On Saturday at Stony Brook, New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion went to his seventh different starting five of the season, but that doesn’t concern him.
The Wildcats trailed by as many as 11 early, but cut into that with a 10-2 run and played the Seawolves as close to even as possible throughout the first half. However, for a group that plays 10 players or more at times, the struggle has been finding a consistent group.
“I don’t think we played that bad, I think we played pretty well, but when you go on the road against a team of this caliber and you’re trying to win in their building you need all your guys,” Herrion said. “We’re having a really hard time of getting five guys at any given time.”
Only two other teams in the America East play their bench more than the Wildcats, whose bench has played 35.3% of the team’s minutes. New Hampshire started Iba Camara and Matt Miller, but when the second half began they were replaced in the lineup by Jacoby Armstrong and Daniel Dion. The 6′ sophomore shooter Dion scored 13 of his 19 points in the second half.
“We have a bunch of good players, everyone can perform and anyone can start and go into the starting lineup,” Dion said. “Nobody really looks at the starting lineup, its whoever finishes the game.”
The Wildcats found combinations to hurt the Seawolves and their motion on offense was working well at times. Joe Bramanti, the Wright State transfer guard who has battled injuries to start the year, found a cutting Tommy McDonnell for a layup to give New Hampshire a 10-2 run early. Every player except Camara scored a point in the Wildcats’ effort, but it was the final 4:07 of the first half – where New Hampshire squandered five straight possessions to take the lead, when they were down 23-22 which cost them.
“I thought the last three, four minutes of the first half we shot ourselves in the foot offensively,” Herrion said. “We had a couple of possessions, I think too, like to get a lead and go into that lead we came up empty.”
Those chances the Wildcats generated by two shot clock violations and two Seawolves turnovers in the first half saw New Hampshire come up empty. Freshman Tanner Leissner couldn’t get a layup to go. Dion refused a ball screen and missed a jumper and Bramanti missed the front end of bonus free throws. Miller missed a layup, his shot short of reaching the top of the rim and Dion’s pass was stolen by Warney. Those possessions would prove to be crucial or else a lead built by the Wildcats could have been larger than five in the early moments of the second half.
Leissner did not disappoint, scoring 13 points and grabbing six rebounds in the effort, but the supporting cast disappointed Herrion. Junior Ronnel Jordan, after the Wildcats got a stop on the Seawolves down 61-57, missed a transition layup that could have cut the lead to two.
“It was a bad shot, he took it to the other side of the rim, but it was just a bad decision,” Herrion said. “Especially when you come on the road and play them you can’t make mistakes, you have to value every possession.”
New Hampshire got very little out of sophomores Jaleen Smith, who entered the game averaging 10.8 points per game, and Jacoby Armstrong, who averaged 6.9 points per game entering the matchup. The two combined for 45 minutes (33 of those from Armstrong), 10 points, three rebounds and nine fouls.
“Jaleen Smith, who’s a sophomore for us, just basically he played 10 minutes if that,” Herrion said. “Jacoby Armstrong is a sophomore, who was on the all-rookie team last year, he has to give us more.”
Even Dion, who went for 19 points, his highest total this season since back-to-back 23 point efforts, needs to become more consistent. Though if he isn’t the option at the time, there always seems to be one Wildcat getting hot at the right time.
“I just wait for my guys to find me,” Dion said. “We have great point guards that find open shooters and that was me tonight. We’ve always had different guys scoring, so it’s not always one guy, it’s different guys.”
However the focus will have to turn to defense, as the Wildcats have given up greater than a point per possession in three of their last four – each of the games ending up in the loss column.
“Our offense has definitely improved from last year” Dion said. “We just need to focus more on the defensive end. We’ve had some bad defensive games the last couple of games.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.