Vermont head coach John Becker had a feeling when the Patrick Gymnasium crowd erupted inconspicuously on Wednesday night, but New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion did not know he was facing the Catamounts until after they had secured a 56-51 victory over Binghamton.
“Our radio guy said to me, ‘looking forward to going to Vermont?’ and I was like, what are you talking about and they said Hartford beat Albany, so I didn’t even know,” Herrion said. “I forgot all about re-seeding until the day before.”
But now the head coach of the Wildcats knows that his team will have to go through third seeded Vermont in order to reach the America East finals, a place where New Hampshire has hardly had success lately.
Herrion remembers how Vermont has beaten them each time this season: the first time senior Ethan O’Day hurt them with 19 points, the second time it was the guards Cam Ward and Trae Bell-Haynes who combined for 27 points between the two of them.
New Hampshire made just nine of their 41 three-point tries (21.9%) in their two meetings with the Catamounts and in the process, Vermont has been able to limit First Team All-America East sophomore Tanner Leissner to 10.5 ppg. Herrion said that Leissner has struggled against sophomore Nate Rohrer.
“He’s done a terrific job on Tanner just physically I think, putting the body on him and playing him physical,” Herrion said. “I think we just got to get Tanner the ball in some different spots. When he gets it around the basket, they’re really walling up on him and then I think O’Day is doing a great job of coming off his guy and being a secondary defender, shot blocker on him.”
“I think we got to get the ball to Tanner in a little bit more space and in some different spots, but he’s going to have to have a good game for us offensively for us to have a chance.”
In last year’s semifinal loss at Albany, the Wildcats did not have Leissner who had suffered an injury in practice the week before. In that game, New Hampshire led by as many as six to start the second half before Albany came back and made plays down the stretch to win. This time they will have the sophomore big as well as all their veterans like juniors Jaleen Smith (13.0 ppg), who missed the chance at the buzzer to win the game, and his classmate Jacoby Armstrong (11.7 ppg) to back up their leading scorer.
“I hope the experience of being in the semifinals last year will help us this year,” Herrion said. “I think what’s going to have to happen is, if we get into a really close tight game we’re just going to have to make better decisions and make better plays down the stretch than we did a year ago.”
“I think execution is going to be an enormous part of this game on Monday night, especially if it’s a close game down the stretch, we’ve got to execute better.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.