NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Back in the win column for the first time since the second game of the season, the Merrimack men's basketball team looks to match a previous season-high two-game winning streak against Southern New Hampshire on Saturday afternoon at Hammel Court.
The Warriors snapped a six-game losing streak against Saint Michael's on Tuesday, Dec. 4, as Merrimack overcame a season-low 43-point outing to win a defensive battle, 43-36.
The Penmen ride into North Andover in the midst of a two-game winning streak, most recently topping previously ranked Southern New Hampshire, 63-46, in commanding fashion on their home hardwood.
Merrimack and Southern New Hampshire are meeting for the 46th time in all-time history. The Warriors have gone 2-3 in their last five chances against SNHU, including a regular-season split in 2011-12.
Last season, Merrimack went 1-1 against the Penmen, including a 63-59 victory at home on Feb. 18, 2012. That win snapped a three-game losing streak against Southern New Hampshire. SNHU held on for a 73-60 win back on dec. 10, 2011, on the road.
Southern New Hampshire holds a slight edge in the all-time series, as the Penmen own a 25-20 record against the Warriors in a series that dates back to 1969. The Penmen won the first meeting more than 40 years ago, 56-45.
Last time out, and in a gritty, gutsy and physical showdown against the best defensive team in the league, Merrimack dug deep and overcame a subpar shooting performance from the floor and benefitted from its best defensive showing of the year, as the Warriors out-muscled visiting Saint Michael's in a 43-36 victory in front of their home crowd, snapping a six-game losing streak in the process in a Northeast-10 Conference battle on Tuesday night at Hammel Court.
No Warrior finished in double figures for the first time this season, but instead benefitted from a sound all-around spread on the offensive side of the court. The home side brought a two-point (18-16) lead into the locker room after both teams combined for only 34 points total in the first half before Merrimack pulled away late in the second to seal the win.
If not for the Purple Knights' measly 19.1 percent clip from the floor (13-for-68), perhaps the game would have been different down the stretch given that Merrimack was in the midst of its first sub-50 point game since a 62-47 defeat at Bentley on Nov. 17, 2010.
But the Warriors dug deep and made the shots when they needed them, as the home team shot 34.5 percent (10-29) in the second half to out-score the visitors by five in the final stanza.
Southern New Hampshire has enjoyed a solid start to the season, entering Saturday with a 5-2 overall record, with five of seven games played against conference foes.
Most recently, the Penmen came away with an impressive 63-46 win over a Stonehill squad that was nationally ranked at the time. Before that, SNHU took down Bentley, 70-60, at home.
The Penmen are a perfect 4-0 at home this year, but just 1-2 on the road, with losses coming against conference foes Saint Anselm (89-67) and Franklin Pierce (73-73). SNHU's only road win of the year was against Saint Michael's (62-46).
Two players average in double figures for the Penmen offense, one that ranks 10th in the league. Mike Stys leads the way averaging 13.0 ppg on a 43.3 percent clip from the field. Stys has knocked down 19-of-20 from the line for an impressive 95 percent conversion rate, and ranks third on the team with 13 assists.
Rodney Sanders is the only other player to average more than 10 in scoring, posting a 12.0 ppg average on the year. The rookie has went 8-for-15 (53.3%) from long range and hauls down 5.3 boards per game and owns a team-leading 13 steals and 21 assists (2nd), as well.
Fellow starters C.J. Marriro (9.7), Elijah Bonsignore (8.7) and B.J. Cardarelli (8.6) have contributed at least 60 points each. Marriro's 29 assists lead the team, while Bonsignore's 17 blocks are second-most in the conference.
As a team, Southern New Hampshire ranks 10th in offense (66.4) but have fared much better on defense, as their 62.3 scoring average against is fourth-best. Opponents have shot just 29.4 percent from long range against the Penmen to account for the fourth-best defensive 3-point percentage in the NE-10.