By SAM DONNELLY
The UNH men’s basketball team began its season with an 82-45 thumping of Division III Lyndon State on Friday night. Sophomores Tanner Leissner and Iba Camara combined for 36 points and 30 rebounds, while junior Jaleen Smith was two rebounds away from a triple double, ending with 11 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.
“We did what we needed to do,” head coach Bill Herrion said. “I thought we played very well, I was proud of the way they played.”
The Wildcats were short-handed on opening night and could be for a while. Joe Bramanti and Daniel Dion are currently suspended for three games for violating team policy, while Jacoby Armstong was held out after sustaining a concussion in one of the Wildcat’s closed scrimmages. This forced Camara and Keon Burns into the starting lineup, a role neither of them were used to.
“It fun getting out there and playing more minutes,” Burns said. “I was glad to get out there and do some good things.”
Burns and Camara came out and asserted themselves right from the get-go. Burns hit an early three to put the Wildcats up 12-5, Camara followed up by scoring 12 first half points and grabbing an astounding 19 rebounds. The Wildcats outrebounded Lyndon State 54-25 in the first half and shot 55 percent from the field. At the end of the first half the score was 51-23.
The Wildcats defense was a strength as well, holding the Hornets to just 22 percent from the field and 18 percent from beyond the arc.
“We build everything on our defense,” Herrion said. “I thought our defense was terrific. I think we can be a great rebounding team as well.”
The second half was more of the same. Leissner and Camara dominated inside and the Wildcats were suffocating on defense. Leissner scored 14 points in the half and Wildcats held their lead and cruised to a 37-point victory to improve to 1-0, while Lyndon State falls to 0-1.
With so many players out of the lineup, the three true freshmen got plenty of chances to play, and they contributed. Pat McNamara, Andrew Dotson and David Watkins played a combined 60 minutes. McNamara, who is a three-point specialist, led the freshman with 11 points. Dotson and Watkins scored six points each and Watkins grabbed seven rebounds.
“This was a great game to get their feet wet,” Herrion said. “They played really well.”
McNamara could play a big role this season, especially because of the loss of Matt Miller, who hit 63 three-pointers a year ago. McNamara knocked down three 3-pointers last night, and Herrion has made it clear that the Wildcats need another shooter.
“Pat has shot the ball really well in our two closed scrimmages,” Herrion said. “We need another shooter this year. Our inside-out game and having the ability to make threes coming out of the post is going to be very important.”
The Wildcats now travel to play college basketball powerhouse and No. 20-ranked Connecticut. Although UConn won a national championship two years ago and competes for one every year, the Wildcats won’t be intimidated.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Herrion said. “These are the games our guys should want to play in. If we are every going to get to the NCAA tournament in March, we are going to play a UConn.”
Two years ago the Wildcats went to UConn and the outcome of the game was far from a blow out. UNH had a chance to win, holding a lead late in the second half before losing 53-51.
UNH is still unsure whether it will have Armstrong for the game. He will have to pass a concussion test, which he will take on Monday. The Wildcats are already without Bramanti and Dion for at least the next two games.
Unlike Lyndon State, whose tallest player was listed at 6-foot-4-inches, the Huskies have two players standing at 6-feet-10-inches, and Amida Brimah who stands even taller at 7-feet. This will be a serious test for the sophomore tandem of Leissner and Camara.
“I have been looking at some video tape,” Camara said. “[Brimah] goes for ball fakes so coach will tell us what we have to do.”
“We need to use our pump fakes and go up strong,” Leissner said. “It’s definitely going to be a big change, but we are ready for anything that comes our way.”
The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be on ESPN 3.