By Sam Donnelly, Staff Writer
After the Wildcats lost in the America East semifinals last Sunday at the hands of the Albany Great Danes, the team assumed its season had come to a close.
“It’s a disappointing loss,” head coach Bill Herrion said. “I thought collectively we played well. We got beat at the free throw line.”
Despite the long ride home for the Wildcats, the sadness and despair didn’t last long. Just three days later, Herrion and the Wildcats were informed that the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament was interested in UNH Basketball. The CIT is a postseason tournament made up of 32 teams, all of which are non-BCS programs that didn’t qualify for the NIT or the NCAA Tournament. On Tuesday afternoon, the UNH athletic department announced the Wildcats would in fact be participating in the CIT.
“I think it’s a great honor and privilege to play in the postseason,” Herrion said. “It’s a great reward for a really good season. For our kids, it’s a chance to keep on playing. Nobody wanted the season to end.”
On Wednesday morning, it was announced that UNH would travel to New Jersey Institute of Technology to play a first round game on March 16 at 7 p.m. The Wildcats have played the Highlanders twice in the past three seasons, both losses. NJIT has a record of 18-11, and boasts a 12-2 record at home. The Highlanders also marched into Michigan in early December and pulled the upset in stunning fashion, 72-70.
“They beat a big time Michigan team early in the season and finished with 18 wins,” Herrion said. “They are really well coached and have very good guards.”
The Highlanders are led by sophomore guard Damon Lynn, who averages 17.2 points a game with 130 three pointers made on the season.
“We’ve got two or three of their games which we will start looking at,” Herrion said. “We have played them in the past, so we know them a little.”
The question isn’t how the Wildcats will prepare, but instead how the emotional turnaround will affect them.
The Wildcats convened Wednesday afternoon for their first practice since the loss to Albany. It was a quick emotional turn around for the coaches and players, but Herrion insists they are all plenty motivated.
“This is the first time UNH basketball has played in the postseason,” Herrion said. “That right there should be motivation enough. We also have a chance to win our 20th game, another first for our program.”
As for the intensity of practice, lets just say, this isn’t the regular season.
“It’s been a long year,” Herrion said. “Its about maintenance and execution of what we know.”
Another piece of news from the basketball program involves senior guard Matt Miller. The UNH coaching staff and athletic front office have applied for a waiver through the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility for Miller. Miller missed his entire junior season due to injury.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen with that,” Herrion said. “We are pursuing it, but we have no idea what is going to happen”
The Wildcats will travel to Newark, New Jersey on Sunday to play a 7 p.m. game on Monday night against NJIT. If the Wildcats advance they will have a week off before they play in the round of 16 on March 20 or 21. Despite sitting out two weeks, UNH leading scorer Tanner Leissner will miss Monday’s game with the same ankle injury that left him out of the America East tournament.
Despite missing Monday, Herrion isn’t going to rule Leissner out if the Wildcats are able to advance.
“I doubt very much he’ll play Monday,” Herrion said. “There is an outside shot he could go a week later, but we have to win Monday first.”