UNH men’s basketball: No. 3 Wildcats’ defense and free throws to blame for quarterfinal-loss to No. 6 Binghamton



Cameron Beall, Sports Editor

DURHAM, N.H. – Despite the addition of 21 points from Binghamton junior and First Team All-Conference selection Jacob Falko, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (15-13, 10-8) are blaming themselves for their quarterfinal loss to the Binghamton Bearcats (12-16, 8-10).  

“We had a good game plan,” said UNH sophomore Blondeau Tchoukuiegno. “We were ready for everything they came at us with. We just didn’t get it done.” 

When the Wildcats welcomed the Bearcats into Durham on Feb. 26, Binghamton was without Falko who had been fighting an ankle injury. 

“Falko was a good addition for what they had before, but I don’t think they really surprised us,” senior forward Jayden Martinez explained. “We beat ourselves with the [missed] free throws.” 

New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion is pointing to two things in particular for what led to his team’s demise in the quarterfinals for the third straight season: defense and free throw shooting. The Wildcats only converted 10-of-22 attempts from the foul line in what was a one-possession game for much of the afternoon – their second-worst mark of the season and third game shooting under 50% at the line. 

Just days after saying he felt like New Hampshire’s defense was finally starting to come around, Herrion’s team also left a lot to be desired on that end of the floor on Sunday afternoon.  

“Our defense was not good enough today to win this game,” Herrion said bluntly. “It was not good enough. That’s been an Achilles heel of ours off and on this year. This has not been as consistent of a defensive team as we’ve had here in the past. We’ve always been able to hang our hat on that, but it’s been very inconsistent.” 

“You’ve got to do a lot of things right at this time of the year,” Herrion continued. 

New Hampshire and the Bearcats traded leads for much of the afternoon. Binghamton’s aggressiveness and athleticism kept pace with the Wildcats’ talent. Herrion did note that 3-point shooting from Falko was not something they accounted for in their scouting report. Falko, just a 27.1% shooter from behind the arc coming into the afternoon, was able to sink four on Sunday. 

Despite the blame that New Hampshire will try and apply to themselves, it’s inevitable that the play which will stick in the minds of fans came with 12 seconds left on the clock. 

On the heels of a layup from sophomore point guard John McGriff to put Binghamton ahead by three with 30 seconds to play, the Wildcats had life. New Hampshire set a play to run senior Nick Guadarrama off a screen from sophomore Nick Johnson. Guadarrama was fed the pass on the right wing and aired a picture-perfect shot that would have tied the game and sent Lundholm Gymnasium into a frenzy. The cheers quickly turned into jeers, however, as Johnson was called for an illegal screen to nullify the Guadarrama 3-pointer. 

In Herrion’s opening statement after the game he acknowledged the fact that that is the play people would likely point to when considering why the Wildcats fell short. He was quick to shut down those thoughts saying, “that’s kind of irrelevant.” He did admit, however, “with 15 seconds left in the game, I think that’s a pretty tough call.” 

Despite a few last-ditch efforts – including a 3-point attempt from Tchoukuiegno at the buzzer – the Wildcats weren’t able to make up the deficit. This now marks the third straight season Herrion and the Wildcats have been bounced from the opening round of the playoffs, and the second in a row on their home court. 

Martinez led for the Wildcats with 17 points and six rebounds. Tchoukuiegno and Guadarrama added 15 and 11 respectively. 

“I cannot question at all what these guys gave us,” said Herrion. “Their effort, their competitiveness was off the charts; their resiliency was off the charts.” 

The future of the Wildcats remains in the air at the moment. While Martinez and hasn’t made up his mind on the possibility of returning for his graduate season, Guadarrama looks to be on his way out. Guadarrama announced Tuesday afternoon via his Instagram that he plans on entering the transfer portal for his final season of eligibility. 

It is worth noting the possibility remains for Guadarrama to return to Durham. UNH football saw star safety Evan Horn enter the transfer portal last offseason to feel out his options. Horn ended up returning to the Wildcats after minimal interest. 

Sixth-year forward Chris Lester is the only member of the team without eligibility for next fall. The team does have a handful of budding stars already on the roster to fill the shoes of Guadarrama, however. 

Tchoukuiegno has been described many times by Herrion as the hardest worker on this team and still has three seasons of eligibility remaining. The point guard took one of the biggest leaps in all of the America East from his redshirt first-year season to his sophomore campaign. 

To compliment Tchoukuiegno, Johnson was the reigning America East Rookie of the Year this past season. The shooting guard is an elite defender and often takes a back seat on offense but is comfortable shooting the ball if needed. While Tchoukuiegno might be the most improved Wildcat from last season to now, sophomore Marco Foster may have made the biggest leap throughout the course of this season.  

Transferring from Division II Oklahoma Christian University, Foster came in as an elite 3-point shooter, but Herrion noted he struggled in other facets of his game upon arrival. 

“[Foster] was very behind defensively at the beginning of the season to the point that [we thought] he’s going to have a lot of trouble getting on the court,” explained Herrion. “Back in mid-to-late January we just said, ‘he shoots it too well, he can make shots, we’ve got to get him on the floor.’ I give him a lot of credit; he’s improved defensively as the year’s gone on. “ 

Pending the status of Martinez and Guadarrama these will likely be the players Herrion builds around moving forward.  

As for Binghamton, they move on to face the America East-powerhouse Vermont Catamounts in the semifinals on Wednesday night. Hartford and UMBC took care of business in the quarterfinals to face each other in Baltimore on Wednesday as well. 

Herrion and the Wildcats join UMass Lowell, NJIT and UAlbany as teams who will be watching the semifinals from home. 

Photo courtesy of China Wong