With only a little over two weeks until the America East (AE) regular season ends, teams are entering the final stretch as they battle for positioning in the AE tournament. On the men’s side this week, UMass Lowell earned two crucial victories that put it on its way toward playoff qualification, while on the women’s side, Maine’s hot streak continued. Here’s the breakdown on all of this week’s AE basketball action.
Heading into the week, the River Hawk men were only one game ahead of last-place Binghamton and were in danger of slipping to the bottom of the league. But with two important victories this week, UMass Lowell (11-16, 5-7 AE) put some much-needed distance between itself and last place, leapfrogging New Hampshire in the standings while doing so.
Wednesday’s contest against eighth-place Maine was a huge one, as a loss would have put the River Hawks in eighth, but they managed to get the 71-63 victory at home, led by freshman forward Connor Withers’ 17 points. Saturday’s competition, a road match at Hartford, was much tougher, but Withers stepped up again, powering a second-half run that put UMass Lowell on top for the rest of the game, which it won 74-67. Withers finished with 20 points and six boards.
“I thought [Withers] was fantastic,” said UMass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette after the Hartford game in an interview on ESPN+. “He’s always done a lot for us off the ball. He’s made a lot of hustle plays, [he’s] always a great positional player. Now he’s starting to shoot the ball with more confidence, and it’s great to see him do that today. We needed it in the first half.”
By losing to UMass Lowell, Hartford (14-13, 7-5 AE) has now lost three of its last four games and sits in fourth place in the conference, despite downing Albany on Wednesday. The 1-1 weeks by both the Hawks and the Great Danes (13-12, 6-4 AE) have allowed Stony Brook to maintain its hold on second place. With Vermont continuing to glide unchallenged to the top of the AE, second place may be the best the Seawolves (17-9, 8-3 AE) can hope to achieve.
On the women’s side, Maine secured another two wins as it continues to rise in the AE. The Black Bears (13-14, 9-4 AE) dispatched UMass Lowell with ease, 77-53, in a key home matchup with the second-place team in the conference. Four players hit double figures on the score sheet, including redshirt senior guard Maddy McVicar, who tallied 25 points and seven rebounds.
That win was followed by a dominating victory at Albany, a game Maine won with defense. The Great Danes (9-16, 5-7 AE) only hit 38 percent of their field goals and went 1-for-11 from beyond the arc. Their highest scorer tallied just 12 points, and Albany only managed 44 points in the game.
“I think defensively in the second half we doubled a little bit more; we were packing it in a little bit more,” said Maine head coach Amy Vachon after the Albany game in an interview on ESPN+. “We’re small, and we knew they were gonna come after us down there, so we had to bring a couple of people to guard their post players.”
With the two victories, Maine now has the same AE record as UMass Lowell (13-13, 9-4 AE) and is tied for second place. Both teams are two and a half games ahead of fourth-place Binghamton, so the battle for second place is a two-way contest for now, especially with Stony Brook still undefeated in AE play. The Seawolves (24-1, 12-0 AE) are only one win away from officially clinching the top seed in the AE tournament.
AE basketball action continues this Wednesday, Feb. 19 with four games each for both the men and the women. On the men’s side, UMass Lowell visits Binghamton, Hartford travels to New Hampshire, Vermont plays at Stony Brook and Albany hosts UMBC. All four games tip off at 7 p.m. On the women’s side, Stony Brook travels to Vermont at 6 p.m., then New Hampshire plays at Hartford, Binghamton visits UMass Lowell and Albany plays at UMBC at 7 p.m.