles is a rivalry bout against the Providence Friars on Wednesday in Rhode Island.

“They’re not gonna feel sorry for us,” Christian said of Providence. “We’ve got two days to get ready to play a really good team.”

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor

December 6, 2015