DURHAM, N.H. – University of New Hampshire men’s basketball (9-8, 8-6) played in their seventh consecutive weekend and split their third straight series after going 1-1 against the UMass Lowell Riverhawks (7-9, 6-6). Fatigue has appeared to set in for the Wildcats as they let game one slip away by a final of 74-69. The team was able to salvage the weekend, however, by pulling ahead late on Saturday afternoon to win 74-63.
The Wildcats punched UML in the mouth early as junior forward Jayden Martinez continued his dominance to get his side ahead in the opening minutes of Friday’s affair. With about eight minutes to play in the opening half the Riverhawks began to gain momentum and climb back into the game; they went on a 17-0 run to eventually take a two-point lead heading into halftime.
UMass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette commented postgame about how UNH will punish opponents early if they don’t come ready to play.
“We were lucky that we were able to come back from that,” said Duquette. “They were more ready to play than we were.”
The Wildcats struggled to find their touch from that point on as the Riverhawks were able to keep Bill Herrion’s squad in check even without their best player, senior guard Obadiah Noel. Noel, who is the likely frontrunner for America East Player of the Year, was scratched from the lineup less than an hour before tip-off.
UNH tried to rally back into the game late but came up short in the first game of the back-to-back.
Martinez once again led for the Wildcats with 19 points and five rebounds. Redshirt first-year guard Nick Johnson along with juniors Qon Murphy and Nick Guadarrama also scored in double figures.
In the second game of the weekend series, it was UML who took the early lead. The Riverhawks pulled ahead by as many as eight before UNH took their first lead with seven minutes to play in the first half.
The two sides volleyed with the lead until the end of the half. After a few late baskets the score was knotted at 31 points apiece as each team went into the locker room. The Wildcats were lucky to be tied at that point after shooting 34% from the field in that half and 27% from behind the arc. An increased defensive effort helped UNH after Herrion noted that he wasn’t thrilled with their defense the day prior.
The Wildcats were clutching to a narrow lead for much of the second half and slowly began to increase their margin as the afternoon progressed. They got the lead up to 10 with just under five minutes to go and won by an eventual 11 points.
Martinez hit the dagger from the right corner to put his side ahead by 9 and end any hope of a comeback from the Riverhawks. He paced the Wildcats once again with 22 points and nine boards. The junior has been one of the hottest players in the conference over the last few weekends and Herrion is recognizing how much of a weapon he can be.
“He’s made an unbelievable jump from his sophomore to his junior year. His game has really exploded. The problem now is that you have to play him and Nick Guadarrama basically the whole game,” said Herrion after Friday’s loss.
Herrion continued his praise after Saturday’s victory, noting that he thinks Martinez has become a true star for the team at this point.
The Wildcats have also had a pair of redshirt first-year players in Blondeau Tchoukuiengo and Johnson emerge as the season has progressed. The tandem has combined for six America East Rookie of the Weeks with Tchoukuiengo coming away with the crown a week ago. This weekend Tchoukuiengo averaged 10.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists. Johnson averaged 14 points, four rebounds and 1.5 assists. These two look like the may be competing once again for their seventh Rookie of the Week honor.
Herrion made note postgame how good Johnson is scoring inside the three-point line, as well as highlighting Tchoukuiengo assist numbers from the weekend. Tchoukuiengo has given the team a lift defensively as well since being named the starting point guard.
Getting down into the final stretch of the season, Herrion explained how the one thing this team needs right now is a little rest. He says that his team is healthy, but they need to gain more depth and a weekend off would certainly help.
The Wildcats will have to wait and find out if they’ll be granted a weekend off as the America East is yet to announce UNH’s next batch of opponents.
Photo courtesy of Ben Humphreys