Like the Wildcats’ season itself, the games played on Wednesday and Saturday marked an inconsistent pattern of feel-good highs and devastating lows.
On Wednesday Jan. 25, the Wildcats squared off against America East foe the University of Massachusetts Lowell River Hawks where UNH beat UMass 80-71. This was UNH’s third straight victory since its 71-59 loss at the hands of the University of Vermont on Jan. 16.
UNH’s next game would come on Saturday, Jan. 28. UNH failed to keep the win streak alive as they lost to UMBC 105-103 in a double overtime heartbreaker for the Wildcats.
With the inconsistency as a team, the one steady factor for the Wildcats that they could lean on is that of the play from Tanner Leissner.
The key to the Wildcats victory on Wednesday was their staggering numbers at the free-throw line. The ‘Cats sunk 25-30 free throws which dwarfed Lowell’s three of nine total. The player that led the way for UNH was junior forward Leissner, who tied for a game and team-high 24 points, with half coming from the foul line after going a perfect 12-12.
That would prove crucial as the overall stat sheet for both UNH and UMass Lowell were near even across the board in almost every single important team stat. Both the Wildcats and River Hawks shot above 50 percent from the field, making 51.7 percent and 54.5 percent of their shots, respectively.
The teams were almost even in the rebounding and three-point categories with UNH grabbing 28 rebounds and shooting 35.3 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, the River Hawks grabbed 29 rebounds and shot 41.2 percent from three.
“We always struggled to put the ball in the basket here. I think we are shooting high percentages because we have an inside game now,” head coach Bill Herrion said about his team’s great shooting night. “[Leissner] and Iba [Camara] go 12-15 combined and Jaleen [Smith] gets a lot of layups. On top of that, we are getting the right people fouled. We are just playing great offensive basketball.”
Added with the stellar shooting night, UNH pulled away with good defensive rotation and stifling defense from junior forward Camara, who finished one point shy of a double-double with nine points and 12 rebounds.
“Having [Camara] play better is great. He is such a great player and if he can stay out of foul trouble and keep being a go-to player in the post, it’ll make everybody’s life easier,” Leissner said of Camara’s impact on the team in the second half. “Having that next person step up, especially us, it’ll be great for us especially in conference play.”
Added with Camara’s play and free throws, UNH led 75-64 with 2:13 left in the game for the largest lead of the game. It proved to be enough as the game finished with an 80-71 victory for the Wildcats. However, events would be different when the team traveled to Baltimore to face UMBC.
Even though Leissner set a career high in points with 36 and Camara notched his sixth double-double of the season with a 23 point, 14 rebound performance, the Wildcats still lost.
On two occasions, the Wildcats looked like they had the win in hand but the Retrievers pulled off some late-game heroics to get the win.
UMBC sent the game into the first overtime on Jairus Lyles’ layup with 20 seconds left in regulation. Toward the end of the first overtime, the Wildcats led 92-89 after two Leissner free throws, but UMBC’s Will Darley hit a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into a second overtime. Then in the second overtime, UNH again had the lead as they built a 99-94 lead with 2:49 left, but the Retrievers went on an 11-4 run to end the game thus sealing the loss for the Wildcats.
UNH’s season record now stands at 14-8 and 5-3 in America East, which puts them tied for third with UMBC. The ‘Cats will stay on the road next as they face Stony Brook on Wednesday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m.