UNH basketball coach Herrion sets school record for wins

Published: 2/28/2020 5:57:58 PM

DURHAM – The first one went into the record books on Nov. 26, 2005.

The University of New Hampshire men’s basketball team was at Colgate University and Ioannis Karalis scored 13 points to help give Bill Herrion his first win as Wildcat coach by a score of 60-52.

The latest came Wednesday night in Bangor, Maine and it marked a major milestone.

Sophomore Jayden Martinez scored 16 points and collected 11 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season and led the Wildcats to their third straight win, this one a crucial 77-70 decision over their bitter border rival, setting them up for an interesting finish to the regular season.

It was win No. 186 for Herrion as coach of the Wildcats, making him the winningest coach in program history, as he nears the end of his 15th season. Herrion had pulled even with the late Gerry Friel at 185 with a win at UAlbany on Saturday.

Herrion has presided over the best seasons in the history of UNH basketball – guiding a program at a school where it has traditionally proven difficult to achieve success in the sport. The 2015-16 edition, led by Jaleen Smith and Tanner Leissner, won a school record 20 games and the next year the Wildcats matched that mark.

Herrion has also won the most America East games in history between stints at Drexel (1991-99) and now UNH. Coincidentally, he had won 103 league games at each school until Wednesday’s win gave the slight edge in his 207 total victories to the Wildcats. Former Boston University coach Dennis Wolff is second on the list with 162 league wins and current Albany coach Will Brown is next at 159.

Wednesday’s win lifted UNH to 14-13 overall and 7-7 in America East, a nice rebound from a rough 2018-19 season when they ’Cats went 5-24 overall and 3-13 in conference.

UNH has now won three straight and is in a three-way tie for fourth place in the league with just two regular season games left – home against Binghamton for Senior Day on Saturday at 1 p.m. and home on Tuesday night at 7 against UMass Lowell.

The 186 wins, the 20-win seasons (they followed a record-matching 19 wins in 2014-15) are certainly nice.

But they’re not the first thing director of athletics Marty Scarano made note of the morning after the Wildcats notched No. 186.

“Bill Herrion stands for things a whole lot more valuable than wins and losses,” Scarano said. “It’s more about how his teams conduct themselves and how they do in the classroom and how they integrate into the UNH and Durham community. They’re as good as we have in the building with the good they do on the outside. That’s enormously important to us as an institution. The 186 wins are great, but the value is much higher than 186 wins.”

The way Herrion and his young team have responded to last year impresses, too.

“It’s great, it’s exciting,” Scarano said. “I feel really, really happy for those kids and Billy. They’ve worked their butts off to get to this point. It’s awesome. I’m just so proud of them.”

And Bill Herrion’s thoughts on No. 186?

He didn’t want to talk about it.

Oh, he wanted to talk about the win, certainly. Wanted to talk about how resilient this group has been all season, resilient in the face of adversity, including a couple of season-ending injuries that has left it low in numbers all season.

Resilient within games, which it was again against Maine, coming from behind once more to win.

He, too, is proud of how the team has bounced back this year. How with the three-game win streak UNH has put itself in position to have some fun at the end of the season and perhaps land a home game for the first round of the America East tournament.

Sure, he wanted to talk about all of that and how any number of guys can step up any night and about how well this team gets along and how hard the players work and how much time they spend in the gym: They’re a bunch of gym rats, he said, the ultimate compliment from a gym rat of a coach.

He talked of his respect for Gerry Friel as well: “He was UNH basketball. He really was.”

But he was much less interested in discussing how win No. 186 lifted him to the top of the UNH leaderboard.

Didn’t particularly want to talk about it with me on Thursday morning from his office.

Didn’t want to talk about it with his players who congratulated him as he arrived in a happy locker room after the game.

“I came in and they started congratulating me,” Herrion said. “I stopped them quickly. No, no, no. All I’m concerned about right now is we need to win Saturday at home against Binghamton. This team right now is in a real good spot. We kind of control our own destiny right now. It’s pretty simple from here. We have to play as well as well as we can to win the next game.”

The Wildcats are in the thick of the hunt for that tournament home game.

All that a year after winning a grand total of five games and being the one team in the nine-team league that did not qualify for the playoffs, and was then picked last in the league’s preseason poll for this year.

No matter what happens the next two games and in the league tournament, these Wildcats have exceeded the expectations of many, likely most.

“This has been a great team to coach,” Herrion said. “I’m not saying that because we’re in a good spot right now. When you come off a season like we had last year, when you win five basketball games, you kind of get rocked to the bottom.”

The question becomes: What’s next?

“You don’t know where this program is at or where it’s going,” Herrion said. “How long is it going to take to turn this back around? When you’re on your own and by yourself in the offseason, you’re thinking, ‘These young guys are good players and they’re going to be good players, but can we win eight games, can we win nine, can we win 10?’”

Herrion asked hard work of his players. They responded.

“We’re not great yet, but we’re a really good team,” junior Josh Hopkins said. “We’re making strides. It’s that thing that coach Herrion believes in us first. He told us since the beginning of the season that we’re a really good team. We’re just now, I think, starting collectively to figure it out.”

They’ve hit those numbers. Eight wins. Nine wins. Ten wins. And counting.

Fifteen years ago, Herrion lost his head coaching gig at East Carolina.

“I didn’t know if I’d ever be a head coach again,” he said. “You don’t know.”

He took a job as an assistant at Arkansas, but that didn’t last long.

“A month later this job presents itself,” Herrion said. “It’s New England. My wife and I are from up here. It’s home. It’s a program and school and league I’m very familiar with from when I was at Drexel. I very much appreciate that Marty gave me this opportunity 15 years ago.”

Herrion’s father was a basketball coach. Bill’s son, Ryan, played for him at UNH and now is an assistant on his staff.

“I was born into coaching,” Bill said. “I’ve been in this really, since I was four years old. It’s the only thing I’ve really done. The only thing I really know. I’ve been very fortunate and blessed that I’ve been able to have a long run doing something I love. I’m a gym rat.”

Bill Herrion? Yeah, he’s UNH basketball, too.

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