Smith carries UNH to America East playoff win over UMBC

  • UNH guard Jaleen Smith drives past a UMBC defender during Wednesday night’s game in Durham. CHINA WONG / Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 3/2/2017 12:13:11 AM

Fouling out of the regular-season finale was not part of the plan for UNH men’s basketball star Jaleen Smith.

Smith, a senior, more than made up for that Wednesday night in Durham, though, leading the Wildcats to a 74-65 victory over UMBC in the quarterfinals of the America East Conference tournament before 1,400 fans at Lundholm Gymnasium. UNH’s sixth win in a row locked up a semifinal matchup with top-seeded Vermont (27-5) on Monday at 7 p.m. in Burlington, Vt.

Smith scored 20 points, dished seven assists and played all 40 minutes. But it was a crucial and-one with 59 seconds remaining in the second half that really got Smith going. Once the shot fell to put the Wildcats up seven, Smith turned toward the foul line and began screaming to his teammates in excitement.

It was a far cry from the exit Smith made in Saturday’s regular-season finale, a 94-90 double-overtime win against UMBC in Durham. The victory, which the ‘Cats mustered with Smith and leading scorer Tanner Leissner watching from the bench, helped UNH earn the four-seed and the home playoff game.

Leissner finished Wednesday’s game with 20 points and four assists on 8 of 14 shooting, while Daniel Dion added 14 points and Iba Camara tallied 10 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.

The Wildcats led wire-to-wire but the Retrievers cut the lead to three with nine minutes remaining and got the deficit down to one point with 8:15 left.

Wednesday’s win also helped the No. 4 Wildcats (20-11) make a little history by posting 20 wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time ever. UNH’s six-game win streak is also the longest since the 1994-95 season.

This marks the third straight year that UNH has advanced to the semifinals of the America East tournament.

The task that lies ahead is no easy one, though. The Catamounts are riding a 19-game win streak and haven’t lost a conference game in 11 months. Vermont steamrolled Maine, 86-41, in Wednesday’s quarterfinal behind a 23-point effort from Anthony Lamb, who was one of four players in double figures. Lamb, the America East’s Rookie of the Year, netted a career-high 26 points the last time the Catamounts and Wildcats met Feb. 9.

You can watch Monday’s game online at watchespn.com.

(Michelle Berthiaume can be reached at 369-3338, mberthiaume@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @MonitorMichelle.)




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