NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – Sophomore Matt Harris (Erie, Pa.) posted a team-high 15 points to pace the UMass Lowell River Hawks (4-6) in a hard-fought, 83-79 setback at Central Connecticut State University (1-8) on Friday evening.
“This was a little bit more of a physical game than I expected,” said UMass Lowell Head Coach Pat Duquette. “We didn’t handle that well, especially in the first half, and it was uncharacteristic of us to have 15 turnovers early on. We know if we are going to be good and have success that we need to be very efficient with the basketball.”
Harris was one of five double-digit scorers for the River Hawks in the closely-contested decision, which came down to the final possessions. Senior Mark Cornelius (Westford, Ma.) added a season-high 13 points, while tying a personal-best with a pair of three-point field goals. Redshirt sophomore Jahad Thomas (Williamsport, Pa.) (11 points), redshirt freshman Josh Gantz (Grove City, Ohio) (10 points) and freshman Keith Hayes II (Little Rock, Ark.) (10 points) rounded out the scorers in double figures. Gantz led the squad on the glass, as well, with a game-high nine rebounds. As a whole, UMass Lowell shot a season-high 58.5 percent (31-53) from the field.
The River Hawks won the opening tip and scored the first points of the game on a jumper by Gantz, although the Blue Devils pulled in front, 9-5, with 15:26 remaining in the first half. Redshirt freshman Dontavious Smith (Cullen, La.) and Thomas then tallied back-to-back buckets, knotting the score, 16-16, at 12:24.
UMass Lowell forced two more stalemates before Gantz followed with a long ball from the top of the key and freshman Logan Primerano (Peru, Ind.) followed with a dunk to put the visitors on top, 24-21, with just over eight minutes to play in the first. However, CCSU was quick to regain the upper hand, using a 13-2 run to create a 34-26 buffer at 5:35.
The River Hawks responded with a 10-2 spurt that was capped off by a reverse layup from Harris to erase the difference and tie the score for the sixth time in the half at 36-36 with less than two minutes to go. The Blue Devils would break the tie, but Hayes answered with the last seven points of the half, including a turn-around jumper at the buzzer, sending UMass Lowell into the break with a 43-38 advantage.
CCSU logged the first four points coming out of halftime before freshman Ryan Jones (Rio Rancho, N.M.) followed with a three from the far corner. The home squad pulled within one, but Harris knocked down his third three-pointer to make the score 50-46 at 15:47. The Blue Devils took the lead at 53-52 thanks to five consecutive points, and after six more lead changes in the next seven minutes, CCSU was in front for good, 64-60.
The Blue Devils maintained at least a two-point buffer until Thomas recorded back-to-back layups, pulling the River Hawks within one at 69-68 with 5:33 still to play. Cornelius hit two big threes down the stretch, including one with just 46 seconds on the clock to cut the difference to 77-75. The home team went a perfect 6-for-6 from the foul line in the final seconds, though, to help secure the 83-79 decision.
Friday’s contest marked the 10th meeting between UMass Lowell and Central Connecticut State in the sport of men’s basketball, but the first at the Division I level. The Blue Devils now own an 8-2 lead in the all-time series. The River Hawks will play one more game before the holiday break, taking on the No. 25 UConn Huskies on Sunday, December 20 at the XL Center in Hartford. Tipoff for that matchup, which will be streamed on ESPN3, is slated for 4 p.m.