The Central Connecticut men's basketball team closed out non-conference play with a 76-73 win at UMass Lowell on Saturday at the Tsongas Center. The Blue Devils would hold off the River Hawks in a game that featured 12 ties and 12 lead changes. Senior Mustafa Jones hit his first 11 shots of the day, en route to a career-high 24 points.
The win improved Central to 7-6 overall, while UML goes to 6-6 on the season.
The Blue Devils open Northeast Conference play at home against Saint Francis U on Friday.
Jones, who finished the game 11-of-14 from the field, paced four Blue Devils in double-figures. Junior Deion Bute narrowly missed a double-double, posting 13 points and nine rebounds to go with a career-high three assists. Junior Austin Nehls added 12 points and junior Tyler Kohl had 11 points.
Central got off to a fast start scoring the first seven points of the game. Bute would figure in the first nine points for CCSU, hitting a jumper and two foul shots, sandwiched around a three-pointer from junior Eric Bowles that he assisted on.
The Blue Devils would lead by as many as 10 points in the opening period. Nehls hit a three-pointer at the 14:50 mark to make it 14-4, and after the Blue Devils scored six straight points they would lead, 26-18, on a short jumper by Jones.
The River Hawks would come back with a 9-0 run over a 2:31 span to take their first lead of the day. Jahad Thomas scored the first four points, followed by Rinardo Perry scoring five unanswered. A pair of foul shots by Perry would make it 30-28.
UMass Lowell would extend its lead to as much as five points, but a jumper by Jones with just under a minute to go in the half would make it 37-34 at halftime.
The Blue Devils shot 14-of-27 (.519) in the first half, led by Jones going 7-of-7 from the field and Bute going 3-of-4. The River Hawks took advantage of 10 CCSU turnovers to score 14 points.
Central would open the second half with a 10-2 spurt to regain the lead. Bute opened the half with a layup before a three-point play by Jones opened a run of eight unanswered points. Nehls hit a three-pointer, followed by a jumper by Kohl to make it 44-39. The five-point margin would be the largest lead either team held throughout the second period, as the River Hawks came back with five straight to tie the game again.
UMass Lowell would take its last lead of the day on a layup by Josh Gantz with 5:21 remaining to make it 67-66. Jones and Bute would each hit a foul shot on the next two CCSU possessions to put Central back in front for good. The River Hawks would get within a point on two occassions, but the Blue Devils were able to answer on the offensive end and seal the win.
CCSU's seven wins surpasses its total for all of 2016-17 and matches its most non-conference wins since winning seven in 2010-11.
Central finished the day 27-of-54 (.500) from the field and was 18-of-23 (.783) at the foul line. The Blue Devils held a 40-28 rebounding margin and outscored the River Hawks in the paint, 45-35.
Jahad Thomas led UML with 21 points, while Obadiah Noel scored 19 points off the bench. The River Hawks shot 26-of-61 (.426) from the field and was 13-of-19 (.684) from the foul line.
The Blue Devils return to action when they open Northeast Conference play at home against Saint Francis U on Friday, Dec. 29, at 7:30 p.m.