LOWELL, Mass. – Before Christmas, Pat Duquette said his team decided they were through with anything that resembled moral victories and were going to get some real wins. He admits it was a bit of bravado at the time, something that doesn’t come easily to a guy as understated as he is.
“Sounds good now, doesn’t it?” Duquette quipped after his UMass-Lowell team beat Binghamton 62-55. “I wasn’t really sure what I was saying at the time, but it’s worked out well.”
Moral victories come all the time when you’re in the position his UMass-Lowell team is as one new to Division I. The River Hawks’ win over Binghamton on Saturday remains true to what Duquette talked about and continues a pattern of improvement for this team. That’s also a big part of how that has happened.
“It helps having Antonio Bivins,” said Duquette, adding, “but it really helps having a group of guys that didn’t stop believing in themselves, despite the wins and losses continued to show progress and believed they were making progress.”
UMass-Lowell is now 5-3 since the calendar turned over into 2014. Not coincidentally, that’s also the time that they got back Bivins from an Achilles injury he suffered in the off-season. Originally, he planned to redshirt the year, so his addition was a pleasant surprise to begin with.
Bivins has scored in double figures in every game, so one thing he has done is give them another scorer. In that vein he also takes pressure off Akeem Williams, whose numbers are up in that stretch including a 19-point outing on 7-13 shooting Saturday. Perhaps more importantly, he gives them another athlete who can compete with the ones they go up against. In going from Division II to Division I, one difference teams see is athleticism, and while Bivins is undersized at power forward he offers other advantages.
“He clearly makes us different at that position,” said Duquette. “He’s hard to guard. He’s not big, but neither are we, but he’s quick to the ball, he’s super athletic. I think he gives us enough depth and talent so that if we do play the right way, we’ve got a chance to win every night.”
Much of this team has improved in that time, and now the wins are showing up to go with it as they are 5-4 in America East play. The River Hawks are scoring more and defending better, and their confidence is up, aided in part by a three-game winning streak they had to open 2014. What’s more, they’re improving within games, with Saturday being one example.
This team knew the transition would not be easy, especially on the bottom line. They were sure to take their lumps, and did in non-conference play. They may have some big losses yet, like the 61-32 pounding New Hampshire laid on them in their previous game. Still, this team is approaching things the right way and competing, and that means the coaching staff has established what they hoped to. That the bottom line is reflecting it at times is the icing on the cake.
“I think these guys continued to believe that if they played the right way, they had a chance to win,” said Duquette.
This is also further evidence that this move should work well for the program in the long run. The school has a lot to recommend it and plays in a conference where it fits geographically and can compete by the time they are eligible for the conference tournament and an NCAA Tournament bid. Early success was not expected or necessary, but it never hurts.
Duquette may have said what he said before Christmas because it sounded good at the time and was a bit of coach-speak. It makes sense because he’s not a sound byte coach; he gives you insights but isn’t going to make anyone forget John Chaney for memorable interviews. Whatever the case, his team is following through on what he said, and they are in a place few, if any, would have expected them to be at this point in time.