NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – After taking an 11-point lead into the locker room, the Merrimack men's basketball team pulled away midway through the second half after benefitting from four consecutive technical fouls whistled against Southern New Hampshire, as the Warriors closed out the semester with a 80-58 victory in Northeast-10 Conference action on Saturday afternoon at Hammel Court.
Winners of back-to-back contests for the first time since early November, the Warriors improve to 4-6 overall and claw upward in the conference standings while raising their league record to 2-4. The Penmen, meanwhile, saw a two-game win streak come to a close and sink to 5-3 overall and 3-3 in conference play.
A late foul during a 3-point shot after the buzzer sounded at the end of the first gave rookie Troy Hammel (Valencia, Calif.) a chance to put the Warriors ahead by a double-digit margin heading into the break. The freshman guard calmly sank three consecutive freebies, raising the home side's advantage to 41-30 at the intermission.
Early in the second, both teams went back-and-forth until Rodney Sanders sank a 3-pointer at 13:06 to cut the Warrior lead to single digits (53-44) with plenty of time to go.
But three minutes later, Hammel once again drew a foul to send him back to the line for free throws. That prompted the ire of the Southern New Hampshire bench, and after the dust settled, the Penmen were warranted four technical fouls in a row, resulting to the ejection of their head coach and a player.
Those fouls brought Hammel to the line for eight consecutive free throws, and the Valencia, Calif., native made them all, raising Merrimack's lead to an insurmountable 20 points (66-46), one that would not fall below 20 the rest of the way.
Before and after the penalties, however, Merrimack was in the midst of one of its best shooting games of the season, as the Warriors finished 15-for-32 (46.9 percent) from the field and a season-best 23-for-26 (88.5 percent) from the line, with Hammel accounting for 11 of those free throws.
The visitors mustered a 33.9 percent clip (20-for-59) from the floor and converted 3-pointers at a 29.2 percent rate (7-for-24), but the Penmen made just 11 of their 23 free throws, good for only a 47.8 percent clip from the charity stripe.
Four players finished in double figures for the Warriors, highlighted by rookie JT Strickland (Laurel, Md.). The guard went 5-for-11 overall and 4-for-4 from the line while distributing a game-best seven assists. Behind him, Hammel ranked second with 13 points off the bench, while classmate Anthony Barry (Uxbridge, Mass.) notched a career-high 12 points in 16 minutes, as well. Finally, senior Tyler Young (Brooklyn, N.Y.) finished with 10 points and a game-high nine rebounds in 32 minutes.
Rodney Sanders led Southern New Hampshire with a game-best 20 points on 6-for-10 shooting while going 3-for-5 from long range. Elijah Bonsignore also added nine points, while Aleksandar Dobrovic tied Sanders for the team lead on the glass with six boards.
Merrimack outrebounded SNHU by a 41-31 margin, and totaled six blocks to the visitor's two.
The Warriors will enjoy more than three weeks off now as they prepare for finals. Their next contest will take place the afternoon of New Year's Eve, when Merrimack hosts Bloomfield on Monday, Dec. 31, at 1 p.m. at Hammel Court.