Playoff implications, senior day, career milestones and the Wildcats looking to extend their longest winning streak of the season were all at play this past Saturday. The men’s basketball team had Lundholm buzzing in their second to last game of the regular season slate.
The 14-13 Wildcats sat in fourth place in the America East which positioned them in a spot to host a first-round playoff game ahead of their matchup with the 10-18 Binghamton Bearcats. Although UNH won’t be able to jump Hartford for the No. 3 slot, just one game separated them with seventh seeded UMass Lowell, so there was serious pressure on the ‘Cats.
The Wildcats rostered three seniors this season and they honored two of them ahead of the game. Of the three, they will only be losing one. Mark Carbone, Chris Lester, and Luke Rosinski are each finishing up their fourth collegiate season, but Carbone had already made the decision to return to Durham for his final year of eligibility, so Lester and Rosinski were honored in front of 1,444 prior to tip-off.
While it seemed like the team was unsure if Lester would return for his final season next winter, he cleared up any confusion in the post-game press conference.
“This is probably not my last senior day I’ve still got some eligibility left and I’ll be coming back…I’ve been here for a long time and you want to keep winning for the people before you and the people after you,” Lester said. “This has definitely been my home away from home and they just make me feel like another family member.”
The final honor of the pregame was for head coach Bill Herrion who became the winningest head coach in UNH history with a win over UMaine in their previous game. Herrion’s 186th win put him past former Wildcat coach Gerry Friel. Herrion wasn’t too interested in talking about the accomplishment, however. He was focused on getting his team into the playoffs.
“There’s a lot of losses in there too,” said Herrion. “After you go through a five-win season last year you have no idea what’s going to happen the next year. Five wins is almost rock bottom. I’m just happy all these guys are enjoying winning.”
The Wildcats once again struggled to find the bottom of the net early in the game, but their defense kept the score tight until they found their stride. UNH recorded three steals and forced four turnovers in the first 11 minutes of the game and managed to take a one-point lead with just over nine minutes to play in the half.
The UNH offense came alive in the final nine minutes in the first half. After trailing by six early in the game the ‘Cats took a 15-point lead with 3:52 remaining in the half thanks to five straight buckets from sophomore guard Marque Maultsby; two of the five baskets came from behind the arc.
Maultsby torched the Bearcat defense in the first half. Binghamton didn’t have an answer for the 6-foot-3 guard as he put up 16 points in 16 minutes on 6 of 10 shooting. Maultsby sparked a 22-4 run to end the half for UNH. Herrion took his team into the locker room with a comfortable 40-22 lead.
Both sides were ready to score at the start of the final 20 minutes. Binghamton managed to bring the deficit within 14, but back-to-back three pointers from junior Josh Hopkins extended the Wildcat lead back up to 20.
Hopkins shot 5-for-8 from three, coming just one shy of tying the season record he set back against Quinnipiac when he sunk six. The junior added 16 points and five rebounds.
UNH piled it on from that point on as Hopkins, Carbone, and sophomore forward Jayden Martinez joined the party from behind the 3-point line. Herrion and the ‘Cats took a 26-point advantage into the final 7:56 of senior day.
Coming out of a media timeout, Carbone nearly blew the roof off Lundholm with an and-one triple from three feet behind the arc. The point guard had the crowd at attention as he pushed the lead to 31.
The Wildcats took their foot off the gas in the final few minutes of play, but still hung on to a 19-point lead to win by a final of 89-70.
Sophomore guard Sam Sessoms was the only Bearcat that could consistently find the bottom of the net. Sessoms was the only one to eclipse double digits for his squad tallying 38 points. A handful of threes from the sophomore kept the game close for as long as he could in the first half.
UNH junior guard Sean Sutherlin led the way with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Sutherlin has also shot 4-for-6 from deep during this four-game win streak. The 3-point shot is something the guard has struggled with all season, but Herrion has been diligent in noting how much he’s been working to expand his game. If Sutherlin develops a legit jump shot, the America East could be in for a rude awakening by next fall.
“I think that is just helps our whole team,” said Sutherlin regarding his outside game. “I think that my teammates and my coaches just give me so much confidence to keep shooting.”
Maultsby sparked the offense in the first half with 16 points but only managed one point in the final 20 minutes and ended his afternoon with 17 points and six boards.
“My role right now is just be a floor general,” Maultsby said. He highlighted how his stat line doesn’t mean much to him as long as the team is producing.
Riding a four-game win streak, Sutherlin didn’t have too much to say when asked about the mood of the team.
“We’re feeling confident.”