Last year, the Hartford men’s basketball team was headed to the America East championship game when everything shut down due to COVID-19.
But the Hawks didn’t falter. They came back this year and made history, becoming the first Hartford men’s basketball team to advance to the NCAA Tournament with a 64-50 victory over UMass Lowell Saturday for the conference championship and the automatic berth that goes with it.
Traci Carter led Hartford with 19 points, while Austin Williams had 17 and Hunter Marks 14.
This one would not be easy. For much of the game, the friendly Chase Arena baskets were not so friendly for the Hawks, who shot 7-for-29 in the first half but ended the game shooting 20 -for-55.
But late in the second half, the Hawks went on a 10-0 run to boost their lead to 52-39 and managed to hold off the River Hawks the rest of the way.
The last time Hartford was in a conference championship game was 2008 and the Hawks lost to Maryland-Baltimore County.
UMass Lowell had never been to the championship game before Saturday. The River Hawks upset top-seeded UMBC in the semifinal to get there.
The Hawks had split with UMass Lowell during the regular season, losing to the River Hawks 71-62 Jan. 9 and then winning the next day, 75-58.
From the start, it was clear that the Hawks were not going to shoot 62 percent like they did last weekend in the semifinal against Vermont. But UMass Lowell struggled as well. With a lot on the line, the two teams came out tight and slogged through the first half. UMass Lowell wasn’t much better shooting than Hartford at 8-for-28. The three-point shooting was bad, too, with the Hawks going 2-for-11 and UMass Lowell 2-for-14.
Marks led the Hawks at the half with seven points and Carter and Williams each added six.
Coach John Gallagher talked about limiting turnovers as one of the keys to the game. Against Vermont, the Hawks had 16 and after one half Saturday, Hartford had only six. The Hawks also held conference-leading scorer Obadiah Noel to four first-half points.
Noel came out hot in the second half, scoring five points in five minutes but Hartford managed to hang on to a 29-28 lead at the 15:13 mark.
Hartford punched back when Carter hit two straight jumpers for a 37-32 lead with 11:42 left.
Lori Riley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.