ON CAMPUS A look at the area college sports scene

Friday, March 15, 2013

New Haven meets Dominican in first round of NCAA Division II tournament

By Bill Cloutier


Twitter @BillCloutier

WEST HAVEN – Three years ago, University of New Haven guard Jeremy Williams was faced with a difficult decision.

With the men’s basketball program in disarray having won just three games the prior season, the Chargers were turning over their entire coaching staff. New Haven brought in former assistant Ted Hotaling to try to change the Chargers’ fortunes.

Williams, however, was a freshman on that dismal New Haven team, a recruit of the former coach. He wondered if he’d fit in Hotaling’s new system or if the new coach even wanted him. He wondered mostly of all if things would get better.

Three seasons later Williams is about to get his first taste of postseason basketball as No. 4 seed New Haven (19-8) will face fifth-seeded Dominican College ( ) in the NCAA Division II tournament Saturday at Manchester, N.H. To say the least, Williams is happy he stayed.

“My freshman year, to be honest, it wasn’t a good program to be in,” Williams said. “We went 5-22 and we were unorganized. I decided to stick around because I looked at (Hotaling’s) credentials and he looked like he could do a good job.

“This turnaround that he’s managed in such a short time has been amazing. We went from not even making the conference tournament to making the NCAA Tournament.”

Said Hotaling: “We met with all the guys that were holdovers. If they decided to leave we weren’t offended by it. Jeremy decided to stay and (reserve guard from West Haven) Mark Palmieri decided to stay and we’re better because of it.

“They were my guys, all the guys who were there before.”

But the revival has been stunning. Like his counterpart at Southern Conn. State Hotaling and SCSU coach Mike Donnelly have reversed the fortunes of rival schools in a head-turning flash in the rugged Northeast-10 Conference.

Hotaling figured it’d take two years to turn things around and then hoped his team could put in this type of season where his Chargers won 11 straight games at one point and finished fourth in the conference. Despite its loss in the opening round of the NE-10 tournament New Haven was certain it would earn an at-large bid to the NCAA.

“I looked at our first two years as a two-year season,” Hotaling said. “We never coached our first year just to win games. It was all, ‘This is how we’re going to coach in Year Three.’

“Fortunately for us the residue of the first two years led us to this. Defensively the guys were really familiar with what we were doing. We never changed our court philosophy so guys have improved a lot. But everything we did in those first two years was geared toward the third year.”

The Chargers went 8-18 in Hotaling’s first season but he was ecstatic with their 5-5 finish. Last season New Haven was 15-13.

“We added a few pieces to the mix last year and got 15 wins,” said Hotaling, who coached with Jay Young at New Haven 12 years ago. “That’s what got us here.”

Williams is one half of a stellar backcourt combo that combines to average 29.3 points and has knocked down 134 3-pointers on the season. Sharp-shooter Justin Exum leads the team with a 15.7 average. The Chargers also feature Eric Anderson, one of the most difficult matchups in all of DII basketball. Anderson averages 13 points and a dozen rebounds playing both inside and outside the paint.

“I saw the type of players that we had coming in and that was the main reason I decided to stay,” Williams said. “The talent and height we have made me stick it through. It’s been a lot of fun.”

New Haven will play in the East Regional which features five NE-10 conference teams. The Chargers also own a win against Franklin Pierce, the top seed in the region so they feel they can compete in the region. It is the first time in nine years that UNH will play in the NCAA tournament and sixth time in program history. UNH has never advanced past the second round, posting an all-time record of 2-7 in the NCAA tournament.

“Our guys have some maturity to them,” Hotaling said. “It’s unchartered territory for us but I think our guys are confident. If they do what they can do we should have a good chance to play with anybody.”

Said Williams: “I’ve been trying to tell the guys to enjoy this and take advantage of it. It’s special. I’ve been here for four years and I saw where we came from.”

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