LOWELL — Lines zigzagged out the double doors at the Costello Athletic Center Sunday as exuberant fans congregated to watch UMass Lowell host Bryant in men’s basketball.
Before long, the River Hawks athletic department displayed a “SOLD OUT” sign on the glass outside, as fans inside overflowed into standing-room sections. The pep band gleefully played staples from “Call Me Maybe” to the Pokémon theme song “Gotta Catch ‘Em All.”
This was UMass Lowell’s first-ever Division 1 sellout at the Center, and it gave the 850-plus in attendance a show. The River Hawks hung 57 first-half points on Bryant en route to a 98-79 win.
“It means the world to us,” said graduate-student guard Everette Hammond. “We’ve been a very good team at home, and we want to keep selling out. They give us energy, and we feed off that. We want to keep bringing people into Costello.”
The River Hawks (17-4, 5-2 America East) couldn’t quite crack 100, but fans didn’t seem to mind. It’s still January, and UMass Lowell has already clinched its first winning season since transitioning to Division 1 in 2013. It is in the hunt for its first D1 league title and first trip to March Madness. It is not a mid-major a top seed should want to see in the first round.
UMass Lowell is 11-0 at home for the first time and has already beaten UMass, Boston University, Vermont, UMBC, and other tough teams. After finishing 11-12 in 2021 and 15-16 in 2022, it is exceeding outside expectations. Internally, though, it is right on schedule.
“Honestly, I’m not surprised,” graduate student Mikey Watkins said. “We came in here in the summer expecting to win, and that’s what we’re doing right now. We have great chemistry.”
The roster features a blend of players recruited out of high school and transfers. It has plenty of shooting, size, ball-handling, defense, and everything else needed.
Abdoul Karim Coulibaly (12.8 points, 8.6 rebounds) is a dominant lefthanded big with a soft touch and commanding presence. Hammond (12.8 points, 5.2 rebounds) is hitting 40.8 percent of his 3-pointers but rarely forces shots. Ayinde Hikim (10.1 points, 4.3 assists) is a tenacious, 5-foot-11-inch guard with a knack for pestering the opposition.
Max Brooks is averaging nearly two blocks per game, Allin Blunt is extremely versatile, and Yuri Covington, Watkins, Cam Morris III, Connor Withers, and Quinton Mincey are all capable options off the bench.
“We’re not just 1 through 5,” coach Pat Duquette said. “We’re probably 10 guys deep.”
Against Bryant, the River Hawks played what Duquette called as good a first half as they’ve had since he arrived in 2013.
They outscored Bryant, 34-8 in the paint and 14-0 on second-chance points. The ball movement was pristine, and the fluidity with which they played was eye-popping.
Duquette, a Dalton native and former Williams College standout, coached at Boston College and Northeastern, among other stops, before taking his first head job at UMass Lowell. He sensed something special was brewing last summer once he saw what he had, but he knows that momentum can be taken away in an instant.
UMass Lowell, which has navigated injuries to several key players, currently sits in sole possession of first place in the conference. However, UMBC, Vermont, Binghamton, Bryant, and New Hampshire are all within striking distance.
Duquette is incredibly grateful for the success but knows the work is far from finished.
“The margin for error in this league is really, really thin,” Duquette said. “The standings are close, everyone is vying for position. We need every advantage we can get. I’m happy for these guys, because it means a lot to them.”
A sweet sweep
BC earned an 84-72 road win over rival Notre Dame Saturday, cementing a two-game regular-season sweep of the Irish for the first time since 1997. “That’s part of their legacy,” BC coach Earl Grant said. “That’s part of something they can look back on and talk about.” Big man Quinten Post, who missed the first 13 games with a foot injury, erupted for a career-high 29 points and 14 rebounds. He has scored in double figures in six of seven games this season. “This kind of felt like a breakthrough for me,” Post said. “I felt like I had been playing decent, but it hadn’t really led to winning basketball yet.” Guard Makai Ashton-Langford eclipsed 1,000 career points that day as well … Holy Cross prevailed, 80-73, over Bucknell to sweep the Bison for the first time in 20 years. “I thought we found a way,” coach Brett Nelson said. “It got hard in that second half, and our guys got just enough stops.” The Crusaders, who started the season 3-10, are 4-4 in Patriot League play.
Trevor Hass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.