Sometimes the sequel is better than the original and, for UNH men’s basketball, that saying rings true.
On Saturday, the Wildcats faced off against UMBC in a game that had playoff-seeding implications at stake. The two teams faced off earlier in the season when UMBC came out 105-103 double-overtime winners on Jan. 29 over the Wildcats. The encore did not disappoint as the outcome was reversed and UNH won 94-90 in a double-overtime thriller.
The Wildcats were led by junior forward Tanner Leissner, who scored a team-high 30 points. He led the way for most of the game until he fouled out in the first overtime period. That is when junior forward Iba Camara stepped in.
Camara didn’t register a single point in regulation and was in foul trouble all game, which meant he spent a lot of time on the bench. But in overtime, Camara took over and finished the game with a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“[Camara] has really grown as a player and the coaches have been stressing to him consistency,” Leissner said of the Senegalese big man. “He is such a great player. He has the ability to take over a game and be a huge help to us as a team. He really stepped up at the end of the game.”
At the start of the game, nothing seemed to be going well for either team. Through the first five minutes of the game, UMBC led UNH 4-3. Then the momentum started to pick up for UMBC with 12:01 left in the first as the Retrievers led 15-8 over UNH.
However, the Wildcat offense woke up as UNH tied the game at 26 with two minutes left in the half. A late push by UMBC allowed the Retrievers to retake the lead at the end of the first half, 32-28. Momentum, however, looked to be in the Wildcats favor as Leissner erupted offensively for 18 points.
UNH continued to go to Leissner throughout the second half. It seemed to work as UNH gained the lead for the first time with 12 minutes remaining, 43-40. The two teams went back and forth until the final minutes of the game. With 1:34 left in regulation UNH led 65-57, but UMBC crawled back and forced overtime at 70-70.
In the first overtime period, the two teams continued to trade blows. However, UNH suffered a huge loss as Leissner fouled out with just 40 seconds off the clock. This is when Camara finally came to life and took over as the primary big man down low in the absence of Leissner.
UNH took a lead with 2:24 to play on a Camara layup in the lane. An emphatic block by freshman guard John Ogwuche seemed to have given UNH the energy to close the game out but UMBC’s Jairus Lyles drilled a 3-pointer to knot it up at 83 apiece with 15 seconds left to send it to double overtime.
In the second overtime, UNH retook the lead from another Camara layup. However, UMBC quickly answered back and retook the lead, again. Camara was then fouled and hit two free throws with 3:03 to go and put UNH up 88-87. The Wildcats took the lead for good on another Camara basket with 38 seconds to play, which sealed the deal for a 94-90 win.
“This game is as good of a win as we have had here in my 12 years as coach,” head coach Bill Herrion said after the victory. “To win the game in [double] overtime with the group we had on the floor is huge. The fight and the resiliency were unbelievable.”
The win secures a home game for UNH in the first round of the America East playoffs. The Wildcats will once again face the Retrievers on Wednesday, March 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Lundholm Gymnasium.