By SAM DONNELLY

STAFF WRITER

The Wildcats pushed their win streak to three games Thursday night after holding off Vermont to win 73-68.The loss was UVM’s first in America East play. Senior guard Matt Miller led the Wildcats with 18 points, including a game-deciding 3-pointer in the final minute. Freshman Tanner Leissner chipped in with 14 points and eight rebounds, while Dre Wills led the Catamounts with 17 points.

“Give our kids credit,” UNH head coach Bill Herrion said. “We’ve been in a lot of these games and we were fortunate enough to make some plays on offense down the stretch and get some big stops.”

The theme of the first half was cold shooting for the Wildcats, with the exception of Miller. He scored 15 points in just 15 minutes and accounted for almost half of the Wildcats first-half points.

“My teammates always encourage me to shoot with confidence,” Miller said. “They need me to come in and make shots so I figured I’d do that for them tonight.”

With seconds ticking down in the first, Leissner drove through the lane and finished as the buzzer sounded to put the Wildcats up 36-32 at the half.  UNH outshot the Catamounts, making 11-22 shots, while holding Vermont to only 37 percent from the field.

UNH dominated the beginning of the second half, extending its lead to 54-39 after a put-back layup by Leissner. The game seemed all but over, but the Catamounts were not done. Over the next 10 minutes, Vermont outscored the Wildcats 23-10. The Catamounts used a full-court press to cause 10 Wildcat turnovers that they converted into 17 points. With just under two minutes left Wills drove to the lane and finished a layup bringing the game to 64-62.

“At that point the game could have gone either way,” Miller said. “They rallied and played well.”

Out of a thirty-second timeout, the ball found Miller’s hand in the left corner. Miller didn’t hesitate and buried the 3-pointer to give the Wildcats some breathing room.

“I wasn’t sure I should have shot it,” Miller said. “But Jaleen Smith put the ball right on my hands and when I let it go I knew it was going in.”

The Wildcats hit their free throws and finished off the Catamounts to win 73-68. UNH improves their record to 11-9, with a 4-3 conference record. The Wildcats handed Vermont their first conference loss this season. The Catamounts fall to 10-9 and 5-1 in America East play.

“Our whole mantra right now is win the next game,” Herrion said. “To win a championship in this league, you have to beat teams like Vermont. They have been the measuring stick in this league.”

Playing close games isn’t anything new to the Wildcats. UNH has played eight games this season where the outcome was decided by five points or fewer, including three overtime games this season.

“We’ve been doing this all year,” Herrion said. “One thing that this team has, that some other teams from the past didn’t, is that they’re resilient. They didn’t panic and made plays.”

The Wildcats will have six days off before heading to the University of Maine on Wednesday, Jan. 28 to play a team that has only won one game this entire season. Herrion says that doesn’t mean anything.

“To win in this league you have to show up every game,” Herrion said. “It’s a road game and those are always a challenge.”