After the first season in the school’s Division I history ended on February 27 with a victory over Maine, UMass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette knew that his program’s challenge next season would be almost as difficult as their first season.
Considering Duquette was hired in May and had little time to recruit and add to the roster, his River Hawks roster banded together and reached a fifth place finish in conference play. With the senior night 84-72 win over Maine, UMass Lowell became just one of 10 teams to finish the 2013-14 Division I season with a win.
The program graduates senior point guard Akeem Williams and America East Sixth Man of the Year Antonio Bivins, but welcomes in a large freshman class that Duquette recruited on board. The class will be welcomed by Duquette’s only 2013 signee, Jahad Thomas, who tore his ACL in September and was forced to redshirt last season. Thomas just began working out with the team in individual workouts and should be healthy for the start of the 2014-15 season.
“I think the dynamics of next year’s team are going to be completely different,” Duquette said. “I hope that, in addition to winning a few games this year, we laid an important foundation in terms of the culture, the work ethic, the chemistry. I’m hoping that’s what will transfer over, but I think the makeup of our team and maybe even the style of play is going to have to be a lot different because our personnel is so different.”
Despite losing the seniors, the River Hawks return Kerry Weldon for his fifth season of eligibility, as well as starters DJ Mlachnik, Tyler Livingston, and Chad Holley. Holley, a junior, is the team’s returning leading scorer, averaging 10.3 points per game. The freshman walk-on, Livingston, is the leading shooting threat who made 47 three-pointers, second on the team last season to Williams.
“We do have some guys coming back that I do think provide some consistency and leadership, but it’s an open book,” Duquette said. “We’re going to try to figure it out as we go, keep and open mind and let guys take advantage of the opportunity in front of them and earn it.”
The River Hawks lost their first six games of the season before beating Mount Ida for their first win. After absorbing a five game losing streak, UMass Lowell went 9-7 from the start of the 2014 calendar year to close the season alone in fifth place in the America East.
“I think it’s given our guys, our program confidence,” Duquette said. “I think we’ve seen that the America East is a good league, but it’s a real good league for us. We can compete in this league.”
On January 15, they beat eventual tournament champion Albany in overtime, and three nights later challenged Stony Brook on the road, falling by five after being down two with just over a minute left.
“I know it’s a long process, it’s a huge transition, it’s going to take time but we’re right on schedule,” Duquette said. “We’re excited about continuing to make progress.”
Ryan Restivo covers the America East conference, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.