Joe Bramanti did not play a minute for New Hampshire before this season, but the poise he showed while sitting out last year earned him the honor of being named one of the Wildcats’ three team captains. Now that he’s finally playing again, he’s still adjusting to being back on the court.
“It’s obviously a tough transition, just not being in game-shape for a year and now trying to find a role on the team,” Bramanti said after New Hampshire’s 71-61 loss to Stony Brook on Saturday. “Just going into practice every day and practicing hard is really important.”
Bramanti had to sit out last season after transferring from Wright State, where he saw limited action. The redshirt sophomore guard missed the first six games of the season with a strained oblique. Making his fifth start since returning, Bramanti finished with three points and tied for the game-high with five assists in 33 minutes against Stony Brook.
“He’s getting his feet back under him, I think he’s playing pretty good basketball,” New Hampshire coach Bill Herrion said.
“I was hurt in the beginning of the season so I’m still trying to find a good flow of the game,” Bramanti said. “Just got to find a better flow.”
The Wildcats hung with the Seawolves, the preseason favorite to win the America East, for most of the game before too many mental mistakes caught up with them.
“They’re a tough team, they’re gonna penalize you when you make mistakes and we made a couple down the stretch. It’s a collective issue, we have to go back to the drawing board and work on that kind of stuff,” Bramanti said.
Despite New Hampshire suffering its fourth straight loss, the Wildcats are a young team that can be competitive if the players are able to correct their mental lapses. Bramanti believes through hard work they can eliminate their mistakes.
“We didn’t rebound well so we couldn’t get out in transition, which we like to do,” he said. “It kind of balances us out, we get a lot of open shots that way. So I think we just need to rebound better and defend a little bit better; that’ll take care of it.”
For much of Saturday’s conference-opener against Stony Brook, New Hampshire hung with the preseason America East-favorite on its home floor. But eventually, too many mental mistakes caught up with the Wildcats and their hopes for pulling off an upset were denied.
New Hampshire lost, 71-61, at Island FCU Arena largely due to a few lapses in judgment in the second half. The Wildcats were dominated inside by the Seawolves, who outscored them 30-12 in the paint and won the battle of the boards 43-23, but it was a few untimely fouls and poor shot selection that really did them in down the stretch.
“They’re a good team and they know how to win, so especially when you come on the road and play them, you just can’t make mistakes,” New Hampshire coach Bill Herrion said. “You have to value every possession. I think what was happening is, it was really (Carson) Puriefoy who was killing us from the free throw line. I don’t know if he made a jumpshot the whole game. But it was our fault because we had bad close-outs and we didn’t do a good job containing him. It’s frustrating.”
Stony Brook (9-6, 1-0) pretty much lived at the free throw line in the second half, shooting 21-for-23 in the final 20 minutes and 27-for-34 for the game. The Seawolves got yet another monster performance from Jameel Warney, who finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. Rayshaun McGrew had 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Puriefoy added 12 points, 10 of which were scored from the charity stripe, to go with four assists.
Both Stony Brook and New Hampshire had to overcome abysmal shooting in the first half that saw them shoot 33 percent and 29 percent from the field, respectively, as the Seawolves took a 25-22 lead into the locker room. That type of dogfight would seemingly favor the Wildcats, but they couldn’t capitalize on Stony Brook’s poor start.
“I thought the last maybe three or four minutes of the first half, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot offensively,” Herrion said. “We had a couple possessions to maybe get a lead [going into halftime] where we came up empty.”
New Hampshire (6-7, 0-1) came out of the break and took a 34-29 lead early in the second half thanks to some hot shooting from Daniel Dion, who was making threes from the parking lot the entire game. Stony Brook took the lead for good at 41-39, but the Wildcats kept the game close before falling behind by eight with six minutes left. Still they battled back and pulled within four, 61-57, on back-to-back three-pointers from Dion and Matt Miller. But with momentum shifting to New Hampshire’s side, Ronnel Jordan rushed a layup in traffic. The teams shot free throws the rest of the way.
“It was a bad shot,” Herrion said of Jordan’s missed opportunity. “It was just a bad decision, a bad shot.”
Dion finished with 19 points, making five three-pointers. Freshman Tanner Leissner was the only other Wildcat in double figures with 13 points to go with six rebounds. Sophomore Jaleen Smith came into the game averaging 11 points but managed to score just five in 12 minutes as he was plagued by foul trouble all game.
“I don’t think we played that bad. I think we played pretty well,” Herrion said. “But when you go on the road against a team of this caliber and you’re trying to win in their building, you need all your guys. We’re having a really hard time getting five guys going at any given time. It’s just very inconsistent.”
The loss was New Hampshire’s fourth straight. The Wildcats will need to reduce their mental mistakes as they continue into the throes of conference play.
“We’re a young basketball team,” Herrion said. “We’re on a slide right now, we’ve lost four games in a row… We gotta figure this thing out.”
A new year brings a new conference tournament format that raises the stakes on what awaits the nine America East teams over the next nine weeks. Whoever keeps true to these resolutions the longest could very well be the last team standing come March 14.
America East 2015 New Year’s Resolutions
Albany: Better balance inside
Albany’s post game right now is the Sam Rowley show. He’s the only Great Dane in the top 20 in rebounding among conference players, and no other post player has more than four points or rebounds per game. John Puk was a great compliment to Rowley the last two years, both conference tournament championships for Albany. Now, UAlbany needs to find John Puk 2.0 or they will be muscled out of a three-peat.
Binghamton: Lay the groundwork for the future
Binghamton’s resolution won’t fully come to fruition for another year or two, but when it does, it could be something really special. This year’s team was supposed to be carried by Jordan Reed with the hope they might sneak into the top four of the conference and earn a 1st round tournament home game. When Reed left the team earlier this month, the already-young Bearcats got even younger. With just one senior and one junior left on the roster, neither of whom average more than eight minutes a game this season, the pressure falls on the 12 freshmen and sophomores to prove this team will be a legitimate contender down the road.
Hartford: Consistent shooting
It’s been said multiple times that Hartford’s A-game, with a heavy dose of ball movement and outside shooting, is better than anyone else’s A-game in the conference. The issue for them will be making sure that A-game shows up night in and night out. Poor shooting, especially from 3-point range, led to losses at the hands of Sacred Heart, Central Connecticut State, and Rider. Hartford’s A-game is why they were picked 2nd in the pre-season poll, and if they can get hot at the right time, could be what takes them to the top of the conference for the first time ever.
Maine: Better team defense
First year coach Bob Walsh has talent on the offensive side of the ball, as Shaun Lawton, Zarko Valjarevic, and Till Gloger are all top 20 scorers amongst America East teams in non-conference play. Where the Black Bears have been exposed repeatedly this season is the defensive side of the ball. Maine is last amongst AE teams in field goal percentage defense, 3-point percentage defense, and points per game allowed, which at more than 81 a game, is among the worst in all of Division 1. The Black Bears currently force more than seven steals a game, 2nd among conference teams; there just needs to be better execution when those steals don’t happen.
UMass Lowell: Continue ignoring the skeptics
Few expected anything from UMass Lowell when they moved to the Division I level prior to last season; the River Hawks were a unanimous last place pick in the pre-season poll. All they did in response was finish 5th in the conference with an 8-8 record (NCAA transition rules held them out of the conference tournament.) Pat Duquette’s group was once again picked to finish last in the conference this season, but Jahad Thomas and Marco Banegas-Flores have both averaged double figures in scoring in non-conference play, as the team won six of its first eight games, including road wins over Fordham and former America East member Boston University. The will to win can take teams a long way, and this team’s will to win might give a lot of AE teams headaches come 2015.
New Hampshire: Maintain early season balance
On paper, New Hampshire has done nothing mind-blowing this year, but they’re 1st among conference teams in points per game and points allowed. Tanner Leissner, Daniel Dion and Jaleen Smith are all averaging double figures in scoring, leading a balanced attack where each of the 11 Wildcats averaging 10 or more minutes a game has contributed nicely. The Wildcats will have pre-season favorite Stony Brook on the road, followed by two-time defending champion UAlbany at home to open conference play. Both games will have a lot to say about whether the Wildcats’ early success was a fluke, or a potential sign of something special come March.
Stony Brook: (tie) Keep Carson Puriefoy and Jameel Warney healthy/ Get support from players not named Carson Puriefoy and Jameel Warney
The two preseason All-Conference selections, combined, have accounted for a sizeable percentage of the team’s statistics, top to bottom, in non-conference play. The rest of the Seawolves will have to provide their stars with consistent support if the pre-season number one pick is finally going to break through with a conference tournament championship and an NCAA Tournament berth. Kameron Mitchell and Rayshaun McGrew filled those support roles nicely with 22 combined points in the Seawolves’ upset of previously 13th ranked Washington.
UMBC: Offensive execution
Replacing Rodney Elliott, who was declared out for the season with a shoulder injury earlier this month after playing in just one game, has not come easy for UMBC. The Retrievers are last among America East teams in points per game, free throw percentage, and turnovers per game, as well as eighth in 3-point percentage. Elliott carried much of the load as a freshman last year, which brought even larger expectations for this season. Like Binghamton, Aki Thomas may want to start looking ahead to the future, prepping his young unit for a conference tournament title run a few years down the road.
Vermont: Stay healthy
A healthy Vermont team is a scary thought for the rest of the conference. The scary thing for Vermont is that they’ve been unable to stay healthy early in the year. Ernie Duncan played in only four games before red-shirting due to a back injury, Zach McRoberts missed the first seven games due to injury, and Hector Harold missed games vs. Yale and St. Louis with foot problems. Vermont has finished either 1st or 2nd in the conference every year since 2008-2009, and will need a clean bill of health the rest of the season if they want a shot at doing that again this year.