DURHAM, N.H. – Senior guard Tyrece Gibbs (Brockton, Mass.) netted a game-high 20 points to propel the University of New Hampshire men’s basketball team to a 64-56 victory over the University at Albany on Thursday night at Lundholm Gymnasium.
With their third win in the last four games, the Wildcats improve to 12-15 on the season, including 7-8 in the America East, and complete the season sweep of Albany. UNH, which has now won three of the last four meetings between the two squads, handed Albany its worst loss ever at SEFCU Arena with a 78-59 win Feb. 15. The ‘Cats also match their most wins in a season under head coach Bill Herrion since his first year at the helm in 2005-06. The Great Danes fall to 14-14 overall and 6-9 in the conference.
Gibbs, UNH’s America East Player of the Game, added three rebounds, two assists and two blocks in 38 minutes.
Tied at 49 with 4:01 to play in the game, the Wildcats ripped off a 15-4 run that gave them their largest lead of the game at 64-53 with just 36 seconds remaining. After junior forward Radar Onguetou (Yaounde, Cameroon) started the run by putting back a Wildcat miss, Gibbs nailed his fourth and final 3-pointer of the game, which widened the lead to five. After the teams traded pairs of free throws, sophomore center Dane DiLiegro (Lexington, Mass.) sank four straight from the line to push the lead to nine.
After a layup by Brian Connelly, the Wildcats opened the lead to 11 with Gibbs and Onguetou each draining two from the stripe. Connelly closed the scoring with an old fashioned three-point play with 23 ticks on the clock before Gibbs fittingly dribbled away the final seconds to seal the win. Onguetou came up just shy of a double-double as he scored 12 points and ripped down nine rebounds.
The run may have been sparked by an Onguetou layup, but it was a dunk from his countryman that woke up the Wildcats and the 1,355 fans in attendance at Lundholm. With the teams going back and forth for six-plus minutes, sophomore forward Rony Tchatchoua (Douala, Cameroon) came up with a huge block on Connelly, grabbed the ball and took it coast-to-coast and finished as he glided through the air with the ball cocked back and slammed it home to give the Wildcats a 46-43 lead with 8:43 remaining. The dunk, which many veteran Wildcat fans said was the best they had ever seen in the building, infused energy into the crowd – which stayed cheering for nearly a minute – and the team for the stretch run. Tchatchoua finished with 12 points on a perfect 5 of 5 from the field and 2 of 2 from the line to go along with three rebounds and three blocks in 22 minutes off the bench.
After a Gibbs trey tied the game at five early in the first half, Albany crafted a 7-2 run to take a five-point lead at 13:27. Still down five a short time later, the Wildcats scored seven straight with a jumper from Tchatchoua, followed by a basket and a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Tyrone Conley (Burlington, Vt.), to take a 16-14 lead at 9:35.
The teams then traded 3-pointers before a 10-2 run by the Great Danes put them up 27-21 with 5:17 to go in the opening frame. A Tchatchoua jumper stopped the bleeding, but the teams went back and forth until an alley-oop from Jerel Hastings to Will Harris gave Albany its largest lead of the game at 32-25 with 33 seconds left before the break. Gibbs answered the bell again, however, hitting a tough shot from the top of the key with a defender draped over him as time expired to cut it to 32-27 at the half. Conley chipped in with seven points and five rebounds.
A layup by Tim Ambrose to start the half gave Albany its seven-point advantage right back, but six straight points from the Wildcats cut their deficit to 34-33 at 16:54. Harris responded with a 3-pointer before a jumper by freshman guard Russell Graham (Norristown, Pa.) and two free throws from Gibbs tied the game at 37 with 13:53 remaining. Graham’s relentless on-the-ball defense also helped turn the tide for UNH as it brought an intensity the Wildcats had not really shown up to the point when he first checked into the game at 15:04 in the second half.
Tied at 41, Gibbs knocked down a jumper in the paint that put the Wildcats on top at 11:06. After the Wildcats nudged the lead to three with one at the line, Connelly hit a pair there to cut the UNH lead to 44-43 and set the stage for Tchatchoua’s earth-shattering dunk that helped spark the ‘Cats to victory.
Gibbs, playing in his 114th game to pass Dirk Koopman and Greg Steele and become UNH’s all-time games played leader, finished with 1,272 career points and passed Dan Nolan (1,258) for sixth on the program’s scoring list. Gibbs’ two blocks also gave him 56 for his career and leapfrogged him past Scott Drapeau (55) for third all-time in blocked shots.
UNH outshot Albany, 43 percent (20-47) to 33 percent (16-48). The Wildcats shot 48 percent (11-23) in the second half when their defense held the Great Danes to just 21 percent on 6 of 29 shooting. The battle on the glass finished in a 33-33 tie, but the Wildcats – the only America East team this year to outrebound the Great Danes – outboarded Albany, 23-15 in the second half. The ‘Cats also turned the ball over fewer times (9) than the Danes (11).
Ambrose, Albany’s America East Player of the Game, led the Great Danes with 11 points, but was held to just two in the second half by UNH’s stifling defense.
The Wildcats return to action Sunday, March 1 at 1 p.m. when they wrap up the regular season by playing host to Stony Brook University. It will be Senior Day at Lundholm, and with a win the ‘Cats will lock up the No. 4 seed in the America East tournament – their highest spot since the 2000-01 season.