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Dion shoots UNH into semifinals

For the third time this season the UNH basketball team met the Binghamton Bearcats, and for the third time, the game was ugly.
The difference in the game came not in the offense or defense, but in the little things. UNH used effort down the stretch the win the game. That effort came in the form of offensive rebounds. The Wildcats out-rebounded the Bearcats 13-2 on the offensive glass. Those 13 rebounds led to 16 second chance points for the Wildcats. Binghamton only accounted for two.
“We’re obviously very happy we won the game,” head coach Bill Herrion said. “I think at this time of the year, when it’s kind of one and done, you don’t have to evaluate how you played, but we won.”
UNH got a 23-point outburst from Daniel Dion, including four three-pointers. Tanner Leissner chipped in with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while the Bearcats were paced by Willie Rodriguez, who finished with 17 points and five rebounds. Freshman Timmy Rose tallied 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists for Binghamton.
The Wildcats struggled early, missing five of their first six shots. They needed a spark offensively. That spark came in the form of the hot-shooting Dion, who scored 11 points in the first half, including two pivotal three pointers.
“My teammates were looking for me a lot while they ran zone in the first half,” Dion said. “I was just ready to shoot on the outside. I’ve been in a slump this year and to break out of it at this time is a good feeling.”
The Wildcats as a team shot just 27.3 percent from the field. If it wasn’t for the 5-1 offensive rebounding margin and the 12-4 bench point margin, the Wildcats would very likely have been down heading into the second half.
“I was not happy with the first half,” Herrion said. “I think you have to give Binghamton a lot of credit defensively. They press, they control tempo, they switch up man and zone and they really keep you off balance.”
Rose was a big reason the Bearcats were close in the first half. The freshman guard scored seven points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out two assists. Fellow freshman Everson Davis had 10 points in the first half.
“I thought [Everson and Rose] got places we should not have allowed them to get to,” Herrion said. “They hurt us offensively.”
The second half was more of the same: A slow, physical slugfest. Binghamton opened the half on a 4-0 run to take the lead 29-27. UNH got two big three-pointers again from Dion to retake the lead. The theme of the half was simple. UNH would stretch the lead to five or six points, then the Bearcats would crawl back into it. The play down low could only be described in one word: physical.
“At the point it is always really physical,” Leissner said. “It is always real tough playing against these guys. They’re a great team.”
With just over three minutes to play, UNH held a 48-45 lead. The Wildcats missed two shots in one possession, but the key was the three offensive rebounds. The third shot by Dion dropped. From then on the Wildcats were able to hold off the Bearcats and corral the 56-51 victory.
“Every time we play these guys, we just grind,” Jaleen Smith said. “They play hard and I feel like their style of play is like ours, that’s why you see both teams grinding.”
Albany, the three-time America East champions, fell to the seventh-seeded Hartford Hawks 68-59, which helped the Wildcats avoid top-seeded Stony Brook for at least the semifinals. With a win over Maine, 99-82, Vermont advanced to the next round as the No. 3 seed.
The matchups are set. Hartford will travel to Stony Brook. UNH will hit the road to take on Vermont on Monday night. Vermont is a team the Wildcats have lost to twice this season. Both games have been somewhat lopsided, as the Catamounts have won by a combined 24 points in the two contests.
“They’re a program that’s had a long stretch of winning and success,” Herrion said. “We have to go up Monday night and play great. Our guys will be ready.”
“This is what college basketball is all about,” Herrion said. You want to be playing in these kind of games.”

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