Struggling River Hawks Still ‘starving’ for a Win (SLIDESHOW)

January 20, 2018 GMT

LOWELL -- In the four-and-a-half seasons that they’ve been a member of the America East Conference, the UMass Lowell men’s basketball team hasn’t been able to solve the riddle that is the University of New Hampshire.

With roughly just 40 miles separating the campuses, it’s definitely a budding rivalry. But so far it’s been completely one-sided.

Monday afternoon was the latest example as the Wildcats stormed into the Tsongas Center and defeated the River Hawks, 74-62, in front of a crowd of 2,033.

UMass Lowell fell behind 26-6 nine minutes in and never led in the contest as it was overwhelmed by the bigger, defensive-minded Wildcats, who won the rebounding battle, 44-28.

New Hampshire (7-11, 3-1 AE) now owns an 8-1 all-time record against UML and is a perfect 5-0 in Lowell.

“They’ve got a lot of size at every position,” said UMass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette. “In the past we’ve done a pretty good job competing against them because we shot the ball pretty well. We didn’t shoot the ball well today (38.8 percent from the floor, 2-for-15 from 3-point land), but I was happy with the way we competed.”

For UMass Lowell, which was coming off its worst performance of the season Saturday against UMBC, a high compete-level was a welcome sign. But problems still exist for the River Hawks, who haven’t held a single lead over the last 86 minutes of basketball that they’ve played, dating back to last Wednesday at Hartford. UML dropped to 6-11 and remained winless in AE play at 0-4.

An inability to make shots and find offensive balance has been the major issue. Senior Jahad Thomas had 22 points and 11 rebounds against UNH, but it took him 20 shot attempts to get there and he was the only River Hawk in double-figures.

Outside of Thomas, the rest of the UML starters combined for just 20 points on 5-for-15 shooting. The team only had five assists on 19 made baskets.

“We’re not a good enough team structured this way -- no team is when one guy is taking 20 shots,” said Duquette. “We’ve got to get more balance and more production from our guards, from everybody. Josh (Gantz) has to be able to make more open looks, our guards have to do a better job shooting the basketball. We allowed them to go under all of our ball screens.

“Obviously, we’re dying for a win here. We’re starving for a win. It’s been a month since we got a win. As long as we compete like we did today, eventually we’re going to shoot the ball better -- I’m convinced of that.”

The River Hawks only turned it over seven times and limited UNH to 42.4 percent shooting. But that size advantage in the frontcourt was the difference. Senior 6-foot-7 forward Tanner Leissner, a legit AE Player of the Year candidate, had 26 points and 12 rebounds, while senior 6-foot-9 forward Iba Camara pulled down 17 boards.

Also demoralizing for the River Hawks was the fact that the Wildcats made 6-of-9 from deep in the first half to help them grab a 41-26 lead at the break. Sophomore guard John Ogwuche had 15 points and made all three of his 3-point attempts to help open things up for the big men to go to work in the second half.

“It’s our game plan every game to get the ball down low. We got this guy, and he’s not too bad,” said UNH head coach Bill Herrion, pointing to Leissner. “I’m not the smartest coach, but I know that. (UMass Lowell) is undersized, even though Jahad Thomas is one of the most unique players I’ve ever coached against -- he’s a 6-foot-2 guy who’s like their five-man, technically. But he plays like a guard when he’s in the open floor. And he just battles Tanner. But, yeah, we think we have an advantage when we play Lowell with our size around the basket.”

UMass Lowell cut it to 10 (43-33) on a Rinardo Perry triple with 17:03 left in the game, but the Wildcats responded with an 8-0 run to silence the crowd and regain control. New Hampshire had its largest lead of the game when a Darryl Stewart (11 points) jumper put the visitors up 58-35 with 12:25 remaining.

Things won’t get any easier for the River Hawks, who travel to league-power Albany Thursday (7).