LOWELL, MA – University of New Hampshire (UNH) men’s basketball (10-8, 9-6) locked up the No. 3 seed in the America East Tournament with a win over UMass Lowell (8-11, 7-8) in their regular season finale. UNH was able to squeak out a two-point win in the final seconds against the same team that stole home court advantage from the Wildcats a season ago in the final game. The team has now secured a first-round bye and will host a playoff pod in Durham with No. 6 UMass Lowell and No. 7 Stony Brook (9-13, 7-9).
The Wildcats were playing from behind for the majority of the first half as the Riverhawks were able to keep UNH at arm’s length for the first 15 minutes of Saturday’s contest. It wasn’t until 4:35 remained in the first half when the Wildcats were able to tie the game for the first time. This came by way of a layup from redshirt first-year guard Blondeau Tchoukuiengo.
Both sides proceeded to go scoreless for the next three minutes. Junior big man Tayler Mattos put UNH ahead for the first time with just over a minute to go in the half. The Wildcats found themselves ahead by a score of 29-27 after the first half.
Coming out of the locker room UML hit the first shot of the half and the narrow margin swung back in their favor. The momentum swing came by way of a three-pointer from sophomore guard Kalil Thomas. Thomas ended the afternoon with 12 points and four rebounds.
Just as he did in the first half, Tchoukuiengo helped give the Wildcats an edge with about 10 minutes to play with a three-pointer of his own; the three-ball put UNH ahead 46-45.
The sides volleyed with the lead for the next few minutes until yet another three from Tchoukuiengo gave UNH the edge the rest of the way. The Wildcats never gave up the lead in the final six minutes en route to the 69-67 victory.
Tchoukuiengo appears to be getting hot at just the right time as he put up his best stat line of the season in the finale. The Montreal product recorded a career-high 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 3-for-4 from deep and 4-for-4 from the foul line. He added two rebounds and four assists in the win.
The guard’s performance paved the way to his fourth America East Rookie of the Week honor of the season. This matches fellow redshirt first-year guard Nick Johnson who also has four under his belt. Between these two, the Wildcats have tallied eight of the 11 possible Rookie of the Week honors this season.
Also scoring double figures for UNH was Johnson and junior forward Nick Guadarrama with 13 points each. Junior transfer student Qon Murphy added 10 points.
UNH’s conference record of 9-6 trailed only No. 1 UMBC (14-5, 10-4) and No. 2 Vermont (10-4, 10-4) in the America East standings. The Durham playoff pod will take place in Lundholm Gymnasium the weekend of Feb. 27. No. 6 UML will face No. 7 Stony Brook on Saturday at 1 p.m. The winner will have a quick turnaround as they’ll face the Wildcats the following afternoon at 1 p.m.
The No. 4 Hartford (11-8, 8-6) pod will include No. 9 Binghamton (4-13, 4-10), No. 5 UAlbany (6-8, 6-6) and No. 8 NJIT (7-11, 6-10). UMaine was the only school not to make the tournament due to only playing eight America East matchups.
No. 1 UMBC and No. 2 Vermont will be off until the semifinal round where they will take on the remaining two schools.
After losing out on home court advantage a season ago, UNH had to travel to UMBC in the first round where they lost by a final of 73-67.
Photo courtesy of UNH Athletics.