By Josh Sullivan, Sports Editor
Matt Miller felt good going into UNH’s game against Maine on Saturday. He played even better.
Miller led his Wildcats to a 65-56 win on Senior Day over the America East foe with 26 points, 18 of those from three point range.
“I have a pretty good idea in warmups if I’m really feeling it or not,” the senior said. “I was knocking them down pretty well.”
UNH head coach Bill Herrion knew exactly what he’d be getting out of Miller.
“He’s a terrific, terrific three-point shooter,” he said. “He’s fearless and that’s the way the great shooters have to be.”
Miller is playing hot after missing all of last season after tearing his ACL in September
At 17:51 in the first half, a Till Gloger layup tied the game at 35 and UNH experienced the most trouble with Maine it saw all day. A Jaleen Smith jumper countered Zarko Vaijaervic’s three-pointer, and a lay up by Joe Bramanti gave UNH the lead that they would retain for the rest of the night. Back-to-back threes from Miller put the ‘Cats up 45-38, and the team kept rolling from there.
“I wasn’t happy at that particular moment with our defense,” Herrion said. “I thought it was a little soft. But then we had a six, seven, nine minute stretch where we really played shut down D.”
Though Miller went off, freshman standout Tanner Leissner struggled offensively. Despite only having four points on the day, he came down with 13 rebounds in 35 minutes of play.
“I just focus on doing other things if I can’t help my team scoring-wise that day,” he said.
UNH went on a 12 to 2 run with about 10 minutes remaining in the game. What started with Leissner free throw was continued by a dunk and three-pointer, both from sophomore Frank Okeke. The run was capped off by a jumper from Jacoby Armstrong, two of his 10 points on the night.
Guard Jaleen Smith chipped in with 12 points and eight rebounds, shooting 5 for 9 from the floor.
The win was vital for Herrion and company because of a tough loss to Vermont on Wednesday. After winning just six games last season, the Wildcats have already surpassed many peoples expectations, including his own.
“I think what good teams do is that they bounce back after tough losses,” Herrion said. “If you’ve seen us play, this has been an unbelievably consistent basketball games. We’ve played two or three bad games this season.
I’ve always said that if you want any chance to win a championship, you have to be playing well going into the tournament.”
UNH takes on Hartford Wednesday in the opening round of the America East tournament right in Durham and the Lundholm Gymnasium. The ‘Cats are adjusting to playing in the spotlight for the first time in Herrion’s memory.
“This is all new territory for this team and this program,” he said. “We’re not used to going to Vermont in front of a packed house and playing for second place. When you win a responsibility comes with that. People take interest, and the crowds get bigger.”
“We’re dangerous now, so they better be looking out for us in the tournament,” Smith said.
Hartford is an experienced team that boasts six seniors. Herrion said that any team with a lot of seniors is scary come game time, because it’s a group of players who may never play in another game.
“You have to execute offensively and defensively, or you go home,” he said. ”We’re a capable team of making a run. Now I’m not saying that we’re going to do it, but I think we’ve proven ourselves over the course of 29 games.”
“We have to stay poised,” Miller said. “Not get too low, not get too high. If they get up on us, we just have to keep going at it.”