Hartford Stuns Vermont as they Advance to AE Title Game
The Hartford Hawks are back in the America East title game after arguably putting together their best performance yet and stunning Vermont in the confines of Patrick Gym. It was an impressive win for Coach Gal and his team, as the Hawks will now be hosting the title game after an even bigger upset took place a few hours south down in Baltimore. UMass-Lowell, which had never even won an AE playoff game before this year has now won three straight en route to the America East Finals and completed their second(!) 16-point comeback to upset the number one seed UMBC Retrievers.
I think it’s safe to say that no one could’ve predicted that the winner of the America East would come down to the likes of Hartford and UMass-Lowell. Although this is a Vermont based blog, both of those teams have never made the NCAA Tournament before and now to be one game away from the big dance is an incredibly special accomplishment in its own right. One anonymous America East coach wasn’t quite as pleased with the outcome from this weekend’s slate of games, though even without their remarks this playoff format clearly has its flaws and likely won’t become the new norm.
Now, if I was truly bitter, I could say that this year is an outlier and shouldn’t count due to the craziness of Covid. Multiple pauses, teams canceling their season, no fans, insane pre-cautions. There will forever be a gigantic asterisk next to this season and frankly it’s just not safe to be forcing these brave young men to be playing basketball at a time like this. I could say something like this, but I’m not. Shame on anyone who would ever use Covid as an excuse for their teams’ misfortunes, even though it’s a completely valid point. Again, not saying that.
Congratulations to Hartford and UMass-Lowell. I hope next week’s game is just as entertaining and thrilling as the semi-finals were. Let’s look at some numbers.
Telling Stats and Notes – Vermont Catamounts
Ryan Davis – 16 points, 6-8 FG, 4 rebounds, 0 assists, 2 turnovers
Ben Shungu – 14 points, 5-10 FG, 1 rebound, 6 assists, 0 turnovers
Team – 65 points, 26-58 FG, 5-18 3PT, 23 rebounds, 13 assists, 9 turnovers
If you told me that Vermont would commit less turnovers and fouls than Hartford and still lose, I’d say you’re crazy, but that’s exactly how it played out. This is March. Davis quietly strung together a solid game, but why on earth did he only attempt eight shots? His eight attempts were tied for the least amount out of all the starters. Credit to Hartford for limiting his touches in the post and even though Vermont didn’t want to be in a position where they had to force feed Davis the ball, they clearly were lost offensively without him.
With Davis being neutralized, the likes of Stef Smith, Shungu and the rest of the cast were called upon to deliver, yet unfortunately for the Cats it just wasn’t meant to be. Smith finished 4-15 from the field and 1-8 from beyond the arc. There is a slim chance that Smith could return for another year in Burlington, though it’s more than likely the senior captain has played his last game in the green and gold. Smith will forever be a Catamount and wherever his next ventures lie he’ll have the support of Burlington behind him.
Last year the departure of Anthony Lamb left a lot of questions. Davis stepped up big time to help fill the gap left behind, but now after a disappointing finish there’s going to be even more burning questions surrounding the future of this team. Will John Becker move on? Will any seniors stay? Will any underclassmen transfer? Roster construction is going to be a massive talking point heading into the offseason. More will come at a later date, but I do expect this team to return to that green and gold standard that’s made them who they are.
Special thank you to the likes of Stef Smith, Ben Shungu and the energizer bunny himself, Bailey Patella for all their blood, sweat and tears that they gave to this program over the years. Incredibly grateful to have watched them play and grow over the years. Their hustle and tenacity embody truly embody what it means to be a Catamount and I wish them all nothing but the best in whatever direction that they choose to go with next.
Telling Stats and Notes – Hartford Hawks
Austin Williams – 25 points, 9-12 FG, 9 rebounds, 0 assists, 5 turnovers
Traci Carter – 22 points, 8-11 FG, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers
Team – 71 points, 27-43 FG, 10-19 3PT, 28 rebounds, 10 assists, 16 turnovers
Sheeeeeesh. What a day for Williams and Carter. These two were unstoppable for the Hawks and single-handedly won the game for Hartford. No other Hawk would eclipse the double-digit scoring mark, but Hartford’s supporting cast was able to do just enough by hitting big time shots to help keep Vermont’s defense in check.
Williams and Carter were just absolutely ridiculous all game. Together that accounted for 37 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals, while shooting 17-23 from the floor (74%). I’m lucky to shoot 50% in a pick-up game and these guys did it in a division one game. Insane. Even the announcers were complimenting Shungu’s great defense, but Carter and Williams shooting was just perfect every time.
Now that Coach Gal and Hartford have finally gotten that Vermont monkey off their back the real question is whether this hot shooting can carry over to next weekend against UMass-Lowell. Not even the most die-hard River Hawk fans could’ve imagined they’d be now 40 minutes away from cutting down the nets, yet here they are. It’s not the America East title game any of us foresaw, but these two teams have earned the right to play for their first ever NCAA Tournament berth. Welcome to anarchy in the America East.