Things are looking up for the University of New Hampshire men’s basketball team.
A year after the Wildcats didn’t win a Division I game until January, a road game until February, and were the lone team to miss the America East Tournament, the team has rebounded with a solid start to the 2019-2020 campaign.
The Wildcats won their D1 opener over Holy Cross on Nov. 9 and earned a come-from-behind win at Central Connecticut State on Tuesday. UNH turned an eight-point first-half deficit into a 77-63 win over the Blue Devils.
“We’ve got a good mix right now,” UNH coach Bill Herrion said. “They’re playing very hard. We’re coaching them hard. The one change we had to make going into the season if we were going to have any success and win games, we had to become a much tougher, more physical team. What I like right now is we’re scoring points.”
Last year the Wildcats never scored more than 75 points in a game and were held under 45 points three times. Through the first four games against Division I competition this year, the Wildcats averaged nearly 74 points a contest.
The scoring has gone up as the Wildcats have diversified their offense. Junior college-transfer Sean Sutherlin has provided a new dimension with an ability to both facilitate and make his moments.
After averaging 10 points a game at Sheridan College in Wyoming, Sutherlin has quickly developed into an anchor for the Wildcats. Sutherlin had 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists while playing the full 40 minutes against CCSU.
“He’s a tough matchup because he can really drive the basketball,” Herrion said of Sutherlin. “He’s a big guard. We’re bigger on the perimeter. Josh Hopkins is 6-5 on one wing. Sean Sutherlin is 6-5 on the other wing. Sean’s been terrific. He can really score.”
The most noticeable difference this season has been the team’s ability to bend and not break. After an awful start against the Blue Devils in which UNH scored two points in the first eight minutes, the Wildcats locked it down, took a halftime lead, and rolled to the win.
A lot of that comes with practice, and Hopkins, one of the team’s veteran leaders, said the team has been more focused in the early part of the campaign.
“I think this year everybody’s just buying into playing together,” Hopkins said. “What that means is if someone’s offense isn’t going that night, well on the defensive end, they’re still going to play hard. Play hard, play together as a team.”
After a trial by fire last year, the sophomore trio of Marque Maultsby, Jayden Martinez and Nick Guadarrama have all improved and are playing big minutes early in the year. Guadarrama is averaging nearly a double-double while Martinez and Maultsby both play massive roles on the team.
“It’s a chemistry I’ve never had with a group of three people,” Guadarrama said. “We know our goods and our bads. Getting to play with people like that is amazing.”
The Wildcats return to Lundholm Gym to take on Bryant on Tuesday night.