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River Hawks on wrong end of buzzer beater

Senior Mark Cornelius shoots over a Wildcat defender in Thursday night’s America East matchup against the University of New Hampshire. (Evanthia Tully/Connector)

Kyle Gaudette
Connector Editor

One cannot take anything for granted in the America East Conference. For a team that played its best game defensively and shot 55 percent from the floor, quite simply, this one had to hurt.

Daniel Dion’s moonshot of a three off an inbound with 2.2 seconds left gave the UNH Wildcats (10-8) a 78-76 victory over UMass Lowell (7-12)  at the Tsongas Center Thursday night.

“It’s an awful feeling,” said UMass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette. “Your heart drops. Especially when you play as well as we did I think we deserved a better outcome. But it happens. It happens in really good basketball games which we had tonight.”

What looked to be comfortable UMass Lowell victory turned into a nail biting, instant classic down the stretch.

The Wildcats led 75-74 when Tyler Livingston put back an Isaac White missed layup and got fouled on the play. Livingston could not convert the three-point-play, and UNH called a timeout with 11 seconds left.

The River Hawks played stingy defense on Wildcat leading scorer Tanner Leissner, who missed a contested layup after the timeout. The ball was deflected out of bounds with 2.2 seconds left, and the refs originally gave possession to UMass Lowell. With under two minutes remaining, the referees reviewed the play and ultimately switched possession to UNH. Dion caught the inbound three feet beyond the arc, and nearly hit the rafters with a shot that swished as the final horn sounded.

“I was afraid they were gonna do what they were doing all night and throw it inside,” said Duquette. “Ironically they beat us with a three-pointer. That kid Dion hit a great shot.”

Josh Gantz recorded three of the River Hawks five blocked shots, and was part of a strong defensive effort by UMass Lowell all night. However, the Wildcats out-rebounded the home team 47-25, which included 18 offensive rebounds.

The River Hawks controlled the game nearly the whole way; leading 36 minutes of play while UNH only led for 2 minutes. The Wildcats were able to hang around by pounding the ball inside and getting to the free throw line, something they did 34 times on the night.

UMass Lowell only got to the line 14 times.

Leissner led the Wildcats, and all scorers, with 27 points. Mark Cornelius had a career high 18 points to lead UMass Lowell.

“I’ve been trying to be more aggressive early in the games,” said Cornelius. “I have to keep doing that and continue to look for my offense more.”

The River Hawks were simply on fire in the first half. Cornelius led the way with 12 points in the first twenty minutes, and UMass Lowell shot 69.2 percent to UNH’s 34.4 percent from the field during the frame.

It was a 42-33 lead for the home team heading into the break.

UMass Lowell set the tone from the first possession. After the ball touched all five UMass Lowell players, Jahad Thomas got it in the post and hit a fade away jumper over UNH center Iba Camara. After a stop on defense, Thomas hit another basket to give Lowell a quick 4-0 lead.

Thomas picked up two early fouls which forced him to sit extended minutes. The two teams traded buckets up until a pair of threes from White and Livingston gave the River Hawks some breathing room.

The River Hawks improved upon their shooting percentage early in the second half to stretch the led to 14 which was the largest it ever got. Thomas, a huge offensive and defensive presence in the paint for the River Hawks, picked up two more early fouls. UNH sensed blood when Thomas exited, and used UMass Lowell’s interior fatigue down the stretch to begin their run.

“Some of it was right around when Jahad picked up his fourth foul,” said Duquette. “They started pounding the ball inside, and we were thin inside. Josh and Tyler did a great job and worked their tails off, but they can only sustain it for so long.”

Livingston finished with 15 points, and Thomas added 13 points with six boards. White had 11 points with three assists and a team-leading two steals.

The River Hawks will get ready for another conference matchup against Binghamton Sunday at the Tsongas Center at 1 p.m.

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