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Transfers power UMass Lowell to new heights

The River Hawks are 23-7 and sit second in the America East

NCAA Basketball: Massachusetts Lowell at Rutgers
Abdoul Karim Coulibaly is averaging 11.7 points and 7.8 rebounds this season for the River Hawks.
John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

It’s safe to say that besides inside the program itself, no one believed that the UMass Lowell River Hawks would be THIS good.

After an incredibly successful non-conference schedule, finishing 13-2 with losses at Rutgers and Rhode Island by a combined 10 points, all eyes were on Pat Duquette and his squad.

Duquette, who had a record of 110-155 in his first nine seasons at the helm of UML, has taken not only the America East by storm but all mid-major teams.

Prior to this season, Duquette’s best team was the 2020-21 Riverhawks, who fell just short of a March Madness bid by losing in the America East title game to Hartford.

Starting in 2021, Duquette started to significantly utilize the transfer portal, and that has had a major impact on the team’s success this season.

Seven of the 14 players on the team started their collegiate careers with a different school, including three starters.

Those three starters you may ask? Everette Hammond, Ayinde Hikim and Abdoul Karim Coulibaly.

Hikim, who transferred from La Salle, is known for his savvy play and grit to win on the court. You could hear him yelling from a mile away, and he is one good point guard, distributing a team-best 4.0 assists per game.

Hammond, who transferred in from USC Upstate, averaged 9.0 points per game last season. After improving his game in the offseason, he now leads the River Hawks in scoring at 13.8 points per contest.

Lastly, Coulibaly, who had two prior stops at Pittsburgh and St. Bonaventure, was not exactly regarded as a big-name star coming into this season with UMass Lowell. The former four-star recruit averaged fewer than six points per game at both schools.

When he stepped foot on campus, Coulibaly sensed he was at home, at a school that finally knew how to utilize the 6-foot-9 center. The Bamako, Mali, native, who came to the United States at age 14, is averaging 11.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.

The big man started turning heads after his first couple of games with UML. He tallied a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds at Columbia. He nearly had another with 18 points and eight boards while matched up against former five-star Cliff Omoruyi at Rutgers.

The River Hawks enter the regular-season finale against New Hampshire on a three-game winning streak. At 10-5, they have the No. 2 seed locked up in the America East championship. This season marks the first time since joining Division I in 2013 that the team finished above .500 in the conference.

This team has a legitimate chance to break through and punch the program’s first ticket to the Big Dance.