It wasn’t pretty, but UNH was able to do enough to earn their 18th win of the season by beating UMBC 78-69.
The Wildcats were led by Jaleen Smith, who scored 23 points and had six rebounds. Daniel Dion chipped in with 20 points from the bench. UMBC was paced by Jarius Lyles who finished with 27 points.
“I think the true test of a team is when you bounce back after a loss,” head coach Bill Herrion said. “To their credit, these guys always play and they always respond.”
The Retrievers, who trailed by as much as 18 points, fought back and were down just three points with 1 minute, 30 seconds left in the game. UNH inbounded the ball to Iba Camara, who was fouled intentionally. Camara was the worst free throw shooter in the game, and one of the worst on the team at 61 percent. The Retrievers were in a good position as Camara walked slowly to the line.
“We have been really shooting the ball well from the free throw line lately,” Herrion said. “They got what they wanted, and not what I wanted, but Iba stepped up and made two.”
Despite his struggles this year, Camara knocked down both free throws, which helped the Wildcats maintain their composure and hold on for the win. The Wildcats improve to 18-10 while UMBC falls to 7-24.
“Nothing is ever easy,” Herrion said. “This team has responded after losses all year.”
After winning on Saturday, the Wildcats’ fate rested in the hands of Vermont. UVM faced off against Stony Brook later on Saturday night. Had Vermont lost, the Wildcats would have claimed the third seed for the America East playoffs. But Vermont didn’t lose. The Catamounts upset the favored Seawolves and clinched the third seed and UNH fell to the fourth seed.
The Wildcats will still host a home playoff game on Wednesday, March 2, in Lundholm Gymnasium. They’ll take on the Binghamton Bearcats, a team UNH has played and beaten twice this season. Herrion had one message for his team: Now the work begins.
“We aren’t focused on it,” Jordan said before UNH found out which team it would face. “Whoever we play, we are just going to focus on them and take this thing one game at a time.”
While Saturday’s win was big for the team, it was also Senior Day. And since Ronnel Jordan is the only senior on the roster, it was Ronnel Jordan Day.
“The experience has been crazy,” Jordan said. “I wish I had more years here. From the fans to the coaches to my teammates who are like my brothers…yeah, I’m really going to miss them.”
Jordan, who averaged 9.6 points per game during the regular season, was forced into the starting lineup this season after an NCAA appeal for a fifth year of eligibility was denied for Matt Miller. Needless to say, he filled in just fine.
“Ronnel has had a terrific senior year,” Herrion said. “He’s been a really good player for us. He’s been terrific. We are going to miss him.”
One thing Herrion and the Wildcats won’t miss is Dion’s shooting struggles. After going 0-4 at Vermont, Dion came back and showed that he still is the shooter fans remember.
“It’s a good feeling,” Dion said. “I’ve been struggling lately to find my three-point shot but all credit to my teammates for finding me.”
The Wildcats’ focus now will be to prepare for the Binghamton game on Wednesday night. The game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.