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NCAA Basketball: Wildcats finish strong

Special to the Sunday News

February 27. 2016 11:37PM

DURHAM — Sometimes it was easy, sometimes it was hard, but in the end UNH did what it needed to do to beat Maryland-Baltimore County and win its men's basketball season finale, 78-69 at Lundholm Gym on Saturday.

The Wildcats led by as much as 19 in the second half, but the Retrievers chipped away at the lead and cut it to three in the final two minutes. New Hampshire hit all nine free throws down the stretch to seal the win.

“They're really hard to play against,” UNH coach Bill Herrion said. “We got the lead up to 19, and we've been in a lot of those situations before where we don't know how to put an opponent away yet. We've also been in a lot of games where teams make a run and we've made good decisions late in the game to hold on and win.”

The Wildcats opened the game fast and never let off the gas pedal in the first half. Aside from 17 seconds early in the half, UNH led throughout and opened up a double-digit lead 9:30 into the game. UMBC closed the gap to six late in the first half, but the Wildcats finished the last two minutes of the half on an 8-2 run to make it a 15-point game at halftime.

No one looked better early on than Jaleen Smith. The junior guard pumped in 16 points of his team-high 23 points in the first half and controlled the pace from the point in the opening 20 minutes.

Smith filled the stat sheet with six rebounds and four assists.

“We ask Jaleen to do so much,” Herrion said. “I think he was exhausted at the end of that game.”

UMBC held Tanner Leissner and Jacoby Armstrong, two of New Hampshire's top three scorers, to a combined seven points, which meant that other players had to step up. Iba Camara played 35 minutes at center and scored nine points while pulling down a whopping 14 boards.

Daniel Dion had himself a day off the bench. The junior scored 20 points off the bench including a game-high four three-point baskets. Joe Bramanti put in seven points, poked away two steals, dished eight assists, and pulled down six rebounds.

“When teams try to take away our best players we have people on the bench, or different people that we can go to, that can provide (for the team),” Dion said.

UMBC's run was led by a huge 20-point second half from Jarius Lyles. Lyles scored a game-high 27 points for the Retrievers. The Retrievers shot 48 percent from the field in the second half. A 15-6 run in the middle of half almost turned the tables for UMBC, but the Wildcats countered with an 8-4 run to close the game and stop the comeback.

A big part in plugging the leaks for UNH was a jumper by Ronnel Jordan in the game's final minutes. As the team's lone senior, Senior Day became Ronnel Jordan day, and he stepped up to the moment. Jordan scored 12 points in 24 minutes of action, including the first six points of the game for the Wildcats.

“I wish I had more years here,” Jordan said. “It's been a great experience from the fans to the coaches. My teammates are my brothers. Overall it's been a very good experience here.”

The Wildcats finish the regular season 18-11 and 11-5 in America East play. UNH will host a league tournament quarterfinal in Durham on Wednesday night against Hartford, Maine, or Binghamton.

“I feel real excited about next week's game,” Jordan said. “Last year when we had the playoff game here it was crazy so I feel like it's going to be fun. Last year I feel like was just a taste for us, but this year we feel like we can win it.”

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