By Sam Donnelly, Staff Writer
The University of New Hampshire men’s basketball team grabbed its first victory Tuesday night with a dominating 84-36 victory over NAIA opponent Thomas College. Junior Frank Okeke and sophomore John Edwards led the Wildcats with 12 points. Sophomore Jaleen Smith chipped in with nine points and six rebounds. Junior Levi Barnes led the Terriers with 12 points.
“It doesn’t matter who our first win is against,” UNH head coach Bill Herrion said. “Every time you step on the court, no matter who you’re playing, you respect you opinion.”
The Wildcats shot 48.3 percent from the field, and were able to hold Thomas to a dismal 27.8 percent from the field, only allowing the Terriers three trips to the free throw line. UNH picked up full-court pressure at times and caused 22 turnovers, frustrating Thomas all night.
“We take a lot of pride in our defense,” Herrion said. “When you pay attention, you can take stuff away from teams.”
Keeping Barnes quiet was key, as he has averaged 27.5 points in his last two games. Much like the Boston College game, the Wildcats were able to keep its opponent off the glass. UNH reeled in 51 rebounds, including 14 on the offensive glass. They held the Terriers to just 24 rebounds with only three on the offensive end.
UNH came out fast, opening up each half with a 9-2 run. The first half was a story of defense. After taking a 4-2 lead early, the Wildcats never surrendered the lead. Smith, who tallied three steals and a block in addition to scoring nine points, led UNH defensively as well as offensively.
Two layups by Jacoby Armstrong gave the Wildcats a 16-6 with 10 minutes left in the first half. UNH kept up the pressure on defense, and grabbed two more buckets in transition, courtesy of Iba Camara. At the second TV timeout, the Wildcats had pushed their lead to 21-6, holding Thomas College scoreless for over six minutes.
Out of the timeout the Wildcats had more of the same. Smith stole a pass off the full court pressure to push the lead to 21. Minutes later, sophomore guard Daniel Dion drilled a three pointer to give the Wildcats a 37-14 lead heading into the half.
“We just shared the ball,” Okeke said. “We got out and transition and played really fast.”
The second half revealed an unlikely star in the form of Camara. In the first five minutes of play, the freshman forward grabbed five rebounds and scored four points.
“We see it everyday in practice,” senior Tommy McDonnell said. “It was good to see him do it in a game.”
Camara finished with nine points and 15 rebounds, including six offensive rebounds.
“[Camara] was a monster on the glass,” Okeke said. “Offensively, defensively … he was everywhere.”
Thomas College continued to fight despite being down by a sizable margin. Two layups by Barnes and two straight three pointers by senior forward Eric Westbrooks cut the UNH lead to 59-24, Okeke put an end to that, slamming home a dunk from the baseline.
Okeke continued his offensive showing, dropping two three pointers in three possessions to push the Wildcat lead to a game-high 47. At the second media timeout, the Wildcats comfortably sat at 71-24.
The Wildcats controlled the ball and ran out the clock to grab their first win 84-36. UNH improved its record to 1-1, while Thomas fell to 1-2.
“We should all be happy that we won our first game, but it’s over.” Herrion said. “We have a tough turnaround heading to Bryant [on Thursday]. Our goal is to win a championship here in March, but what championship teams do is get wins on the road.”
The Wildcats won again despite nagging injuries affecting both Jacoby Armstrong (foot) and Joe Bramanti (oblique).
As for the team’s identity, the Wildcats are young, and still haven’t completely figured it out. Regardless, Smith made one thing clear, it isn’t there yet.
“I’d say give us a few more games,” Smith said. “We will figure it out.”