NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – After dropping its final five games in the month of November after beginning the season 2-0, the Merrimack men's basketball team opens its four-game December slate with a trip to nearby conference rival UMass-Lowell for a Saturday afternoon NE-10 battle.
The Warriors have fallen in five consecutive games since starting the year with back-to-back wins in the Bentley Tip-Off Classic. In that span, they have fallen by as few as two points (74-72 - LIU Post) and as many as 15 (twice - most recently a 98-83 defeat to Saint Anselm).
The River Hawks enter Saturday's tilt 4-1 overall and are coming off an impressive victory over 23rd-ranked Stonehill. Five players posted double figures in points in that victory, their fourth in five games to date.
Merrimack and UMass-Lowell are meeting for the 58th occasion in all-time history. The Warriors have gone just 1-4 against the River Hawks in their last five tries.
Last season, Merrimack split its two-game set with UMass-Lowell. In the first game, the River Hawks edged the Warriors, 68-66, on the road on Dec. 3, 2011, before the Warriors returned the favor with a thorough 74-57 victory at Hammel Court on Feb. 11, 2012.
Merrimack does hold a slim lead in the all-time series with a 30-27 overall record against the River Hawks through 57 previous meetings.
Freshman point guard Gelvis Solano and senior forward Mike Clifford both topped the 25-point mark – including a career- and team-high 28-point effort by the former – but that would not be enough, as Merrimack was outscored by 22 points in the second half, and visiting Saint Anselm handed the Warriors a 98-83 defeat on Wednesday night at Hammel Court.
Merrimack brought a 51-44 advantage into the locker room after shooting 56.8 percent (21-37) from the floor in the first half, but that hot shooting went by the wayside in the second stanza, as the Hawks capitalized on 11 Merrimack turnovers and shot a red-hot 63.6 percent (21-33) from the field in the final 20 minutes to storm back in commanding fashion..
With the game tied at 59-59 and 14:35 remaining in regulation, the Hawks reeled off 12 uncontested points to open up a 71-59 cushion with just more than 10 minutes to go before the Warriors responded with a mini-run of their own to slash the deficit to five (71-66) with 8:47 to play.
But another 10-2 run in favor of the visitors gave Saint A's another double-digit lead with just under seven minutes to play. Again, Merrimack would answer by registering the next seven points to once again trim a 13-point deficit to just six (81-75) with 5:42 to play, but the Hawks would end the game on a 17-8 run that squashed any hope of a comeback.
Solano was a bright spot for the young Warriors, however, as the rookie guard eclipsed his previous career-high of 22 with 28 points tonight by means of going 10-for-16 from the floor, 5-for-7 from long range and 3-for-4 from the line. The New Yorker also added a game-high four steals and earned a block on the night, as well
November has been kind to the River Hawks, who advanced to the Northeast-10 Tournament Championship a year ago before ultimately falling to Stonehill, as the River Hawks have gone 4-1 in the first month of the 2012-13 campaign.
UML began the season with three straight victories - including a one-point win against Holy Family on Nov. 17 - before most recently capping off the month with a thrilling 75-55 blowout against No. 23 Stonehill.
The River Hawks' lone loss of the year came at the hands of conference foe Saint Michael's as the Purple Knights earned a 69-60 win over UML on Nov. 20.
Three players average double-digit scoring figures for UMass-Lowell, highlighted by junior guard Akeem Williams. The Brockton, Mass., native leads all players with 16.4 ppg on 37.3 percent shooting from the floor and a 35.5 percent rate from long range.
Along with Williams, junior guard Antonio Bivins and senior forward Matt Welch have paced the offense as well. Bivins averages 14.4 ppg while hauling in 7.0 rpg to compliment a team-best seven steals and five blocks, while Welch ranks just behind in scoring (13.8 ppg) but just ahead in rebounding (7.4 rpg - team-best), and has also totaled four blocks.
Fellow starters Chad Holley and James McDonnell have averages 25.6 and 16.4 minutes per game, respectively, while Greg DeSantis has seen valuable time off the bench, averaging 18.4 minutes per match to compliment a steady 6.4 ppg average.
As a team, the River Hawks have not excelled in any one particular area but rather have been a balanced squad on both ends of the court through the early portions of the season. UML ranks sixth in the conference in team scoring (72.2 ppg), 10th in shooting (.421), sixth in 3-point shooting (.385), and sixth in total rebounding (37.8), although their -3.8 rebounding margin ranks second-to-last in the NE-10. UML has taken care of the ball, however, committing only 11.4 turnovers per game (third-best in NE-10).