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UNH holds off River Hawks late

What seemed to be an easy win for the Wildcats soon turned into a near heartbreaker for UNH.

On Wednesday, UNH at one point had a 19-point first half lead over the UMass Lowell River Hawks in what seemed to be the makings of a blowout victory for the Wildcats. But the River Hawks woke up and started chipping away at the lead.

Eventually, UMass Lowell caught up and tied the game at 63 apiece and looked poised to complete the comeback. However, UNH had other plans in mind and stopped the River Hawks in their tracks to pull out a 78-67 victory in Lowell. The victory was secured mainly because two players, that have been the backbone of the Wildcats all season, played well.

Junior forward Tanner Leissner had another solid game. The Texas native scored a game-high 24 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Wildcats. He also shot an outstanding 62.5 percent from the field for the game. However, Leissner wasn’t the only Texas native to get in on the action.

Junior guard Jordan Reed scored 15 points in the game, with it all coming from behind the three-point arch. He shot a respectable 5-7 from three-point distance. Reed has been in good form lately as this game marks his second straight with double-digit points. This is a nice surprise as Reed only scored 10 or more points three times in the previous 26 games this season.

“[Reed] has not shot the ball real well from three point percentage wise,” head coach Bill Herrion said. “But we know as a staff he is a lot better than his stats show. It is great that he, as of late, can become a reliable scorer on this team. He is playing well at the right time.”

Senior guard Jaleen Smith also put in a solid performance against UMass Lowell. Smith tallied 18 points and six rebounds in the game. He also swatted away two shots, a tendency Smith is not known for doing. As for the game itself, the Wildcats came out firing on all cylinders against the River Hawks.

“I would like to say that it was something magical that we did,” Herrion said about the hot start. “But it was more of the team than from a strategy stand point. We just shot well and played well from a defensive stand point.”

Unlike in previous games against Hartford and Maine, UNH came out scoring. At 8:12 left in the first half, UNH had a 19-point lead over UMass Lowell. It looked like UNH was going to run away with the game but the River Hawks had a late push toward the end of the first half to cut the UNH lead to 41-33 at the half.

The momentum would stay in UMass Lowell’s favor in the second half. On several occasions, the River Hawks came within a couple points of tying and or leading UNH. Eventually with 6:58 to go in the second half, UMass Lowell tied the game at 63-63 on a Ryan Jones layup. UNH, however, did not let the River Hawks go any further and rallied off a 15-4 run to end the game and seal a 78-67 road victory.

“I think it comes down to our defense,” Herrion said of the late game run. “There comes a certain point in a game when you have to buckle down and get stops. Give the players credit because the played really well down the stretch.”

The win improves UNH to an 18-11 regular season record and 9-6 in America East. UNH is now in a three-way tie for third with UMBC and Albany having similar records. On Saturday, Feb. 25 at 1 p.m., UNH heads home for the final game of the regular season, as they will face UMBC in a game that will have major playoff seeding implications.

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