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Balanced offense, stingy D ground Riverhawks

Less than a week after two thrilling games against the top two teams in America East, the Wildcats aren’t cooling down. UNH started off hot against the UMass Lowell Riverhawks and didn’t look back en route to an 80-69 victory.

The Riverhawks entered the game as the top scoring team in America East, but the Wildcats spread the ball around and limited UMass Lowell’s chances to score. In total, five UNH players finished with 10 points or more, led by Tanner Leissner. The sophomore scored a team-high 16 points and grabbed 13 boards. Jacoby Armstrong scored 16 points off the bench, and Jaleen Smith, Ronnel Jordan and Iba Camara all hit double digits.

“Great win for us,” UNH head coach Bill Herrion. “They’re a really, really dangerous basketball team. Very good offensive basketball team, so we knew we were going to have a challenge.”

UNH got strong defensive performances from junior Joe Bramanti, who Herrion said was playing injured, and Leissner, who tallied three offensive rebounds, helping UNH gain a 12-4 advantage in that statistic.

“I think we did great defensively,” Bramanti said. “They’re the No. 1 offensive team in the league. I think that’s what really led us to a great offensive start, was our defense was clicking.”

UNH came out shooting 11-12, and quickly jumped out to a huge 27-11 lead just over 9 minutes into the game. Smith had eight points in those 9 minutes, but foul trouble forced the guard to the bench early.

Bramanti took over running the offense, earning Herrion’s praise. The Wildcats continued to shoot well in the first half, with Jacoby Armstrong drilling a three-pointer off of the bench and adding four more points in his first four minutes on the court.

Armstrong was back on the court for the first time since being suspended for violating team policy, and he made his presence known in the first half, tallying eight points as UNH jumped out to a 43-32 lead.

“He did a great job coming in,” Bramanti said. Bramanti and Jordan added seven points of their own in the first frame, and Leissner contributed six points and five rebounds.

In the opening minutes of the second half, Smith added two points to be the first Wildcat to eclipse the 10-point mark. Camara was next, grabbing three rebounds and putting up six points before being forced to the bench for foul trouble.

The offense hardly seemed to notice, with Armstrong, Jordan and Leissner all hitting their stride to join Camara and Smith in double-digits.

“Five guys in double figures, you love that balance as a coach,” Herrion said.

Smith added a bit of humor when asked about the team’s offensive outpouring.

“We just didn’t want to win by a buzzer beater again,” the junior captain said. “We just wanted to get after them real quick.”

The game was a good follow up to last week’s excitement. UNH played Albany on Thursday night. The No. 2 seeded Great Danes played well, but Leissner nailed a jump shot with seconds to go, drawing a foul that he sunk to give UNH a slim 69-68 lead.

On Sunday, the team travelled to Stony Brook to take on the top-seeded Seawolves, and did so without Herrion, who had a death in the family. Despite their head coach’s absence, the Wildcats nearly pulled off the upset, losing by only a single point, 59-58.

“To be completely honest, we took it as a challenge,” Bramanti said of travelling into enemy territory. “We lost to them by 30 and ultimately, if we want to win a championship, we think we’re going to have to go through them.”

Herrion, for his part, said that he was not surprised to see the team play Stony Brook so tough and that the game proved to the team that they can play with the top talent in the conference. But for now, the team is focusing on Saturday’s road trip to Hartford.

“At this time of the year, you’re not really dissecting the games,” Herrion said. “You’re just trying to win every next game that you play…now we move on to Hartford on Saturday night and try to win another one.”

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