Just one season after finishing in the basement of the America East, the Wildcats took a 15-14 (8-8 AE) record into the playoffs as the fifth seed. This redemption season, however, came to an end at the hands of the UMBC Retrievers by a final of 73-67. While UNH couldn’t finish the season strong, there’s plenty of reason to believe that the Wildcats will be regarded as one of the conference favorites by next season.
Junior guard Sean Sutherlin notched his team-leading 12th double-double of the season in the quarterfinal loss. Sutherlin recorded 19 points and 13 boards to lead the team.
UNH began the game from behind as they so often did this season. A jumper from sophomore guard Keondre Kennedy put UMBC ahead by eight at the midway point in the first half. The Wildcats managed the knot the game at 26-all with about six minutes to go in the half. This came by way of a jump shot from sophomore guard Marque Maultsby who added 15 points on 3-for-6 shooting from downtown.
The ‘Cats kept it close for the remainder of the first half as they outscored UMBC 20-13 in the final 10 minutes. The Retrievers went into the locker room clutching a one-point lead.
Wildcat sophomore forward Nick Guadarrama gave his side what ended up being their biggest lead of the game just over a minute into the second half. Guadarrama knocked down a three to put UNH ahead 37-34.
Each side took their turn with the lead for the next few minutes, but with 14:51 to play, junior Brandon Horvath gave UMBC the edge and they didn’t give it up the rest of the way.
The Retrievers led by as many as 10 in the second half, but UNH couldn’t bring the deficit any closer than two points as they watched their season come to a close.
Senior Retriever K.J. Jackson paced the team with 20 points and three steals. Sophomore R.J. Rock-Eytle wasn’t far behind with 15, and Horvath finished the game at 13 points.
UNH had control of the own destiny coming off of a season-high four-game win streak heading into the regular season finale against UMass Lowell. The team was holding onto homecourt advantage for the first round of the tournament where they were 10-3 this season. The loss the UML took the season on an unexpected turn. Losing the final game put the Wildcats on the road in the quarterfinals after going 5-11 away from Lundholm in the regular season.
“You have to be playing good basketball in February and March . . . we did not play well,” head coach Bill Herrion explained following to the loss to UMass Lowell.
Herrion has made it known how fond he was of this year’s team, and the difference from last year was that they needed to “learn how to win.” The team will only be losing one player to graduation in senior Luke Rosinski, and Herrion will have the privilege to take another crack at the America East title with his strong core of sophomores and juniors.
Herrion’s 2020-2021 roster will feature seniors Mark Carbone and Chris Lester who will be returning for their final season of eligibility. The veterans averaged 7.0 and 7.7 points respectively and will provide the leadership needed for this team to make a run.
Junior Josh Hopkins and Sutherlin will be back for their senior campaigns. It’s not often a player is considered a dual threat based off their rebounding abilities, but Sutherlin is one of those rare cases. The 6-foot-5 point guard led the conference in total rebounds with 260 – 27 more than the next highest – and averaged 9.3 per game.
Sutherlin is also one of the most skilled guards in the conference at getting to the hoop and has been working to improve his outside game as well. During the first half of the season, before conference play, the junior shot 20 percent from behind the 3-point line and didn’t look comfortable taking many of those shots. In the final leg of the season he improved his shooting to 29 percent and frankly looked far more comfortable playing away from the basket.
Coach Herrion couldn’t help but grin when thinking about how dangerous Sutherlin can be if he develops a full offensive arsenal.
“The kid is a gym rat. He works extremely hard on his game, it’s not a fluke. He’s a terrific, strong, physical driver and you now have to play him hard on the perimeter.”
UNH’s trio of sophomores Jayden Martinez, Guadarrama and Maultsby will look to make another leap ahead of their junior seasons, just as they did this year. Martinez went form averaging 7.9 points in his first season to 10.6 his sophomore year. Guadarrama improved from 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds to 12.9 and 7.1. Maultsby went from 5.9 points to 8.6 points while making over double the number of threes he converted his first year.
The Wildcats look to be a serious contender for the America East crown next season with another year of experience for their talented core.