HARTFORD — When you’re literally the most experienced team in the country, there’s got to be a lot of pressure on you to win. I mean, what senior doesn’t want to help his team make it to the conference championship? When you have six seniors that are all working towards the same goal, good things happen.
Before their game against UMass Lowell this afternoon, there were only three seniors who had joined the coveted 1,000-point club for the Hawks. Well, not wanting to be left out, and conveniently entering the game with 999 points, George Blagojevich’s first layup got his name in the history books as well. He joined teammates Jason Dunne, J.R. Lynch, and John Carroll with this recent honor. He and Carroll are the only two players to have both over 1,000 points and over 500 rebounds.
The match up between the Hawks and River Hawks was arguably the most intense game of the America East quarterfinals. There were eight lead changes and six ties throughout the game, and the average point difference was a possession or two away throughout most of the game until Hartford pulled away in the end.
There were plenty of times where the game could have gone either way. The toughness of the game came down to playing style. Hartford and Lowell have similar styles, and ever since UMBC’s historic win against Virginia in the NCAA Tournament last year, it shows how that can really hurt or help a team.
“They play the same way. They’re coached the same way. Offensively they spread you, they slip screens, they shoot threes, they gap and kick, they’re not set oriented.” Hartford head coach John Gallagher said about Pat Duquette and his River Hawks.
One of the biggest advantages Hartford has over other teams is how much the core of them have grown from the beginning. They had the same amount of wins their first two years together than they did last year. They helped bring Hartford from a team no one thought twice about to being ranked second in the America East preseason poll.
And they’re not done yet.
“I would say we’ve been fighting from day one, since the day we got here,” Lynch said of his team’s growth. “You look at our record and it doesn’t really show how good we are, every time you watch us play you know you’re going to see Hartford basketball.”
While the ultimate goal would be a conference championship, the Hawks like to focus on the immediate problems, and with Binghamton’s incredible upset over Stony Brook, Hartford will be taking the long drive down to UMBC to face off against the reigning conference champions. And Hartford’s seniors aren’t looking to go away any time soon.
“We’ve got six seniors in there. You’ve got a group of guys who want to be in there,” Lynch said. “The one thing is that when you have a group of guys who want to be here it’s easy to play for the next guy. We know what’s on the line. We know that any day can be our last game.”
Both semifinal games will be on Tuesday, March 12. Binghamton will face off against Vermont, while Hartford will play UMBC. Both games are at 7 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN+.