LOWELL -- In a game that was separated by no more than seven points for the first 35 minutes of action, the UMass Lowell men's basketball team took control down the stretch to defeat Maine (6-23, 3-11 AE), 88-76, on Senior Night on Wednesday night at the Tsongas Center.
With the win, the River Hawks (11-16, 5-9 America East) clinched a berth into their first ever America East tournament in their first year of eligibility.
"This was obviously a great day for UMass Lowell men's basketball," said head coach Pat Duquette. "To be able to go out on Senior Night with a win and have your two seniors play as well as they did to help us is about as perfect a script as you can write."
Redshirt-senior Jahad Thomas (Williamsport, Pa.) posted game-highs with 26 points and 11 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the year. Fellow senior Matt Harris (Erie, Pa.) finished Senior Night with 18 points, while junior Ryan Jones (Rio Rancho, N.M.) logged a season-high 24 points and six assists. As a team, the River Hawks shot 52.5 percent (31-59) from the field.
Maine won the opening tip and took the first lead of the night, but Harris drained a three, and sophomore Rinardo Perry and Jones followed with back-to-back buckets to put the River Hawks on top, 10-7, with 16:47 remaining in the first half. The Black Bears forced three quick lead changes before Harris knocked down another triple to spark a quick 8-2 spurt that gave the home squad a two-possession margin, 22-17, at 12:36.
The visitors answered with a 9-2 stretch of their own, although Jones hit a pair of threes to regain the upper hand for UMass Lowell, 30-28, with 8:30 left in the period. The back-and-forth action continued with the lead changing three more times until Jones and Thomas combined for six straight points to help the River Hawks take a 47-43 advantage into the break.
Coming out of halftime, Maine outscored UMass Lowell, 7-2, to take a 50-49 buffer with 16:57 still to play. Five quick lead changes led to another long ball from Harris and a layup from redshirt-junior Josh Gantz, providing the home team a 58-55 edge at 13:57.
A triple from Harris and a jumper from Thomas helped the River Hawks create a 68-61 buffer with less than 10 minutes to go. The Black Bears fought back once again, cutting the difference to just one at 72-71, however, Thomas ignited a 14-2 run to give his squad its first double-digit lead of the night, 86-73, with less than two minutes to go.
Aaron Calixte paced four double-digit scorers for the Black Bears with 18 points.
Wednesday's contest marked the 12th meeting between UMass Lowell and Maine. The River Hawks now lead the all-time series, 9-3. The squad will play their final two games of the regular season on the road beginning at UMBC on Saturday (12 p.m.).