By SAM DONNELLY, STAFF WRITER
Despite never finding their rhythm, the Wildcats controlled the scoreboard and grabbed yet another with, this time over Binghamton, 66-48. Tanner Leissner led UNH with 14 points, all in the second half, and 15 rebounds. Matt Miller also scored 14 and Daniel Dion chipped in with 12. Binghamton took the Wildcats into overtime in mid-January, but this time the Wildcats were able to create a little separation.
“We are really unselfish,” head coach Bill Herrion said. “We struggled around the basket, but our defense was always there.”
The Wildcats defense was extremely tight, holding the Bearcats to a dismal 27 percent shooting and forcing nine turnovers, which UNH turned into eight points.
The game opened up slowly. Both teams struggled to get into the flow of the game. The Wildcats found offense early and often from Miller, who hit three straight three-pointers in a little under four minutes of play. Those tre’s pushed the Wildcat lead to 11-5 and they never surrendered it again.
Binghamton wouldn’t go away early on. The Bearcats ended the half on a 6-2 run to bring the score to 30-23, the Wildcats holding a seven-point advantage. UNH shot 55 percent from three-point range, while just shooting 32 percent overall, including countless missed layups.
“We knew we could play better,” sophomore guard Joe Bramanti said. “We had them on the ropes, we missed a lot of layups. So we attacked the rim.”
Despite having the lead, the Wildcats struggled to get any production from three of their top five scorers. Jaleen Smith, Jacoby Armstrong and Leissner combined for just one point in the first half.
“Tanner Leissner is a freshman and Jacoby Armstrong is a sophomore,” Herrion said. “They haven’t had that many bad halfs all season. People forget that they’re young.”
Although they didn’t score so much in the first half, they came out aggressively in the second half. Leissner scored the first three points of the second half, then Armstrong scored a layup to push the Wildcat lead to 35-23. Armstrong and Leissner combined for 22-second half points and finished with a combined 23 rebounds.
The Wildcats opened the half on a 15-4 run and ultimately put the game out of reach. UNH was able to beat the Bearcat pressure and cruise to a 66-48 win. The Wildcats improve their record to 16-10 with a 9-4 conference record. Binghamton falls to 4-24 and just 3-10 in conference play.
The 16th win also secures the Wildcats first winning season since 1994. The Wildcats also are one step closer to home court advantage in the first round of the America East tournament.
“It’s a great feeling,” Daniel Dion said. “Any team that can win 16 games, no matter what conference your in, is a great achievement. Our goal now is to just get as high in the standings as we can.”
The Wildcats will have a week off between games and will head on the road next weekend to play at UMass Lowell. The break comes at a pivotal time for the Wildcats, who played without juniors Ronnel Jordan and Frank Okeke. Okeke sat out with flu-like symptoms, while Jordan continues to struggle with a knee problem that may entail his meniscus. Herrion insists both players will be fine and not miss a significant amount of time.
UNH will return home Feb. 28 for senior night against Maine. The game will begin at 1 p.m.