Sometimes, the difference between a win and a loss is a foul and three missed free throws. That is what the UNH men’s basketball team learned on Saturday.
The Wildcats squared off against the Holy Cross Crusaders and squeaked out a three-point comeback victory 56-53. Despite trailing the Crusaders 31-24 at halftime, the ‘Cats generated a comeback and with 44 seconds left in the game, Tanner Leissner hit a crucial 3-pointer to give the Wildcats the lead.
“It felt great. It was late in the game and I had been struggling all game. It was good down the stretch to finally see some layups go in,” Leissner said on the go-ahead basket. “Jaleen [Smith] fed me a great pass and it was great to see that basket go in.”
With 2.1 seconds remaining, senior guard Daniel Dion fouled Crusaders’ Malachi Alexander behind the three-point line giving Alexander a chance to tie the game at 56 apiece and force overtime. However, Alexander missed all three thus sealing the victory for UNH.
It was a great day for Dion as he finished with a game-high and season-high 18 points, 12 of which came from behind the arc. He also finished with five rebounds and two assists. Junior forward Iba Camara proved to be a very reliable defender and rebounder as he swatted two blocks and grabbed 14 rebounds. He also finished with eight points, two shy of getting a double-double. As for the game itself, it looked like UNH was in for a tough day at the office.
Holy Cross began the game on a 7-0 run, forcing UNH to commit four turnovers on its first six possessions. Six minutes into the game, UNH finally got on the board with a Dion 3-pointer. From then on, UNH seemed to be in a scoring funk on the floor as shot after shot took bad bounces, thus preventing UNH from gaining any type of scoring momentum.
Holy Cross kept the pedal to the floor as they caught fire to push the lead and prevent UNH from coming back. By halftime, UNH was down 31-24.
“I apologized to the team in the locker room. It was my idea to start the game in a zone,” coach Bill Herrion said of what was the cause for the first half struggles. “I thought I had the big, grandioso idea but it clearly backfired. That’s on me. Once we went back to man defense, that changed everything.”
The second half opened very much like the first, as the Wildcats struggled early from the field. But it was Camara that sparked the comeback as his stretch of three consecutive inside layups cut the Crusader lead to three. Then, with six minutes left, Leissner tied the game at 44 apiece.
Just a few possessions later, Dion nailed a corner three to give the ‘Cats their first lead of the game. Leissner finished a layup with the foul to put UNH up seven, but another Holy Cross 7-0 run tied the game at 51 with two minutes remaining.
With 45 seconds left to play, Leissner hit the 3-pointer to put the Wildcats up again. Holy Cross’ Karl Charles finished a layup with 15.8 to play to make it a 54-53 game, but a Crusader foul put Dion at the line to extend the lead to three. That proved to be enough as the Wildcats won the game 56-53.
The win improves the ‘Cats’ record to 5-3 for the season. UNH will travel to Washington D.C. for their next game as they will face American University on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m.