UNH men’s basketball: Martinez beginning to look like old self in win over Hartford

WILDCATS 70, HAWKS 64 (2/2)


Cameron Beall, Sports Editor

DURHAM, N.H. – The University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (9-8, 4-4) have not lost back-to-back contests since their loss to Duquesne on Dec. 11. Despite the seemingly positive connotation that comes with that feat, they also haven’t been able to put two wins together since their win over Central Connecticut State on Dec. 4. These streaks held true once again on Wednesday night when the Wildcats played host to the Hartford Hawks (5-13, 3-3). 

Wednesday’s win makes eight consecutive games in which the Wildcats have been served a different decision than the contest prior. Senior forward Jayden Martinez says the team needs to lock in more on the road to be able to string together some wins, while his head coach Bill Herrion simply said, “we play with confidence here.” New Hampshire is now sporting an 8-1 record in Durham but remain 1-7 away from their home gym. After 24 points from Martinez to go along with a strong defensive performance from the team, however, the Wildcats left Lundholm Gymnasium Wednesday with a sense of confidence that they’re beginning to figure this out. 

Hartford had no answer for New Hampshire in the opening frame as the Wildcats jumped out to an 18-point lead by halftime. Herrion noted, “[UNH’s] defense in the first half was probably [their] best 20 minutes of defense [they’ve] played in a half this year.” 

The first half dominance was highlighted by a 19-0 run by the Wildcats over a seven-minute stretch. 

Hartford made things interesting in the second half pulling the deficit to just four points with six seconds remaining. A pair of free throws from UNH sophomore Marco Foster put the game on ice and spoiled a 27-point night from Hartford junior Moses Flowers. 

Herrion noted the defensive inconsistency from his team to this point including their loss to Hartford on the road two weeks ago. That meeting in West Hartford, Conn. saw the Hawks convert shots at the third-highest rate of any New Hampshire opponent this season (52.0%). Wednesday night, however, the Wildcats held Hartford to the second-lowest field goal percentage by an opponent this season (34.4%). 

Part of New Hampshire’s strategy over the last two weeks has been an uptick in minutes for Foster who has since replaced senior center Tayler Mattos in the starting lineup. Herrion and Martinez both noted that the league was playing a lot smaller than the Wildcats had been. The insertion of another guard in the lineup with Foster has helped UNH matchup better defensively. Foster’s America East-leading 45.1% shooting from 3-point range has also helped open up New Hampshire’s offense in the half court. 

Martinez is one player in particular that seems to benefit from Foster’s increased role in the rotation. The Preseason All-Conference selection was averaging just 9.5 points per game over his first three games of the conference schedule. Since Foster has been inserted into the starting lineup four games ago, however, Martinez has jumped to an average of 15 points per game over that stretch. Herrion says the ability to play Martinez as a power forward opens a lot of looks for him as opposed to the small forward. 

After making such a big leap a season ago, Martinez has had to learn to play with a target on his back. The forward noted it’s been a bit of an adjustment for him. 

“I’ve just been trying to get used to everybody guarding me a lot harder,” said Martinez. “I’ve got a name in the league, so everybody is trying to come for me, and I’m just trying to adjust to that. As long as we win that’s all that matters to me.” 

If Martinez has begun to figure out how the league is attacking him, it could be big news for the Wildcats moving forward. In games when Martinez nets at least 15 points, UNH has a 6-2 record. Conversely, when Martinez doesn’t reach that threshold, the team sits at 2-6. 

While things seem like they could be on the up and up for New Hampshire, Herrion is concerned with how short of a bench they’ve been playing with lately. The team took a hit after graduate student Josh Hopkins and junior Sloan Seymour made the decision to leave the program. Graduate student Chris Lester and sophomore Jon Willeman were also not featured in Wednesday’s win. Sophomore K.J. McClurg and first-year guard A.J. Lopez have also not seen the floor this season as their taking redshirt seasons. After all this the Wildcats were left with a seven-man rotation against Hartford; Mattos and senior Qon Murphy were the only players featured off the bench. 

“I don’t know if we can last playing this limited a bench as we are right now,” explained Herrion. “It’s a very dangerous line.” 

The Wildcats are heading into a stretch where they’re set to play 10 games in 26 days. This will be tough for Herrion to navigate while sophomore Blondeau Tchoukuiegno, Martinez and senior Nick Guadarrama sit second, third and fourth respectively in minutes per game in the America East. 

Each game down the stretch will be important as New Hampshire is a part of a logjammed field in the conference. Vermont is leading the pack with a perfect 9-0 record in conference and an 11-game winning streak, but each spot after that is very much up for grabs.  

Following Stony Brook’s announcement that they’ll be making the switch to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), the America East has made the decision that the Seawolves will be ineligible to vie for the conference championship this season. Stony Brook currently sits second in the standings. In accordance with that decision, the Wildcats now effectively sit fifth in the conference in terms of where they’d place excluding the Seawolves.  

New Hampshire will have the opportunity to make a jump in the standings next time out in Baltimore. UMBC (10-10, 5-4) will host the Wildcats on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN3. 

Photo courtesy of Andrew Yourell