NORTH ANDOVER, MA- The Merrimack men's basketball team logged its fifth-consecutive victory Saturday afternoon, edging Southern New Hampshire 62-59 at Bert Hammel Court on Senior Day. The Warriors improve to 15-10 on the season and 12-9 in the Northeast-10 Conference. The Penmen dip to 12-14 overall and 8-13 in league action this year.
With the win, Merrimack jumps up one spot in the conference standings. The Warriors move into a tie for fourth with UMass Lowell heading into the final game of the season.
Mike Clifford (Danvers, MA) led Merrimack with his ninth double-double of the campaign as he scored 13 points, reeled in 16 rebounds and rejected two shots. Aaron Strothers (Wareham, MA) contributed 15 points and five boards. Wilfredo Pagan (Lawrence, MA) netted 12 points and recorded three steals on the afternoon. Roland Davis (Deer Park, NY) added 10 points while racking up six assists and four rebounds. Wayne Mack (Paterson, NJ) finished the contest with seven points while Tyler Young (Brooklyn, NY) chipped in with five points and six boards off the bench.
After Southern NH took an early 8-2 edge, the Warriors leveled the game at 11-11 as Clifford got his own rebound and banked in a left-handed lay-up with 15:49 remaining.
Merrimack claimed its first lead of the afternoon with 13:09 on the clock, 16-14. Davis drove to the hoop then dished the ball to Pagan in the right corner after attracting a swarm of defenders. Pagan knocked down the trey for his second bucket of the game.
The Warriors carried a 31-25 lead into the halftime break. Strothers paced Merrimack with eight first-half points and five rebounds. Clifford tallied seven points and grabbed 11 boards in the opening 20 minutes of play.
The host team shot 43.3% from the field and 42.9% from three-point range in the first frame. Southern NH drained 30.3% of its field goal attempts in the first half, including 4-for-13 from behind the arc.
After the Penmen captured a 33-32 lead, the Warriors sank four unanswered points to restore the lead to three. Clifford pushed Merrimack's edge to three with a two-handed dunk, 36-33. Strothers found the junior forward cutting down the lane to the rim unmarked with a smooth overhead pass.
Back-to-back three-pointers by the visitors cut the Warriors' advantage to one, 51-50, with four minutes left to play. Southern NH continued its run with a lay-up by Tory Stapleton to take a one-point edge.
After the two squads trade buckets and swapped possession of the lead, Mack nailed a triple to restore Merrimack's lead to two points. Relentless defense by Pagan on the Penmen's ensuing trip down the floor forced a turnover.
Strothers, Pagan and Davis all knocked down critical free throws down the stretch to seal the Warriors' fifth-straight victory to close out the homestand.
Southern NH had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer but BJ Cardarelli's last second bid missed the hoop.
Merrimack dominated on the glass as it registered 41 rebounds on the day while the Penmen grabbed 34. The Warriors finished with a 12-9 gap in offensive boards fueled by Clifford's five.
The hosts connected on 41.5% of their field-goal attempts in the win while limiting the visitors to 38.3% shooting.
"We got another solid team win today against a good, young team that plays tough," said head coach Bert Hammel. "Defensively we made enough plays and controlled the boards. We were able to knock down key free throws to get the win. It was good for us to award our seniors with a great win on Senior Day."
Prior to tip-off, the Merrimack men's basketball team recognized its senior class. The Warriors honored Juan Carlos Rosich (San Jose, Costa Rica), Pagan, Mack, Davis and Strothers in a pre-game ceremony. The Class of 2012 is just the second class in program history to boast three 1,000-point scorers as Mack, Davis and Strothers all eclipsed the millennium mark this season. Since arriving on campus in 2008, the Class of 2012 has guided the Warriors to 70 victories and has the team poised to make its 10th-straight Northeast-10 Conference Tournament appearance.
Merrimack will visit second-place Franklin Pierce in the final regular season contest of the season February 21.