| Burlington Free Press
University of Vermont junior forward Ryan Davis returned to the lineup on Sunday afternoon.
That debut was a welcomed one for the Catamounts. However, their treatment of New Jersey Institute of Technology came with a rather rude message: Even without spectators, Patrick Gym is flat-out brutal for opponents.
The Catamounts greeted the America East Conference newbie with a scintillating run in the game’s opening minutes, handing out 17 assists and shooting over 65 percent in the first half, to roll to a 92-78 men’s basketball victory over the Highlanders.
UVM jumped out to a 15-0 lead less than four minutes in. The league’s reigning champions grew their advantage to as many as 27 points and NJIT, playing its first America East game, failed to cut the deficit to single digits while shooting 36.1% from the field.
Stef Smith connected on five 3-pointers in a 27-point, 7-rebound, 3-assist effort, while Davis, who missed the first two games with a back injury, made 10 of 15 shots for 22 points to go with five boards in 22 minutes to pace an efficient Catamounts (2-1) squad.
“It’s huge,” said UVM coach John Becker of Davis’ return. “Besides Ryan being a really good player, he just gives us so much more balance and we are able to unlock our playbook a little bit more.”
And after an off-script performance in the season-opening split at Lowell, UVM found haven inside friendlier confines.
“I think we felt a lot more comfortable shooting in Patrick. It was definitely good we could get back here,” said Smith, a point shy of tying his career-high. “We saw the ball go in, which is really good for the confidence of our team.”
UVM finished with 21 assists and went 33 of 59 from the floor (55.9%), which included a dozen 3-pointers out of 23 attempts.
“When you have that many assists and you make that many shots, it usually means you are playing good offense and making the right play,” Becker said. “That’s our offense … it just requires our guys to make good decisions.
“We have an experienced team and they were not happy with how they played the first game. I expect us to be better from here on out.”
Zach Cooks paced four NJIT (1-2) players in double figures, tallying 15 of his 24 points after the break, while collecting 12 rebounds and five steals.
Smith started the game with back-to-back 3s. Davis, who assisted on Smith’s opening trey, scored inside and hit his own trey before Justin Mazzulla euro-stepped into the lane for a layup and the 15-0 spot at the first media timeout.
“They kicked our tails today. That’s the story,” said NJIT coach Brian Kennedy, playfully interrupting Becker’s post-game news conference on Zoom.
The onslaught continued on. Forward Tomas Murphy, who also made his debut Sunday after being sidelined with a lower body injury, dropped in one of five Ben Shungu assists in the first half. The transfer from Northeastern also uncorked a 3-pointer on the wing for a 22-4 margin.
Back-to-back Nick Fiorillo 3s pushed the UVM advantage to 33-6. And an Isaiah Powell (10 points, six boards) 3-pointer at the 8:02 mark ballooned UVM’s lead to its biggest of on the day at 39-12.
“(Fiorillo’s) been a nice surprise. Hopefully he can continue to play well,” Becker said. “(Powell) can move to the 4, where I thought he was much more effective.”
UVM led 52-33 at intermission and met little second-half resistance from NJIT outside of a brief Cooks-fueled spurt that made it a 65-50 game with 10:51 to play. After a timeout, UVM responded with a Davis layup and a strong Powell drive.
UVM and NJIT return to Patrick Gym for a 2 p.m. contest on Monday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and 101.3 The Game.
“We have to expect it to be a much tighter game,” said Becker, lamenting NJIT’s 36 foul shots.
Vermont 92, NJIT 78
Brinson 4-7 2-4 12, Diakite 2-7 0-0 4, Butler 2-5 1-2 5, Cooks 7-18 7-8 24, Willis 1-5 5-5 8, O’Hearn 2-9 6-8 10, Coleman 3-7 5-7 11, Gray 0-1 0-0 0, de Graaf 1-2 0-0 2, J.Murphy 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 22-61 28-36 78.
Davis 10-15 0-2 22, Powell 4-6 0-0 10, Mazzulla 3-5 2-2 8, Shungu 1-2 3-4 5, Smith 7-13 8-9 27, Duncan 0-1 0-0 0, Patella 1-1 0-0 2, Deloney 0-1 0-0 0, Fiorillo 3-4 0-0 8, T.Murphy 3-6 0-0 7, Beckett 0-2 1-2 1, Demuth 0-0 0-0 0, Lefebvre 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 33-59 14-19 92.
Halftime—Vermont 52-33. 3-Point Goals—NJIT 6-25 (Cooks 3-9, Brinson 2-3, Willis 1-5, Butler 0-1, Coleman 0-1, de Graaf 0-1, O’Hearn 0-5), Vermont 12-23 (Smith 5-9, Davis 2-3, Fiorillo 2-3, Powell 2-4, T.Murphy 1-1, Beckett 0-1, Deloney 0-1, Shungu 0-1). Fouled Out_Fiorillo. Rebounds—NJIT 36 (Cooks 12), Vermont 35 (Smith 7). Assists—NJIT 10 (Willis 3), Vermont 21 (Shungu, Duncan 6). Total Fouls—NJIT 20, Vermont 24.
NJIT 70, Vermont 60: Behind Kimi Evans’ career-high 20 points and late-game surge, NJIT pulled away from visiting Vermont in an America East Conference contest on Sunday afternoon.
Tied at 55 with 4:52 left in the fourth quarter, Evans went on a personal 8-0 run to seal the Highlanders’ first America East home victory.
NJIT (2-1) also hit seven 3-pointers. UVM falls to 1-2 on the season.
UVM freshman Anna Olson, the conference’s reigning rookie of the week, set a new career-best with 17 points. Maddy Smith also went for a career-high, tallying 12 points.
The Highlanders led 32-28 at the break thanks to a 8-0 run. In the third, UVM summoned an 11-0 run over 5:12, nine points courtesy of Olson, as the visitors ended the final frame knotted at 44 with NJIT.
After a Smith jumper with 4:52 to go to make it 55-all, Evans took control with her 8-0 spurt.
UVM and NJIT wrap the two-game series on Monday. Game time on ESPN+ and WVMT-AM is 2 p.m.