By Matt Langone
LOWELL -- Senior guard Akeem Williams felt a distinct vibe from conversations with other students on campus and through social media.
For the first time in a very long while, there was true basketball buzz at UMass Lowell.
It all culminated on Tuesday night with the men's basketball team playing a home game as a Division 1 program for the first time ever.
There was a legitimate student section decked out in blue T-shirts that read "Witness the Beginning." There was a pit band. And the Costello Athletic Center was heavily filled, unlike in years past. It felt like a Division 1 basketball game -- and UMass Lowell looked like it belonged.
In their best effort of the season thus far, the River Hawks fell to Brown University, 87-76.
UMass Lowell trailed just 78-71 with 2:29 left, before ultimately dropping to 0-4 on the season.
"It was great. I know a lot of times when we would get down, that little buzz in the crowd and knowing our student section was behind us helped us stay in the game," said Williams.
Williams had 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists. His fellow backcourt mates, junior Chad Holley (6-for-12) and sophomore DJ Mlachnik (6-for-11), had 18 points each.
UMass Lowell fell behind 68-45 with 11:49 left, but came back behind Holley, who had eight points in the ensuing 26-10 UML run. Mlachnik had 13 in the second half.
"I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I thought we'd get a nice crowd because this is new with Division 1," said Holley, a 5-foot-10 New York City native. "The buzz was nice, and people stuck around until the end. We appreciate that. I hope they come out to all of the home games like that."
Junior 6-foot-9 forward Rafael Maia had nine points and 14 rebounds for Brown (3-1), while 6-foot-7 freshman Leland King had 16 points and 12 rebounds. Dockery Walker (6-foot-7) added 17 points and nine rebounds, and freshman Norman Hobbie drilled four 3-pointers for a perimeter presence.
UMass Lowell starting forwards Kerry Weldon and Hudson (N.H.) native Tyler Livingston (13 points) are both just 6-foot-5. The River Hawks were forced to expend a great deal of energy competing on the glass. The 5-foot-10 Williams was the team's leading rebounder.
UMass Lowell found itself in a 20-point hole with four minutes left in the first half before cutting it to 50-37 at the half.
"I'm not a big stats guy, but the numbers speak for themselves. We were outrebounded 26-9 in the first half," said UML head coach Pat Duquette. "I thought other than that we played pretty well. We just gave them too many second-chance points (28). We were happy with the way we executed, the way we spread the floor. I thought we made some great strides."
Clearly, the inability to consistently grab rebounds did in the River Hawks. Outside of that, there was very little to complain about.
They forced 19 Brown turnovers and held the Bears to 41.8-percent shooting. Holley was superb with six steals.
"Credit Pat Duquette and his team. They play really hard," said Brown head coach Michael Martin. "You can see they really believe in what Pat and his staff are teaching. There is reason to be excited for fans around here."