The last time the UNH men’s basketball team played at home, there was a serious lid on the rim. The Wildcats shot a measly 23 percent. As the Wildcats returned home to take on Maine, the hope was that someone on the Lundholm Gymnasium staff had removed the lid, and it seems they certainly did; UNH shot 52 percent to take down the Maine Black Bears 88-75.
“At this time of the year every win is a great win,” head coach Bill Herrion said. “You don’t sit and analyze them, you just try and win and get out. It’s time to move on to the next one.”
The Wildcats got 25 points, 20 in the second half, and 11 rebounds from senior Ronnel Jordan. Tanner Leissner racked up 26 points and nine rebounds, while Jaleen Smith chipped in with 12 points and six rebounds despite foul trouble. Together those three players accounted for 65 percent of the Wildcats’ 88 points.
“I definitely had an attack mindset with Jaleen out,” Jordan said. “We needed the offense. I was trying to do whatever for my team and I was trying to win.”
The Black Bears were paced by Kevin Little who had 23 points. Shaun Lawton chipped in with 19.
With the win, the Wildcats improve to 14-9, with a 7-3 conference record. The Black Bears slip to 8-16 and 4-7 in conference. The Wildcats not only improved their hold on third place in the standings with a win, but Vermont, who had beaten the Wildcats earlier this season, has now lost two in a row and falls to fourth in the standings.
As the game began, it was clear to see that the Wildcats’ goal was to run and attack in transition, something that fits Jordan perfectly.
“It plays into my game,” Jordan said. “I’m more of a transition slasher, so I took advantage of their opportunity.”
UNH was also focused on shooting better than the last home game, making five of its first six shots. The Wildcats jumped quickly to a 9-2 lead, but the Black Bears fought back. This would become a theme of the game. With 4 minutes left in the first half, the Black Bears grabbed their first lead, at 30-28, off of an Aaron Clalixte jumper. The Wildcats fought back to close the half 43-38 off of two big three-pointers from Leissner and Joe Bramanti.
The second half was the Ronnel Jordan show, accompanied by Leissner. Both players combined for 30 points and 11 rebounds in just the second half. The Wildcats scored 22 points in the paint and got 12 second chance points off of offensive rebounds. Leissner had four of offensive boards in the game and three huge ones in the second half.
“Tanner is just a horse,” Herrion said. “I couldn’t take him out of the game. He does a ton of great things for us.”
The Wildcats used a 13-6 run to close the game and grab the 88-75 victory.
Leissner, the focus of the Maine defense, was getting grabbed and bumped and pushed. That was a physicality he couldn’t handle last season when he was just freshman. This season, Leissner has prepared his body for the punishment.
“I’m able to compete and play better physically this year,” Leissner said. “I watched the film from last year’s games.”
Next up for the Wildcats is second-ranked Albany. In the teams’ past four meetings dating back to last year, the Wildcats have gone 0-4 and lost by a combined total of ten points. This season, UNH took the Great Danes to overtime before eventually falling 80-75. What is the difference this time? The Wildcats are now in the comfort of home.
“I definitely feel like, as a team, we can compete with them,” Jordan said. “We feel like we let one go when we played them earlier. We weren’t all clicking and that’s what makes us dangerous because we still aren’t all clicking. It will be a good game though.”
“We just need to prepare mentally,” Leissner said. “They beat us four times all by just a few points so we know we can play with them.”
The Wildcats will be without starter Jacoby Armstrong for a second game. Armstrong is currently serving a suspension for violating team policy. Without Armstrong in the lineup, the Wildcats will look to Iba Camara and freshman David Watkins to step in and carry the load.
The Wildcats will host Albany on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Lundholm Gymnasium. The game will be broadcast on ESPN 3.