One of the biggest reasons the UMass Lowell River Hawks have started 3-2 in America East play has been the return of senior Antonio Bivins.
After suffering a torn achillies tendon in his left foot over the summer, head coach Pat Duquette said Bivins had a choice to redshirt or come back for his final season. He began practicing with the team in November, rehabbing his injury and came off the bench for the first time on January 5 against UMBC.
“It was entirely his choice and he decided to play,” Duquette said. “I’m just rooting like heck for him. He’s a great kid, he adds a lot to our team and I’m proud of him for scoring 1,000 points. I’m really happy that we have him for the rest of the year.”
Bivins’ 14 points off the bench helped the River Hawks to their first America East victory in program history. The senior has already made over 50% of his field goals and 65% of his free throws. His season-high 21 points against Stony Brook helped the River Hawks come back from down as many as 14 to cut the lead to two.
Bivins said that he’s adjusting to his new role, where he plays the power forward spot despite being undersized for the role at 6’5″.
“I just try to use my athleticism,” Bivins said how he was able to cause problems Saturday night against Stony Brook. “I cut when bigs come out and guard me, and Akeem [Williams] went down with foul trouble, so someone had to step up. Instead of waiting for someone else to step up, I just tried my hardest.”
The senior’s hard work on both ends has helped the River Hawks to compete at the highest level and wins over tournament champion Albany as well as a road victory at Binghamton. When senior Akeem Williams, who entered as the team’s leading scorer, got plagued with foul trouble against Stony Brook, his classmate Bivins stepped up. His ability to create for himself off the dribble, drive the lane and his game has been rewarded so far – he has already taken 29 free throws in three games.
In the River Hawks 1-3-1 zone, Bivins has proven to be an active member at the top of the zone. He recorded a season-high three steals Saturday against Stony Brook and his wingspan made passing at the top of the zone difficult.
“Those guys have done a really good job picking up the intricacies of the 1-3-1 zone in a short period of time,” Duquette said. “We’re a half court man-to-man defensive team, that’s the foundation of our program, but the 1-3-1 has added a nice counter defense for us, secondary defense, and Antonio’s great on it at the top of it. He’s great at it.”
Bivins said that he tries to use his long arms to try to force turnovers in the zone and use their athleticism to try to make teams pick up their dribble. They turned the Seawolves over 10 times, grabbing seven steals.
As for his left foot, after playing a season-high 31 minutes Bivins said that he is fully healthy. “My foot’s fine,” was his comment on his previously injured Achilles.
For a program that is in the first year of a four-year transition into Division I, Duquette said he knows that it’s hard to get mad at how hard his team played against the defending America East regular season champions Saturday night.
“We can play in this league,” Duquette said. “Our guys are going to come to play hard, execute and play disciplined basketball every night and that’s all I can ask for.”
“Some nights we’re overmatched, some nights we don’t have good depth we need, we can’t rebound, but as long as we keep playing hard, we know we have a chance to win.”
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.