NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Despite owning a 10-point lead with exactly five minutes to play, the Merrimack men's basketball team could not hold on to its late advantage, as visiting LIU Post stormed back by means of a 12-0 run to close it out, as the Pioneers handed Merrimack a heartbreaking 74-72 defeat on Sunday afternoon at Hammel Court.
Losers of four in a row, the Warriors move to 2-4 on the season, while the Pioneers earn their first win and improve to 1-3.
Merrimack appeared to be in control with a 72-62 lead with five minutes to play, as freshman guard Gelvis Solano (New York, N.Y.) nailed the home side's seventh 3-pointer of the match to put the Warriors comfortably in front.
But that would be the last basket that Merrimack would muster, as the visitors slowly but surely trimmed the deficit in half with a five-point run in a span of 47 seconds. Minutes later, after back-to-back free throws, the Warriors took over ahead by just two with just over two minutes to play.
Both sides would turn the ball over and miss a 3-point shot each over the ensuing minute, but Emile Blackman came up with a huge offensive rebound and scored on the put-back to tie the contest at 72-all with 58 ticks remaining.
The Warriors caught a break after coming up with an offensive rebound on a missed 3-pointer, and following a team timeout, Merrimack took over with the shot clock off and 33 seconds to play.
But a costly turnover with only 11 seconds to go gave the ball back in the Pioneers' hands, and after drawing a foul on an odd-man rush, Tobin Carberry calmly sank a pair of free throws to push the visitors ahead by two.
With only seven seconds on the clock, Merrimack rushed down the court in its final possession of the game. Rookie guard JT Strickland (Laurel, Md.) kicked it out to the right wing where junior Kevin Regan (Philadelphia, Pa.) was waiting, but the guard's potential game-winner rolled off the rim before the final buzzer sounded with the home side ultimately behind by two points.
"We have a young team, and they're going to go through a lot of learning experiences as they progress in their careers," head coach Bert Hammel said afterward. "Today is one of those experiences, an extremely disappointing and tough loss, but hopefully they'll learn from it and we'll get better from it."
Despite shooting nearly 50 percent from the field (48.4 percent – 30-62), the Warriors could not staunch an uncharacteristically high amount of turnovers (18), as those miscues led to 21 points for the visitors – including the decisive final basket. LIU Post, meanwhile, shot an impressive 54 percent (27-50) from the field, while Merrimack controlled the rebounding battle by a 33-27 margin.
After going 4-for-6 from long range in the first half, Merrimack's hot shooting from beyond the arc cooled off considerably in the second stanza, as the home side shot just 3-of-10 (.300) from the outside in the final 20 minutes. In total, the Warriors finished 7-for-16 (.438) from long range while LIU managed an even 33.3 percent (5-15) clip.
The visitors were extremely opportunistic at the line in the second half, taking advantage of nine Merrimack fouls by means of their 11-for-14 (.786) mark at the charity stripe. Merrimack, meanwhile, earned just three trips to the line in the second half and made just one of them. In total, the Pioneers shot 78.9 percent (15-19) from the free throw line, while the Warriors converted only 5-of-9 (.556).
Strickland enjoyed one of the best games of his young career, leading all Warriors with a career-high 19 points on 7-for-17 shooting, including a 3-for-5 mark from long range. Also finishing in double figures were fellow starters Regan (12) and Solano (10), while senior Tyler Young (Brooklyn, N.Y.) added 12 points off the bench. Both Regan and senior Mike Clifford (Danvers, Mass.) were strong down low, finishing with nine and eight boards, respectively.
Three players finished in double-digits for the visitors, as Carberry led all players with a 21-point performance on 6-for-13 shooting while also going 9-for-11 from the line. Tyuan Williams added 10 as well, while Dillon Burns chipped in 17 points from the bench.
Merrimack opened the game on a 10-2 run in the opening minutes to take an eight-point lead. But the Pioneers eventually clawed back and cut their deficit to as few as two points later on in the stanza before tying it up at 30-30 with 4:19 to go in the first frame.
The Warriors, however, would close out the half on a 14-4 run, as Regan nailed a 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining in the frame to send the home side into the break on top, 44-34.
It was more of the same throughout the majority of the second half, as Merrimack answered mini-runs by the Pioneers with short scoring bursts to silence the visitors. The Warriors' lead floated around the 10-point mark through most of the stanza before LIU mounted its game-deciding run in the final five minutes.
Next up, the Warriors stay at home to welcome Saint Anselm for a Northeast-10 Conference showdown on Wednesday, Nov. 28. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. from Hammel Court.