By SAM DONNELLY
The Wildcats needed a bounce-back game. They got it.
After suffering an 18-point defeat at home against American University, the UNH men’s basketball team used a 14-3 run late in the second half to defeat Bryant University 75-67. The win snaps the Wildcats three-game losing streak against the Bulldogs and improves their record to 4-2 to begin the season.
“What I’m most proud of from tonight’s win is the way these kids responded off of a tough loss Saturday where we did not play well,” head coach Bill Herrion said. “We are 4-2 right now. We’ve played one bad half of basketball through six games. I’m proud of the kids and we’re going to take the win.”
Junior captain Jaleen Smith scored a career-high 23 points. Senior Ronnel Jordan also chipped in, with 13 points and six rebounds. Smith and Jordan combined for 25 of the Wildcats 39 second-half points, 16 for Smith and nine for Jordan.
“I knew I was struggling in the first half,” Smith said. “I just wanted to get going really fast in the second half. So I just got aggressive.”
The game was back and forth the whole way. Early in the first half the Wildcats relied on their defense and caused seven first-half turnovers. On the flip side, the Wildcats struggled taking care of the ball themselves, turning it over six times, which Bryant turned into eight points. Sophomore forward Iba Camara led the Wildcats with eight points and eight rebounds in the first half, while the Bulldogs were paced by Bosko Kostur, who scored nine points and grabbed three rebounds. The game was close and within just the first half there were 11 lead changes.
“The zone had us a little out of sorts to start the game,” Herrion said. “We just looked a little tentative, the pace of the game was a little too slow. We had a good stretch and went to the locker room up one at the half.”
In the second half, the offenses began to score and the teams began trading off runs. The Wildcats opened the half with a 6-2 run, then the Bulldogs responded with their own 10-2 run to take the lead at 47-44. The Bulldogs bolstered their lead to seven off a layup by Marcel Pettway with just under 9 minutes to play. Then the Wildcats locked down on defense. Bryant could only muster 2 points in a 5-minute stretch and that was enough for the Wildcats to grab a 75-67 win.
“It was getting to a danger time,” Herrion said. “Then we had a good spurt on offense while our defense was very very good. We’re a good team. We are going to be good down the road but we aren’t there yet.”
With the win, the Wildcats will now focus on their road trip down to the state of Texas, where they will play two games against Abilene Christian University and nationally-ranked Southern Methodist University. From an outside perspective, these look like two more games on the Wildcats schedule, but when you look closely, you see who these games are really for.
“This trip is for the kids from Texas,” Herrion said. “It’s our reward to them, to bring them home so their family and friends can see them live. I’m really excited for the kids from Texas to go home and see their families.”
On the UNH roster, you won’t find players from New Hampshire. You won’t even find many players from New England. There are seven players on this team that hail from Texas.
Why Texas you ask? The story goes something like this. A few years back, Hartford’s men’s basketball had two kids from Texas on their team. Herrion liked how they played and asked Hartford coach John Gallagher how he got them to come up north. His response: the state is too big, nobody goes down to recruit. Herrion took that message and now he and his coaching staff travel down to Texas for AAU tournaments twice a year. The result: four starters in the lineup from Texas.
“I’m not going to lie to you, they’ve really kind of saved our program,” Herrion said. “I look at the guys we have from Texas and they’re all good players, they’re all well coached, they all know how to play. I give them a lot of credit to come all the way here and endure the winters here.”
UNH hasn’t traveled to Texas in over 10 years, and the Texas players could not be more excited.
“I got a lot of family coming,” Smith said. “I’m just excited for them. It’ll be awesome to see my friends and family for a little bit and they get too see me play so that’s going to be nice.”
“We’re real excited,” Jordan said. “We’ve been looking forward to going home, not just to be back in Texas, but to play in front of our family and friends.”
As for the starting lineup plans against Abilene Christian, things are going to be a little different. If Tanner Leissner is able to overcome the concussion he sustained a week ago, then Herrion plans on starting five players from Texas. Five guys from Texas, starting for UNH, in Texas.
“That would be great,” Smith said. “To have five guys from Texas playing in Texas…that would be fun.”
The Wildcats take on Abilene Christian on Thursday at 8 p.m. and two days later take on SMU at 1:30 p.m. That game can be watched on ESPN3.
UNH rights ship before Texas trip
By SAM DONNELLY