DURHAM, N.H. – Sophomore guard Alvin Abreu (Lynn, Mass.) posted a career-high 28 points to propel the University of New Hampshire men’s basketball team to a 58-54 victory over West Coast Conference-power Santa Clara University on Sunday afternoon at Lundholm Gymnasium.
After the first-ever meeting between the two squads, the Wildcats improve to 4-7 on the season, while the Broncos fall to 7-9. The win is the Wildcats’ first ever against a WCC team in three tries, previously falling to St. Mary’s (Dec. 22, 1988) and Gonzaga (Dec. 27, 1993).
Abreu, the America East Player of the Game, knocked down a career-high seven 3-pointers and was perfect from behind the arc, setting a school record for most treys in a game without a miss. Abreu also netted his 500th career point during the game.
Leading 51-43 with 4:11 to play, the Wildcats saw their largest lead of the game begin to dwindle after an 8-1 Santa Clara run – capped by a Marc Trasolini layup – cut the UNH lead to one with 1:54 left. Senior guard Tyrece Gibbs (Brockton, Mass.) stepped up, however, sinking a jumper in the paint to stop the bleeding and put UNH on top, 54-51, with 1:06 remaining. Gibbs, who passed Blagoj Janev for third place on UNH’s all-time 3-point field goals list (173) with his lone trey of the game, finished with 12 points, six rebounds and three assists. Gibbs now has 1,032 points and passed Dirk Koopman (1,023), Paul Dufour (1,026) and Derek Counts (1,026) for 19th place on UNH’s all-time scoring list.
After an SCU free throw made it a two-point game, UNH received a huge bucket from sophomore center Dane DiLiegro (Lexington, Mass.) to make it 56-52 with 16 seconds left. After Abreu missed a jumper, DiLiegro raced to the bucket and finished with a beautiful put-back that kept the Wildcats in the driver’s seat. The Broncos added a layup with eight-tenths of a second on the clock and fouled Abreu, sending him to the line with two-tenths of a second left. Abreu would hit both free throws to seal the victory.
After trailing 23-22 at the half, the Wildcats came out of the locker room with a vengeance. A 13-4 run, which included a trio of 3-pointers from Abreu, pushed UNH’s lead to 35-27 at 16:29. Following Abreu’s triple that capped the run, the Wildcats and Broncos engaged in a seesaw battle that ended with Abreu’s final trey from the top of the key that made it 45-37 with 8:14 remaining. Five straight SCU points cut its deficit to three just under a minute later, until UNH used a 5-1 stretch to bump its lead back up to eight, 51-43, with just over four minutes left.
The Wildcats jumped out to a quick start in the first half of play, as well. A pair of 3-pointers from Gibbs and Abreu led to an 8-3 run in the first five minutes of play to give the ‘Cats the early lead. The Broncos would respond with a run of their own as they would hold the Wildcats at bay with an 8-2 run to put the score at 11-10 in favor of the visitors at 10:25.
Following the run, a pair of fast-break baskets by sophomore guard Tyrone Conley (Burlington, Vt.) and junior forward Radar Onguetou (Yaounde, Cameroon) would awaken the Wildcats, as they would go on a 12-4 run, capped off by a pair of Gibbs free throws at 2:38, to push the lead to 22-15 in favor of New Hampshire. However, the Broncos would respond by closing out the half on an 8-0 run to take the 23-22 lead into the break.
The Wildcats’ post defense, led by DiLiegro, shut down Santa Clara’s John Bryant, who came into the game averaging 18.7 points and 12.6 rebounds per game. Bryant, who has recorded 10 double-doubles this season, including a pair of 20-20 games, posted his lowest point total of the year, finishing with just seven points and eight rebounds. Trasolini led the Broncos with 24 points and 10 boards.
DiLiegro chipped in with five points and seven rebounds.
The ‘Cats return to action Wednesday, Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. when they kick off conference play by welcoming the University of Hartford into Lundholm.