It wasn’t easy by any stretch, but the UNH men’s basketball team was able to pull out a 59-54 win at Binghamton on Saturday. The Wildcats came back from nine points down in the second half, storming back laregely on the efforts of sophomore Tanner Leissner and a couple of three-pointers from freshman Pat McNamara.
Leissner led the Wildcats with 21 points and five rebounds, while Jaleen Smith chipped in with 16 points and McNamara finished with nine. Binghamton was paced by Marlon Beck II, who finished with 16. UNH was able to keep the Bearcats’ leading scorer Willie Rodriguez in check. Rodriguez averages 14.6 points per game, the sixth most in America East. UNH’s frontcourt was able to hold him to just 10 points and five rebounds on 4-9 shooting.
“Willie Rodriguez is extremely tough to handle one-on-one,” head coach Bill Herrion said previous to Saturday’s game. “It takes a team to slow him down and our big guys are in for another challenge.”
Perhaps the best defense was not letting Rodriguez on the floor. The Wildcats were able to get him into foul trouble early, and Rodriguez eventually fouled out after just 19 minutes of play.
With the win, UNH jumps to third in America East with a 13-9 overall record and a 6-3 conference record.
“We kind of control our own destiny,” Herrion said. “The goal is to win one game at a time. Where you finish in the standings will take care of itself. We are a good team; we need to act that way every time we step on the court.”
The win puts the Wildcats’ road record to 7-6, 4-1 during conference play. Although it is early February, the regular season is only another seven games, including a few big games on the road at Vermont and Stony Brook. The Wildcats were outscored when they played Vermont and Stony Brook by a combined 146-100, including a 30-point home loss to Stony Brook. The issue has become simple: UNH isn’t catching anyone by surprise, certainly not the top teams in the league.
“We aren’t sneaking up on anyone anymore,” Herrion said. “The respect factor is high and the next step we need to take as a team is that we have to understand that every night people are coming at us. We need to be the aggressor.”
UNH’s schedule moving forward is anything but a cakewalk. Other than just travelling to Vermont and Stony Brook, the Wildcats will host second ranked Albany at home and have to go on the road to Hartford, a team that took the Wildcats to overtime in last year’s America East quarterfinal.
With the long stretch coming up, the Wildcats got some much-needed rest between games. They took on UMBC on Jan. 30 and didn’t have to play until Feb. 6. With the short break, the Wildcats were given Sunday and Monday completely off, not just for their bodies, but also for their mental state.
“We needed a break mentally,” Herrion said. “We used those days to tighten some things up and lock into scouting reports. We didn’t practice as long, which gave the guys a chance to catch their breath.”
The Wildcats will host Maine on Monday at 7 p.m. in their “You Can Play” game, where fans are encouraged to wear white. The Black Bears come in at fifth in the conference. In their meeting earlier this season in Orono, the Wildcats got the best of the Black Bears, using a 30-point night from Leissner to win 99-91. Although it seems to be an uphill climb for the Wildcats, for one of the first times all year they are healthy, and that bodes well for the team heading into the final games of the regular season.