UNH men’s basketball: No. 3 Wildcats draw No. 6 Binghamton in AE Quarterfinals


Cameron Beall, Sports Editor

DURHAM, N.H – The University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (15-12, 10-8) have the UMass Lowell (UML) River Hawks (15-15, 7-11) to thank for their No. 3 seed heading into the America East (AE) Playoffs. After discarding the River Hawks in what was one of the Wildcats’ best offensive outputs on the season, Lowell went the extra mile to ensure New Hampshire had the upper hand this Sunday in the quarterfinals.

With Tuesday’s win at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, the Wildcats locked up a home game for the first round of the playoffs. The question remained, however, if New Hampshire would end as the No. 3 or No. 4 seed. UML and the Hartford Hawks were tasked with making this decision in the conference’s regular season finale on Thursday. The River Hawks went on the road and took care of business in West Hartford to solidify the landscape of the America East. Here’s how things shook out:

No. 8 NJIT (11-17, 6-12) @ No. 1 Vermont (25-5, 17-1)

No. 7 UMass Lowell (15-15, 7-11) @ No. 2 UMBC (16-13, 11-7)

No. 6 Binghamton (11-16, 8-10) @ No. 3 New Hampshire (15-12, 10-8)

No 5. Hartford (11-19, 9-9) @ No. 4 UAlbany (13-17, 9-9)

The Wildcats are entering the playoffs as winners of five of their last seven games and riding a three-game winning streak for the first time since early December. Resilient is a word that head coach Bill Herrion has used to describe his team all season. He’s standing by that as he’s looking to make it out of the quarterfinals for the first time since 2017. To start the season Herrion said the biggest challenge ahead of his team would be learning to play with a target on their back; little did he know what else this season had in store for the Wildcats.

UNH had a three-week layoff before their conference schedule got underway, saw two players leave the program, and didn’t win (or lose) back-to-back games for 13 straight contests. Resiliency may not even cover all the ground the Wildcats had to make up this season.

“I’m proud of them, I really am,” said Herrion regarding the stop-and-go nature of this season. “I think these guys deserve a lot of credit for going through that stretch and I think we’ve come out of it okay.”

New Hampshire is playing their best basketball of the season at just the right time. Herrion mentioned at points this season there was more to be desired from his side on the defensive end of the floor but does not believe that to be the case anymore. He also feels his team is talented enough to overcome playing with one of the most limited rotations in the league.

“I think sometimes when your bench gets a little bit shorter – on purpose or not – you get more set in your rotations and I think that’s what happened with this team,” explained Herrion. “What separates this team from teams we’ve had in past years is that we’ve got a lot of options offensively. We’ve got a lot of depth in terms of players with the ability to score.”

No matter which opponent New Hampshire drew on Sunday Herrion explained that it was going to be a tough matchup. On paper, however, the Binghamton Bearcats are one of the more favorable ones for the Wildcats. Binghamton is one of just two teams (UMass Lowell) to be swept by UNH this season.

The key for New Hampshire defensively in the quarterfinals will be slowing down junior Jacob Falko. The guard was recently named to the All-Conference First Team after missing the previous two games with an ankle injury. Falko is expected to return and bring his 10th-best field goal percentage to Lundholm with him. He leads the Bearcats shooting 45.9% from the field.

The magic number for New Hampshire will be keeping Binghamton as a team below the 45% threshold. UNH is 12-1 this season when keeping opponents under 40% and 14-3 when opponents are under 45%. If the visitors can creep up past that mark, however, things could get messy for the Wildcats. New Hampshire is 1-9 when they allow opponents to shoot over 45% from the field.

While the Bearcats will be represented by one All-Conference member, the Wildcats will welcome two to the floor Sunday. Seniors Jayden Martinez and Nick Guadarrama were each selected to the All-Conference Second Team on Saturday. One player left off the list, however, was sophomore point guard Blondeau Tchoukuiengo.

“If you were to ask me, I consider Blondeau [Tchoukuiegno] one of the best point guards in this league, if not the best,” said Herrion on Tchoukuiegno being left off the All-Conference selections. “I would not trade him for anybody. We would not be in the position that we’re in right now if that kid hadn’t made the major jump in his game that he had.”

Herrion expects this one to be close and the numbers agree with him. UNH is outscoring Binghamton by just 6.5 points on average this season. The ball will go up at 1 p.m. from Lundholm Gymnasium on Sunday as New Hampshire looks to win their fourth-straight game for the first time all season. Each game of the quarterfinal round will be aired on ESPN+.

Photo courtesy of China Wong