RINDGE, N.H. – In a battle of unbeatens, the Merrimack men's basketball team could not sustain the red-hot shooting from No. 10 Franklin Pierce, as the Warriors dropped their Northeast-10 Conference opener, 86-69, on Wednesday night at the Fieldhouse in Rindge, N.H.
Dropping its first contest of the season, Merrimack sinks to 2-1 on the year and 0-1 in league play, while the Ravens remain unbeaten and improve to 3-0 overall and 1-0 in NE-10 action.
As both teams continued to go back-and-forth through most of the first half, the preseason NE-10 favorite Ravens would catch fire midway through the frame and finish 9-for-13 in the first half alone from downtown while shooting well above 65 percent to take a commanding advantage.
That phenomenal shooting allowed the Ravens to take a 12-point lead into the locker room, one that they would never relinquish from that point on. Merrimack's deficit would never fall below 16 points the rest of the way, as the 10th-ranked Ravens cruised to just their seventh victory in 23 tries in the all-time series between the two schools.
For the third time this season, senior forward Mike Clifford (Danvers, Mass.) led the Warriors with 16 points, while rookie point guard Gelvis Solano (New York, N.Y.) tied that mark while establishing a new career best in scoring of his own.
Clifford also led all players with 12 boards, while fellow starters JT Strickland (Laurel, Md.), Tyler Young (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Kevin Regan (Philadelphia, Pa.) all finished in double-digits with 10, 14 and 12 points, respectively.
The Ravens, meanwhile, were led by four double-digit players, with Ellis Cooper leading all players with a game-best 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Meanwhile, Matt Barboza finished 3-for-4 from downtown in an 11-point performance off the bench, while Curtis Christian and Paul Dick each contributed 10 points apiece.
The hosts could hardly be denied from long range, as Franklin Pierce finished 13-of-22 from downtown (59.1 percent) compared to only 2-of-12 (.167) for the Warriors. Merrimack did control the battle of the boards with a 40-27 edge in rebounding. The home side, however, benefitted from a stellar performance from the bench, which outscored Merrimack's non-starters by a 45-1 margin.
After both teams exchanged baskets in the early goings, the Ravens pushed ahead to a 12-6 cushion on the backs of the first 3-pointer of the game. Merrimack responded moments later on back-to-back buckets from Clifford, making it a two-point game again with just over 12 minutes to go in the first half.
But back-to-back Franklin Pierce 3-pointers prompted another Merrimack timeout, as the Ravens eased ahead, 25-15, with 7:58 to go in the first stanza. At that point, Franklin Pierce saw its 3-point shooting rise to a 57 percent clip on 4-of-7 shooting, while the Warriors had gone just 6-for-21 (.290) from the field and 0-for-4 from long range through the opening 12 minutes.
The hosts' hot shooting did not cool off from that point on, as the Ravens continued their scorching pace from outside to take a 44-30 lead with under two minutes left in the first half. Late back-to-back buckets from Young trimmed the deficit to 10 (44-34) with 30 seconds to play, but Christian scored on a layup in the waning moments of the half to send the Warriors into the locker room down 46-34 after the first half.
Franklin Pierce finished shooting 9-for-13 (.692) from downtown in the first half alone, compared to 18-for-27 (.667) from the field. Despite holding an 18-10 advantage in rebounds, Merrimack did not help itself with seven turnovers and a paltry 1-for-7 (.143) mark from long range.
Clifford, meanwhile, led the visitors with 10 points in the opening 20 minutes, while Young (8) and Solano (7) also contributed offensively. Clifford led both sides with six boards, while Barboza tallied a half-best 11 points - accounting for all of his scoring on the night - on a trio of treys for the home side.
The second half did not see the Ravens' hot shooting slow up at all, as Franklin Pierce opened the stanza with five straight points en route to a 54-36 lead by means of an 8-2 runs through the first four minutes.
From there on out, the home side would never trail by less than 16, as the Ravens continued to go basket-for-basket with the Warriors and ease their way through the remainder second half en route to the eventual lopsided victory.
Next up, the Warriors return to North Andover to host Concordia in the 2012-13 home-opener on Saturday, Nov. 17. Tip-off is slated for 3 p.m.