March 02. 2016 10:45PM

Men's Basketball: Dion leads UNH to America East quarterfinal victory

Special to the Union Leader

DURHAM — Binghamton University gave the UNH men’s basketball team all it could handle Wednesday night, but the Daniel Dion-led Wildcats escaped with a 56-51 win in the America East quarterfinals at Lundholm Gymnasium.

New Hampshire now moves on to play in the conference semifinals against Vermont on Monday in Burlington.

Dion scored a team-high 23 points, making key shots from beyond the arc when UNH desperately needed buckets. The guard’s three-pointer late in the second half extended the Wildcats’ lead to 50-45. And from that point on, UNH never surrendered its lead.

Binghamton forward Willie Rodriguez led the Bearcats in scoring with 17 points while sinking two of four from long range. Bearcats guard Timmy Rose also gave UNH fits, scoring 15 points and playing effective perimeter defense.

Following the gritty win, Dion said his team owes UVM after losing to the Catamounts two times this season. UNH fell to UVM, 66-50, on Jan. 27 and 73-67 on Feb. 24.

“I think it’s our time to get the win and go to our first-ever championship game,” he said.

The Wildcats emerged despite struggling the entire night. UNH shot a poor 27.1 percent (16-59) from the field with several of those being layups. However, head coach Bill Herrion’s team still found a way to get the win when it did not bring its best game.

“At this time of the year when it’s one and done, I don’t know if you evaluate how you played,” he said. “You don’t have time to do that at this time of the year. We’re very, very happy we won the game.”

Tanner Leissner continued his masterful season with 14 points and 11 rebounds in the win. With Leissner’s help, the Wildcats took advantage of timely offensive rebounding to deliver 16 second-chance points compared with just two for Binghamton.

Leissner said he was proud of the way his team battled against a “very tough” Binghamton team.

“At this point in the year it’s always a very physical and tough game, especially against them,” he said. “They are very difficult to play against, but somehow we found a way to make enough plays down the stretch.”

Herrion credited Binghamton’s tenacity on defense for making it tough on UNH’s offense.

“They really keep you off balance,” he said. “I wasn’t happy with the way we played in the first half, but you gave to give Binghamton a lot of credit defensively. They play very tough.

“Daniel (Dion) was terrific and really bailed us out offensively.”

Moving on to UVM, Herrion said his team is in for a real challenge against the Catamounts, who have won six straight games after their 99-82 win over the University of Maine on Wednesday night.

“They’re playing really, really well right now,” Herrion said. “We’re going back to the semifinals but we also know we are going up to Vermont, and they are going to be a big-time challenge.”