By Sam Donnelly, Staff Writer
UNH’s season came to a close on Monday, March 16, when the Wildcats fell to NJIT 84-77 in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Sophomore guard Jaleen Smith led the Wildcats with 17 points and three assists. Daniel Dion and Matt Miller chipped in with 12 points each. Damon Lynn led the Highlanders with 25 points, including a game-high six 3-pointers.
The Wildcats opened up the game with a 10-0 run sparked by Smith and Miller. The Wildcats held to lead the entire half with nine-point efforts from Dion and Jacoby Armstrong. UNH pushed its lead to five, at 37-32, on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Ronnel Jordan.
The Highlanders came out strong in the second half with a 10-4 run and took the lead at 43-41 off a lay up by Lynn. The game was back and forth the entire second half, neither team able to pull away. UNH fought back and took a five-point lead, 52-47, off two free throws by Smith, but the Highlanders took advantage from there. Lynn and Ky Howard sparked a 14-2 run that put the Highlanders up 60-52. NJIT made its free throws down the stretch and held off the Wildcats to grab the win 84-77.
The Wildcats finish a historic season with a 19-13 record, which ties the most wins in program history. NJIT advanced to the next round of the CIT and improves to 19-11. NJIT will take on Cleveland State on March 23.
Despite the end of the season, good news kept coming. Head coach Bill Herrion was nominated for the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award, which is given to a Division I college basketball coach who not only excels on the court, but also displays moral integrity off the court. Herrion was nominated with 15 other coaches with names like Tony Bennett of No. 6 Virginia and Mike Brey of No. 8 Notre Dame. The recipient of the award will be announced at the CollegeInsiders.com Awards banquet on April 3. The banquet will be in Indianapolis.
Although Matt Miller is a senior, the loss to NJIT might not be his last game. The UNH athletic department is appealing to the NCAA to give Miller a sixth year of eligibility. Miller missed his junior season with an ACL injury after transferring from Division II Seton Hill University. UNH and the coaches currently has no idea where the NCAA is in the process.
In the off-season, the Wildcats will finally have a chance to get healthy. Freshman standout Tanner Leissner will rest his ankle after severely spraining it in practice prior to the start of the America East tournament. His X-Rays came back negative and won’t require surgery. Sophomore guard Joe Bramanti had his knee operated on Tuesday to help repair some cartilage damage. The recovery time is five months and he is expected to be ready for next season.
Although the Wildcats might lose Miller and will definitely lose the leadership of Tommy McDonnell, the future is bright. Four of the Wildcats top-five scorers are underclassmen and will be returning next season. The Wildcats could potentially have their entire starting five back next season. So although this season is over, the Wildcats are built for success in the future.