Ugly Game, But a Win Nonetheless
Final Score: Vermont 62 – UMass-Lowell 61
Vermont held on after a late second-half surge from UMass-Lowell to ultimately pick up their 16th conference win on a bittersweet afternoon in Burlington. The Cats, who now boast a 16-1 conference record have tied a program record for most conference wins in a season. The 2016-17 Vermont team was the only other to reach the 16 win mark (16-0 in AE) – that team would later go on to make the NCAA Tournament, but ultimately fell short to Florida State in the first round.
The senior players of Ben Shungu, Justin Mazzulla, Bailey Patella, Ryan Davis and Isaiah Powell were all honored before the game. Heading into the game we already knew that Shungu, Mazzulla and Patella were set to move on to the next chapter in their lives, but the status of a few of Vermont’s other seniors was still a question mark. As it appears right now, Davis and Powell will both be moving on from Vermont – whether that means to another program, testing the NBA draft, playing overseas or possibly even stepping away from basketball entirely is still unclear.
There’s even a chance, albeit slim, that both Davis and Powell return to Vermont next year. Considering what they’ve both already accomplished, especially Davis, that outcome is rather unlikely but again, anything can happen. Nonetheless, it was great to see all these young men honored and recognized for the hard work and dedication they’ve given to this team and program. Clap it up one more time.
Let’s be honest, there was not a whole lot of “good” that came from this game. Vermont did pick up the win in the end and tied a program record for conference wins in a season with 16 so the Cats can at least hang their hats on that. The pregame ceremonies which saw seniors Ben Shungu, Justin Mazzulla, Bailey Patella, Ryan Davis and Isaiah Powell all honored was by all accounts the best highlight of the afternoon.
Vermont held a 13-point lead with just under 6:30 left in regulation. Considering that Vermont was 23-5 and UML was 14-13, that game should’ve been a wrap right then and there. But UML came storming back. Although it should’ve never even come to this point, Vermont’s veteran leaders, Shungu and Davis, stepped up when it truly mattered most. Shungu hit a clutch jumper to push the lead back up to four with 45 ticks remaining and then Davis followed suit by hitting a pair at the charity stripe with five seconds left to ice the game. Ideally Vermont wouldn’t be in such a situation against a team that they were projected to beat by 17 points, but alas it’s a huge relief to know that when the game is on the line Vermont can rise to the challenge and close out with the win.
Nearly blowing that 13-point second-half lead was incredibly stressful to watch. Credit to UML who despite their poor record always plays extremely hard. They match-up well with UVM – especially Max Brooks who pestered Davis all day in the post. There’s a good chance that Brooks all but locked up AE DPoY with that performance. However, the worst aspect of the game from a Cat’s perspective was the downright piss-poor shooting.
This is now back-to-back games in which Vermont has failed to reach the 70-point mark – the only time this has happened all season in conference play. Against UML, the River Hawks outpaced the Cats in nearly every statistical shooting category.
FG%: UML (39%), UVM (37%)
3PT%: UML (40%), UVM (20%)
FT%: UML (58%), UVM (59%)
Thanks to Davis and his clutch shooting at the line the Cats were able to edge out UML from the charity stripe, but 59% is an embarrassment. More importantly, 5-25 from deep is a big ooof. These guys look absolutely gassed so here’s hoping for some extra rest come Tuesday night against Maine.
Much like the previous game against Binghamton, this was a sloppy mess at times. Isaiah Powell, who has been having a great season and will likely make one of the AE all-conference teams, had arguably his worst game of the year. Powell finished with four turnovers, many of which came from errant passes to Davis in the post. Granted, Brooks has great length and did a masterful job at limiting Vermont’s chances, but Powell should’ve recognized this and not be so lackadaisical with his passing. There was also the inbound pass underneath the basket to no one – another facepalm-esque play.
Besides the turnovers and poor shooting there was another incident that could be cause for concern. Senior guard Justin Mazzulla left the game with an apparent hamstring injury and did not return. There’s no word yet on the severity of the injury but he’s absence was sorely missed. Hopefully Mazzulla can rest up and return to action sooner than later, but don’t expect to see his name in the line-up against Maine and possibly even miss the first-round of action in the AE playoffs.
Lastly, the ugliest performance of the night came from deep in the Patrick Gymnasium bleachers. With under a minute left in regulation and a one possession game, a number of Vermont “fans” elected to head to the exits. Now, these people paid for a ticket and by no means are required to stay for the whole game, but how in the actual fuck can you look at yourself in the mirror and say that you’re a fan.
If you were one of the “fans” who left early, do me a favor – don’t come back.
Next Game: Away vs Maine
Game Time: Tuesday, March 1st, 7:00pm (ESPN+)