SMITHFIELD, R.I. — A month into the season and it is clear that it will be a long winter for University of New Hampshire men’s basketball.
In Smithfield, the Wildcats stared their first Division I victory in the face and squandered it away as they let a 14-point second-half lead disappear en route to a 75-65 loss to the Bulldogs.
The Wildcats haven’t been able to score with any consistency this season. In their four games against Division I competition heading into Saturday’s tilt at Bryant, the Wildcats averaged 60.2 points a game while giving up 82.8.
“I think we turned it over a couple of times in a row,” UNH coach Bill Herrion said. “They scored, got it under 10. I thought we weathered the storm.”
The Wildcats were dominant early, riding a 7-for-10 stretch from beyond in the arc in the first half to open a 39-29 lead at the break, and extended it to 43-29 after intermission.
However, from there the Wildcats went cold. The Bulldogs chipped away, eventually taking the lead on a three from Byron Hawkins with 4:02 left. Bryant held on down the stretch to secure the victory.
“The thing we’ve tried to preach with this team, we haven’t come close in any of our Division 1 games to playing 40 minutes,” Herrion said. “The issue that we’re having is our program has always been built on us being a good defensive basketball team and having the confidence to make stops and win games. We were having trouble guarding them. Until we can play the way that our identity is, it’s going to be tough.”
UNH wasn’t without strong performers as freshman Jayden Martinez had 16 points and six rebounds while fellow freshman Nick Guadarrama had 11 points, six boards, and three blocks.
Senior captain Jordan Reed also had 13 points for the Wildcats.
Bryant was led by 20 points each from Adam Grant and Byron Hawkins.
“Our young kids were terrific,” Herrion said. “Jayden Martinez was terrific. Nick Guadarrama was terrific. It’s very hard at this level of basketball to win games when you have to rely on freshmen.”
The season looks to be getting worse before it gets better. Sophomore guard Josh Hopkins is out indefinitely with plantar fasciitis and sophomore point guard Elijah Jordan went down in the first half with an apparent ankle injury and did not return.
This Wildcats team is young and inexperienced and looked every bit of it against a one-win Bryant team. The question is what can be done to tinker with the squad in the coming month ahead of conference play.
Finding a way to claw out of this hole will be difficult for a UNH team desperately looking for any type of consistency on the court.
Guadarrama and Martinez have shown flashes of excellence, but their inexperience shows on the court against more veteran squads. Reed has been a fantastic captain on and off the court but is just one man. Other veteran players like senior David Watkins and junior Chris Lester have had helter-skelter seasons and were nonfactors against Bryant.
“(The veterans are not) not giving us enough, and the younger guys are playing better than them,” Herrion said. “We’re going to play the guys that deserve to play. Jayden Martinez is really talented, and once he figures out how hard he has to play on a consistent basis he’s going to be a real good player. Nick Guadarrama is a real tough kid. He just plays hard.”
Seton Hall and Niagara await this week. UNH returns to Lundholm Gym after finals on Dec. 19 against Marist.