Albany Too Tough at the End

February 16, 2018

LOWELL -- In many ways, it was exactly what UMass Lowell men’s basketball coach Pat Duquette wants to see from his team.

Balance, efficiency, heart and hustle -- all those traits were present and accounted for Thursday night for the River Hawks. But even with all of that, it still wasn’t enough to get the better of a talented UAlbany squad.

Junior guard David Nichols scored 11 points in the final 3:13 to push the visiting Great Danes to a 91-81 victory over UML at Costello Athletic Center. Nichols (9-for-14, 4-for-5 from 3-point land) finished with a game-high 25 points and was the undeniable difference-maker down the stretch after his team led just 77-76 with 3:35 remaining. He buried back-to-back triples from the same left elbow spot to increase Albany’s lead from 82-79 to 88-79 with 56 seconds left on the clock.

The River Hawks erased a 15-point second-half deficit and were able to tie the contest on two separate occasions, including at 61-61 with 10:57 remaining. However, they never led in the second half.

“I was really proud of my team the way they came back,” said Duquette. “They jumped us from the start, we weren’t entirely ready to go -- that part was disappointing. But a lot of really good things for our team in the second half. Albany is a really good team that I have a lot of respect for, not just their players but the coaches and the job they do. Nichols hit three big threes at critical points in the game.”

All five UMass Lowell starters were in double figures, led by senior Jahad Thomas’ 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Junior guard Ryan Jones scored all 18 of his points in the second half to help ignite the comeback. Senior guard Matt Harris had 16 points and knocked down four 3-pointers.

The River Hawks (9-16, 3-9 America East) remained in seventh place in the league with four regular season games left. The top eight of the nine AE teams will play in the conference tournament. Albany, meanwhile, improved to 20-8 (8-5 AE) and sits in fourth place.

UMass Lowell shot 55 percent from the floor and forced Albany into 16 turnovers and just 11 assists. The problem was the Great Danes shot it at a 59.6 percent clip and drilled 10-of-17 from deep. They also had 25 bench points to UML’s four as guard Costa Anderson, who averages 2.6 points, went off for 15.

Still, Albany head coach Will Brown wasn’t particularly pleased with his team’s overall performance, especially during a 15-0 UMass Lowell run, capped by Jones’ steal in the backcourt from Albany guard Joe Cremo and ensuing layup to knot the game at 58-58 with 12:14 left.

“It just seemed like every basket for them was uncontested and in transition,” said Brown. “Our transition defense in the second half was absolutely atrocious, and I’m probably being kind. It’s hard to win on the road. I think Pat does a really good job... Jahad Thomas is a difficult cover and they shoot the three well. I think the story of this game is Albany just had more offensive firepower.”

The Great Danes also had five players in double-digits. Forward Travis Charles finished with 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting.

Albany took its first lead on two Greig Stire (11 points, eight rebounds) free throws at the 13:16 mark of the first half. It never trailed again from there and led 48-33 at the break.

“I was really happy that we got it to the point where there were some pivotal points in the game because it looked like it was going to get out of hand in the first half,” said Duquette. “Like I said, I thought our guys showed tremendous versatility and fight and I thought our offense looked great in the second half. The ball was really moving, a lot of guys were scoring, we were finding separation. That’s encouraging, so we’ll take that into our next game and build off that.”

Follow Matt Langone on Twitter @MattLangone