NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – In a clash of undefeated conference rivals, the Merrimack College men's basketball team opens up its Northeast-10 Conference schedule with one of its toughest tests of the young season, as the Warriors travel to No. 10 Franklin Pierce for a Wednesday night showdown. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Fieldhouse in Rindge, N.H.
Merrimack and Franklin Pierce are both off to 2-0 starts after posting back-to-back wins over the weekend. The Warriors downed Dominican and Caldwell College in the Bentley Tip-Off Classic on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The Ravens, meanwhile, notched double-digit victories against LIU Post and Wilmington (Del.) at the Southern New Hampshire University Tournament.
Senior forward Mike Clifford (Danvers, Mass.) enjoyed the best night of his career on Friday and followed it up with another strong performance on Saturday, as the team captain led the Warriors in scoring on back-to-back nights to help Merrimack claim season-opening victories against Dominican (81-76) and Caldwell (75-62) in the Bentley Tip-Off Classic.
On Friday, the Danvers, Mass., native could not be stopped, as Clifford finished with a career-high 28 points and 19 rebounds to lead the Warriors in the paint. He then followed it up with a team-leading 19 points on Saturday against Caldwell, and also contributed a game-best three blocks went 19-for-30 from the field over the weekend.
A year removed from earning a share of the NE-10 regular-season title before bowing out to Stonehill in the NE-10 Finals, Franklin Pierce enters Wednesday night's showdown ranked 10th in the most recent NABC Division II National Rankings.
Franklin Pierce should be a top national contender throughout the season. The Ravens did not lose much of their talent from last year's squad with a roster highlighted by preseason National Player of the Year favorite and NABC All-American Eric Jean-Guillaume.
Through two games, Ryan Vilmont leads the Ravens with a 14.5 ppg clip on 9-of-21 shooting, including 5-for-11 (.455) from long range. Behind him, Jean-Guillaume (13.5 ppg) Ellis Cooper (13.0 ppg) also average double-digit scoring averages, as well. Cooper's 19 rebounds (9.5 rpg) are also good for the team lead, while playmaker Georgios Papapetrou holds the team lead with seven assists.
The Warriors own a commanding 16-6 advantage in the all-time series against Franklin Pierce. Both teams split the two-game regular-season series in 2011-12, as both side won on its respective home court. Merrimack downed the Ravens at home by an 85-75 advantage back on Nov. 16, 2011, but the Ravens returned the favor with a 73-60 victory in Rindge, N.H., on Feb. 21, 2012.