AMHERST — Thanksgiving Eve games aren’t always particularly pleasing to the eye. For the University of Massachusetts, getting out of the Mullins Center with a win Wednesday night, while not artistic, was certainly satisfying.
Six different Minutemen, led by Javohn Garcia’s game-high 18 points, scored in double figures as UMass held off Pat Duquette’s UMass Lowell River Hawks 92-81.
It was a game where the Minutemen led by as many as 24 points in the second half. But the River Hawks did cut the lead to eight in the final two minutes, but got no closer.
Photos: UMass men's basketball downs UMass Lowell 92-81 in Amherst
On Wednesday in Amherst, UMass defeated Pat Duquette, Bryce Daley and the UMass Lowell Riverhawks 92-81.
To view a full gallery or purchase photos from the game, click here.
It was UMass’ first home game since Nov. 15, a stretch that included three games in Florida at the Jersey Mike’s Classic. The Minutemen were 1-2 in Florida. With the win, UMass is now 4-3.
“I was really proud of our defensive effort in the first half, and probably for the first 25-28 minutes. We extended the lead to 23, 24, whatever it was, and then we just completely let off the gas and stopped doing what got us that lead,” UMass coach Matt McCall said, “stopped being aggressive and gave up way too many threes. I was really proud of our guys, the way that they bounced back, but we have to be so much better in terms of closing out games.”
The River Hawks came into Amherst with a 4-1 record that included wins at Atlantic 10 Conference members Dayton and George Washington. Their only loss came against Oklahoma State at Mohegan Sun.
Duquette’s squad was down 37-27 at halftime and was outscored 13-0 in the first four minutes of the second half. That made the score 50-27. The Minutemen extended the lead to 56-32 on an old-fashioned three-point play by Dibaji Walker. Game over, right?
Not for the River Hawks, who scored 12 unanswered points, and when Allin Blunt drained a 3-point shot from the left corner with 13:10 left, all of a sudden Lowell was within striking distance at 56-44. The River Hawks, however, got no closer in the game.
It was a game that Duquette did not see the end of. He earned a pair of technical fouls with 57 seconds remaining, and left the court. Rich Kelly made two of four free throws, which helped lock up the victory.
“There’s a number of easy things to point to that we didn’t do well or didn’t go our way,” Duquette said after the game. “I thought the most important thing is we were hesitant offensively. I give Matt and UMass credit. Their press did that to us. It doesn’t usually. We handle the press well. We invite it. We like it. It kept us off balance and we were tentative. When you’re tentative offensively, you’re in trouble.”
The River Hawks were hamstrung by the fact that leading scorer Max Brooks only played 11 minutes, 41 seconds in the first half before turning his right ankle. He came out for the second half on crutches, and Duquette said he did not know the status of the 6-foot-7 sophomore. Brooks scored eight points in those 11 minutes. He came out for good with 4:08 left in the half and Lowell trailed 23-22. Lowell was outscored 14-5 the rest of the half.
“Obviously, we did some good things to get back in the game and we showed some fight,” Duquette said. “Some guys that came off the bench, Greg Hammond and Quinton Mincey, that we’re going to need going forward, we learned something about them tonight.”
The Minutemen, meanwhile, learned a lot more about Javohn Garcia and Michael Steadman.
Garcia scored 18 points coming off the bench. He played 29 minutes, was 4 for 5 from the floor and 9 for 11 from the foul line. He also had five rebounds and four assists. It’s the most points he’s scored in a game since getting 23 in his first-ever appearance last December against Northeastern.
Garcia was pressed into the rotation for Noah Fernandes, who was hurt in Florida. McCall said he had hoped Fernandes might have been ready Wednesday, and he is cautiously optimistic the junior guard will be good for Saturday’s game at Rutgers.
McCall was thrilled with the performance of Garcia.
“We’ve been on Javohn as a staff, we’ve been on him about his effort. He took two charges in practice. We joked around in the locker room, I don’t know if he’s taken two charges in his career. He did it,” McCall said. “He’s kept his chin up. He’s kept a positive attitude and he was ready for the opportunity that he got today. I was really proud of him and really happy for him.
“He was smiling [in the locker room]. Javohn is not a guy who smiles all the time. We needed him.”
Michael Steadman, the 6-foot-10 transfer from Montana via San Jose State, made his debut for the Minutemen. He scored eight of his 10 points in the second half. He also picked up four big rebounds.
“For one, it just felt great being out there. I watched the first six games, so being out there with the guys and competing at a high level,” he said. “I think in the first two minutes, I was kind of rushing and the game was kind of fast. It kind of slowed down in the second half, I would say.”
T.J. Weeks Jr. had 12 points and six rebounds, C.J. Kelly had 12 points, while Trent Buttrick and Rich Kelly had 11 points each for UMass. Kelly did have a team-best five assists.
For Lowell, Blunt had 18 points, while Kalil Thomas had 14, Greg Hammond had 11 and Everette Hammond had 10. Ayinde Hikim, a transfer from La Salle had a game-high seven assists.
UMass and UMass Lowell are both home this weekend. The Minutemen will host Rutgers on Saturday at 2 p.m., while Lowell will host Division III Fisher on Saturday at 1 p.m.