No one is expected to go to Burlington, Vermont and head home with a win. Least of all the Hartford Hawks.
In a packed Patrick Gymnasium, whose atmosphere rivaled an America East Tournament game, the Hawks showed just how far they’ve come this season, defeating Vermont 69-68.
No longer was Hartford fumbling around trying to find the right starting five, or experimenting with which position people are comfortable in. In fact, a few leaders have emerged from the pack.
One of them is junior guard Jason Dunne. He scored five of the first nine Hartford points, and it went from there. He’s probably the most versatile player the Hawks have, being able to both penetrate the defense and, as shown in Sunday’s game, hit NBA threes. He hit five of his six free throws and was 5-10 from distance. On a good night, Dunne is someone you can rely on for offense, and by leading both teams with a game-high of 26 points, he did just that.
Hartford isn’t just a one-man band, either. To go along with Dunne is everyone’s favorite Irishman, John Carroll. In Hartford’s first game against Vermont, Carroll was off. In fact it was one of only three games where he didn’t finish in double-digits this year.
While he didn’t rain points like Dunne on Sunday, he was solid just about everywhere else. To add to his 10 points, he had four rebounds, five assists, one steal, and three blocks. One rebound came at a huge moment when the Hawks were up 69-68 with 47 seconds left in the game. One of his blocks saved them 30 seconds later when Vermont’s Trae Bell-Haynes went for the layup to win the game.
Then there was George Blagojevic. His playing time has increased over the season but he was still averaging under five points per game. He had 13 on Sunday. He also added to the stat sheet with six rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block.
The game itself was a back-and-forth battle from the beginning. The game had a total of 12 lead changes and seven ties, and Vermont wasn’t going down without a fight. The senior triple threat of Payton Henson, Drew Urquhart, and Bell-Haynes combined for 39 of the Catamounts’ 68 points. While the seniors contributed a lot to game, it was definitely a full team effort. Many others made clutch shots down the stretch to swing momentum Vermont’s way, like the threes from Ernie Duncan that helped bring Vermont from down by two to up by four.
In the end, the winning points from the Hawks came from a rather unusual place. Hassan Attia, one known for not really being around in the second half due to foul trouble, was put in as time was winding down, and the prospect of a win started to look like a reality. Having gone the entire game without any points, it was his dunk with 1:41 left in the game that sealed the deal for the Hawks. Vermont wasn’t able to get off any shots after that point, despite its desperate tries. With this win, Hartford snapped the longest winning streak in the nation.
BIG WIN for @HartfordMBB! #AEHoops pic.twitter.com/H5V2paEZOI— #AEHoops (@AEHoopsNews) February 18, 2018
With only three games left in the regular season, it looks like Hartford might actually clinch a coveted home game in the conference tournament. Having toppled the giants in their own gym, Hartford is on its way to its best season since 2007-08, when it fell short in the America East title game.