Home » Columns » Currently Reading:

UMass-Lowell has to manage surprising success

December 2, 2014 Columns No Comments

BOSTON – Pat Duquette admits he and his staff didn’t see this coming. It’s a pleasant surprise, certainly, but UMass-Lowell’s surprising early success is something that the coaching staff will have to adjust to the implications of. Call it a pleasant problem, if you will.

“They’ve come together quicker than we imagined as a coaching staff, for sure,” Duquette said after the River Hawks beat Boston University 69-59 on Sunday.

November could hardly have gone much better for UMass-Lowell. The month ended with the River Hawks sporting a 5-2 record and another road win. More importantly, this team is showing a lot of toughness and more confidence, and that bodes well later on, especially with all their youth. You could see all of it in Sunday’s win.

Boston University threw a lot of defenses at the River Hawks. They played zone, they played man, they pressed, at times they got back from the press, and they switched matchups. That can be tough for any team, having to recognize defenses and then make plays based on it, but the River Hawks shot 52.4 percent from the field. Defensively is where they shined, and while Boston University has a lot of offensive question marks, holding the Terriers below 36 percent shooting is still impressive, as is winning the battle on the glass 35-29 against a bigger team.

“I think we’ve started to establish an identity, it begins on the defensive end,” said Duquette. “These guys have clearly bought in to who they are and how they win, and it’s the defensive end, their tough, hardcore man-to-man defense.”

The Terriers made a run to start the second half, and they regained the lead early on. But rather than let that be a fatal blow, the River Hawks struck right back, going on a 13-0 run to take the lead for good. That run was sparked by Mark Cornelius (11 points, five rebounds) and freshman Lance Crawford, but they were hardly alone. Down the stretch, everyone had a hand, but Chad Holley was right in the middle of everything. The senior had ten points and five rebounds, but more importantly, was seemingly in every big play at both ends.

“I don’t think you can underestimate how much of an impact Chad Holley had, and how a lot of our defensive intensity comes from Chad,” said Duquette.

Holley, along with Northeastern transfer Marco Banegas-Flores and Kerry Weldon, who struggled with foul trouble on Sunday, are the big leaders on this team. Winning this game with Weldon being limited is one more sign of how far this team has come, as they are less dependent on their most experienced player for production. Instead, it’s one of their least experienced, Jahad Thomas, who has quickly become the star in that respect. That continued on Sunday, as he had 21 points on 7-11 shooting and grabbed five rebounds.

Thomas, who redshirted last season due to a torn ACL, is a tough matchup, as he’s athletic but powerful on the perimeter. He has scored in double figures in all but one game thus far and also leads them in rebounding. In the first half on Sunday, he took over for a stretch as the River Hawks took the lead, then stretched it out as he closed the half on a personal 5-0 run.

The River Hawks have already far surpassed early expectations many had of them this season, as they’ve done this in an opening stretch where they played just one game on campus. Winning at Boston University, and in the fashion they did it, is huge for this team. Yes, they have won on the road thus far, including one against an Atlantic 10 team. But winning against a perennial contender, in a gym where the River Hawks were humbled a year ago in a game that was never competitive, is a big step.

With a host of veterans, including top scorer Akeem Williams, gone from last season’s team, this figured to be the kind of season many thought last year would be as they stepped up to Division I. The River Hawks have eight freshmen and a sophomore on their roster. It’s early, and this season can still end up being a struggle later on, but thus far the River Hawks are playing like a more experienced team. They are smaller at almost every position, so this team still has to be a max effort team to win a lot of games. With success like this, the challenge is a bit different for the staff and the players.

“I think the tricky thing moving forward is, once you realize you’re good, are you still going to play like an underdog?” said Duquette. “Are you still going to play hungry? Are you still going to play as gritty? If we do, then we’ll continue to have success.”

As Duquette noted, the River Hawks aren’t likely to be seen as much of an underdog now. Opponents will see their record and prepare with more urgency. They will see that the River Hawks may be small, but they’re tough, and they’re doing something right given that four of their wins have come on the road. Duquette said he will try to ride the underdog role as long as possible, and you can sense the players embracing that as well as the defensive focus.

“We made a choice to play hard every night, and we’ve got something to prove,” said Thomas. “We’re sending a message to everyone that we’re going to play hard no matter what, and we’re not going to back down.”

The toughest challenges on the schedule come later in December. NJIT (home), Cornell (road) and Dartmouth (home), their next three games before final exams, are not easy, but they are the most winnable games. They close it out with trips to Duquesne and Boston College before America East play (with a trip to Brown mixed in early in January). They will have plenty of chances to continue to embrace that underdog role.

Thus far, UMass-Lowell has had more success than anyone except for those in the locker room imagined. There are still challenges ahead for this team. But the way they have won games, including Sunday’s, bodes well for what lies ahead. It also poses a problem that a lot of teams would love to have, and one that can be solved largely by doing a lot of what they have done to this point.

Comment on this Article:

Subscribe to Hoopville

Enter your email address to subscribe to Hoopville


Hoopville Archives

College Basketball Tonight

We hope you enjoyed COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT during the 2016 NCAA Tournament. COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT is a comprehensive look at the NCAA Tournament hosted by veteran college basketball broadcaster Ted Sarandis, along with co-hosts Mike Jarvis and Terry O'Connor, both former Division I coaches. It also included many great guests, including Hoopville's own Phil Kasiecki.

The show aired on AM 710 WOR in New York City on Sunday evenings starting with Selection Sunday and running through the NCAA Tournament.

Here are links to the shows:

March 13, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

March 20, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

March 27, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

April 3, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

Coaching Changes

The coaching carousel is moving. Keep track of the latest coaching changes right here on Hoopville.

Everybody Needs a Head Coach

Former college basketball coach Mike Jarvis has a new book out, Everybody Needs a Head Coach.

"As you read this book, I hope that Coach Jarvis' experiences inspire you to find your purpose in life."
-Patrick Ewing, NBA Hall of Fame center

"Mike Jarvis' is one of my special friends. I am so pleased that he has taken the time to write this fabulous book."
-Mike Krzyzewski, Five-time NCAA championship head coach, Duke Blue Devils

"In reading this book, I can see that Mike hasn't lost his edge or his purpose. Readers should take a look at what he has to say."
-Jim Calhoun, Three-time NCAA champion, UConn Men's basketball

Review on Hoopville coming soon!

Hoopville Podcasts

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – May 30, 2018

May 30, 2018 by

The NBA Draft and its deadline to withdraw to return to school leads the way in our latest podcast. We also look at one conference’s new scheduling plans, a number of quick hitters, and pay tribute to a fallen conference leader.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – April 26, 2018

April 27, 2018 by

In our latest podcast, we spend a lot of time looking at what the Commission on College Basketball came up with, as their report was just produced. We also look at the NBA Draft and transfers, which have many rosters potentially in flux for next season.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – April 6, 2018

April 6, 2018 by

In our first podcast in the postseason, we look back one more time on the NCAA Tournament, which was just what we needed at this time. We also look at the NIT, CBI and CIT, as well as important transactions with players leaving early for the NBA Draft and coaching changes.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – April 3, 2018

April 3, 2018 by

The 2018 national championship is in the books, and with it another season of college basketball. We break down the national championship game and some of its implications to wrap up the season.

College Basketball Tonight – April 1, 2018

April 2, 2018 by

Welcome to our Final Four edition of College Basketball Tonight. In this edition, we look ahead to Monday’s national championship game, and bring on two guests – long-time Villanova radio play-by-play broadcaster Ryan Fannon and Radford head coach Mike Jones – to get their thoughts and insights on the game.

Phil Kasiecki on Twitter

Recruiting Coverage

Lincoln captures Hamilton Park title

August 15, 2017 by

For the first time, a public school won the Hamilton Park Summer League, and they were led by a big effort from a junior point guard in the title game.

Notes from a day at the 2017 Boston Shootout

June 12, 2017 by

Some news and notes coming from the second and final day of action at the 2017 Boston Shootout, where the host program provided plenty of talent, but so did a program that produced a team that beat them.

Notes from a day at the 2017 Northeast Hoops Festival

April 11, 2017 by

The Northeast Hoops Festival helped bring in the new spring travel season in New England, and we have notes from some of Saturday’s action.

2016 Boston Back to School Showcase notes

September 12, 2016 by

We look back at the 2016 Boston Back to School Showcase, where a couple of Boston City League teams were among the most impressive on the day.

2016 Hoopville Spring Finale championship recap

June 28, 2016 by

We look back at the championship games of the 2016 Hoopville Spring Finale, which had a big local flavor as one might have expected.