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New Hampshire has improved and can do better

December 24, 2014 Columns No Comments

DURHAM, N.H. – Sometimes, overcoming adversity isn’t enough. It’s certainly not always enough to win games, but it’s also not necessarily enough to lose but still get better, meaning you lost more because of the opponent.

Sometimes, merely experiencing the adversity is the problem. Yes, we all face some of it, but sometimes it is self-inflicted. And for New Hampshire, right now overcoming adversity isn’t enough. Bill Herrion wants, and needs, to see better from his team. And they’re capable of doing that. They have shown as much.

“The kids fought, and I just told them inside, that’s got to be a given,” Herrion said after the Wildcats dropped a tough 73-72 overtime game against LIU Brooklyn on Monday. “You don’t get prizes for it. You’re supposed to play hard all the time.”

Herrion’s big concern is the defense, especially early on. In prior years, the concern has been offense, while the defense has been their strong suit. They simply haven’t scored enough to win. In the season opener at Boston College, you saw hints that scoring was again going to be a problem this season. To their credit, they have improved nicely in that regard, in part because the pieces seem to fit together better and they are more talented offensively, even if they are less experienced.

In the last three games, the Wildcats have started slowly, especially at the defensive end, and it has hurt them. They managed to beat Colgate in the first after allowing the Raiders to shoot 55 percent from the field in the first half, but never got going at Sacred Heart on Saturday as the Pioneers shot nearly 53 percent from the field. They battled valiantly on Monday night after falling behind 27-12 over 11 minutes into the game, allowing LIU to shoot 50 percent from the field in the first half.

You see the trend. No matter how much the Wildcats have improved offensively, bad defense is tough to make up for.

“We’re not good enough defensively right now,” said Herrion. “I’m really concerned with our defense. Our field goal percent defense the last three games has been astronomical. We’re digging holes.”

To their credit, the Wildcats won the battle on the boards 45-37 on Monday night. That’s a sign of the effort, at least once they get going. Tanner Leissner led the way there with 11 to go with ten points. It was perhaps a bit troubling that their most talented big man, Jacoby Armstrong, had just three boards on a night when he scored a career-high 18 points on 8-11 shooting. Armstrong has battled the remnants of an injury from last season and the off-season, but he’s very capable and Herrion wants to see him deliver what he’s capable of.

“I think what’s got to happen is that’s got to be a consistent thing, and that’s what we’ve talked with him about,” said Herrion. “We need him to get much, much more involved, especially on the offensive end, rebounding the ball, playing hard. Hopefully that’s a start tonight. Hopefully, now he can build off that and it can be a consistent thing night in, night out.”

Armstrong said he felt about the same as he has all season, a sign that if his health isn’t improving, he’s learned to play with the ailment. Teammate Joe Bramanti, who missed time with an injury, seems to be working his way back, and like Armstrong the hope is that Monday night is a sign. He gave them a spark at times in the second half, and he’s potentially their best perimeter defender. His competitiveness will help, and right now they need that at the defensive end.

One reason Herrion is surely concerned is that this team has shown itself to be very capable, and America East is there for the taking. Stony Brook might have the most talent, and Albany has good talent and the makeup you expect a Will Brown-coached team to have that can win, but neither will enter conference play as a prohibitive favorite by a long shot. Vermont has shown potential, but is very young, and UMass-Lowell is the only other team with a distinguished non-conference resume, and the River Hawks aren’t eligible for the conference tournament yet.

All of that adds up to the potential for this team to contend. The Wildcats have shown they can defend, and Herrion’s teams typically do. Now the offense appears to be less of a concern, and this team has shown they can win as they have managed to win a couple of road games. The conference is there for the taking. It can be taken with a little less self-inflicted adversity on their part as the season goes on.

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