BOSTON – Welcome to Division I, UMass-Lowell.
Wednesday night’s 91-65 loss at Boston University was not the first game in Division I for the River Hawks. It was, in fact, their second. But they’re still new to this level, and Wednesday night’s game seemed over before it started with the way the early minutes went.
“They did ambush us,” said sophomore guard D.J. Mlachnik. “We knew that was coming.”
UMass-Lowell was blitzed right out of the gates by Boston University on Wednesday night. They fell behind 9-1 and later by margins of 22-4 and 43-17 in the first half. In stark contrast to their opener, where they were tied at halftime, this one was never a ballgame. BU made 11 of their first 12 shots from the field in just over six minutes to start.
The first year in Division I is not going to be easy for UMass-Lowell, as one might expect. This is a team that was recruited to play Division II, although senior guard Akeem Williams had some serious Division I interest, and many others had at least minimal interest somewhere along the way. This season, they will play almost entirely Division I games – they do have a game scheduled against Mount Ida on December 1 – so this isn’t a team that’s going to be favored on many, if any, nights on the floor. They have a new coaching staff as well, and there’s always some level of adjustment to that.
To be sure, Wednesday night’s score is not merely the result of a difference in talent, athleticism and/or experience. In the first half, Boston University was on, even hitting jumpers, and UMass-Lowell didn’t play as well as they could. When a game is a blowout like this, it’s often a reflection of the winning team having that good a night and the losing team having that bad a night.
Just look at the first half numbers, with Boston University leading the River Hawks 64-35 at the half after scoring the last nine points of the half. The Terriers shot 64.1 percent from the field, including 6-14 from long range, and had 14 assists on 25 baskets while UMass-Lowell had 14 turnovers. BU made as many field goals as UMass-Lowell had attempted en route to setting a school record for points in a half.
Much like in their opener, the River Hawks weren’t taking on just anyone. They went up against Michigan in the opener, last season’s national runner-up and a team that should be able to make a run in the NCAA Tournament again this season. On Wednesday night, they took on the Patriot League favorites. Both were on the road, something else that will be familiar as they will be at home just twice during the first semester.
The River Hawks aren’t going to embarrass themselves on the perimeter. Akeem Williams could finish his career with 2,500 points, as he can score against anyone. D.J. Mlachnik can shoot, and showed a lot of promise in Wednesday night’s game. In the first half, he was about the only bright spot. Junior Chad Holley is talented as well and seemed to play better in the second half. The three combined for 49 of their 65 points on Wednesday.
The big reason this game got out of hand is that it was an up-and-down game due to turnovers. While they kept the turnovers down in the second half, giving it away just eight times, in the first half the Terriers got numerous fast break baskets off turnovers. Head coach Pat Duquette said that and some of the first game made it clear the first mission for this team to compete.
“For us, the importance of making it a halfcourt game,” said Duquette, who is in his first season as the head coach. “One of our goals going into the game was to eliminate transition and make it a halfcourt game. Moving forward, we know that’s our best chance to be competitive with our Division I schedule, to dictate the pace and play a halfcourt game.”
It doesn’t get any easier for UMass-Lowell, especially with many games on the road. They still have to go to the likes of improving Dartmouth, Rhode Island and Cincinnati before they settle in to America East opponents. Nights like Wednesday night probably won’t be too commonplace in that the Terriers simply blitzed them. But they may happen during this first season, and it can be part of the growing pains of transitioning into Division I.