NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Highlighted by double-double performances from senior Tyler Young (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and rookie JT Strickland (Laurel, Md.), the Merrimack men's basketball team ran up its winning streak to a season-high third in a row, as the Warriors scored the contest's first 15 points en route to a comfortable 87-69 victory in their non-conference finale on Monday afternoon at Hammel Court.
After a nearly three-week hiatus, the Warriors (5-6) returned to the court for the final time in 2012 and did not miss a beat in their first match since Dec. 8, as the home side used a 19-1 run over the opening seven minutes of the game to tilt the momentum in its favor early on, and that would be more than enough to survive several pushes from the visiting Deacons (6-7) in a winning effort.
Young, a four-year veteran, and Strickland, one of the team's emerging young stars, both enjoyed record-setting afternoons. The former edged past his previous personal best in scoring after finishing with 20 points, 10 boards and a career-high seven assists, as Young narrowly missed a triple-double by three helpers. Strickland, meanwhile, finished with 11 points and a career-best 12 assists, posting his first-ever unconventional double-double.
"I'm proud of our focus and attention to detail early in the game," head coach Bert Hammel said afterward. "That allowed us to build an early lead against a tough, road-tested team. That wound up being the difference in the game, and now with three wins in a row, hopefully we have some confidence built up heading into the rest of our conference schedule."
The Warriors finished the contest shooting an impressive 50.7 percent from the floor (34-for-67) while limiting the Deacons to just a 32.3 percent (21-for-65) conversion rate. Merrimack chucked up 14 treys while converting five of them (35.7 percent), while the visitors went 7-for-29 (24.1 percent) from downtown.
Finally, Merrimack posted a respectable 73.7 percent clip from the free throw line (14-for-19), as the home side posted a plus-70 free throw percentage for the third straight match. Bloomfield finished 20-for-26 (76.9 percent) from the stripe.
Young wrapped up his memorable afternoon going 6-for-11 from the field and a perfect 8-for-8 from the stripe and added one block, as well. Strickland posted a game-high four steals and hauled in six boards. Senior forward Mike Clifford (Danvers, Mass.) led all players with a 24-point outing on a game-high 11 field goals (11-for-15) and posted nine boards, while junior Kevin Regan (Philadelphia, Pa.) rounded out the group of Merrimack double-digit scorers with 12 points, six boards and two steals.
Dondre Whitmore led the visitors with 20 points on a 6-for-14 clip from the floor, as well as a perfect 6-for-6 mark from the free throw line. Terry Hicks added a team-high six rebounds, while fellow starter Matt Hall chipped in 11 points and four boards, as well.
Merrimack enjoyed one of its best starts to a contest this season, as the Warriors built leads of 15-0 and 19-1, respectively, over the opening 10 minutes of the game before settling for a 24-7 lead midway through the first half.
Bloomfield would slice the lead to 10 points with 2:07 left in the frame, but both sides exchanged scores to close out the half with the Warriors leading by 12, 41-29.
The start of the second half saw both teams go basket-for-basket over the opening five minutes before Bloomfield cut Merrimack's lead to single digits for the first time since the opening minutes of the game.
Ahead by just nine, 47-38, with 16:05 left in regulation, the Warriors ripped off a 13-3 run in a four-minute span to re-cushion their lead to a comfortable 19 (60-41) at the 12:12 mark of the second half.
From there on out, Merrimack's lead never fellow below 13 points, as the Warriors finished the season 3-2 against non-conference opponents, as well as wrapping up December with a 3-1 record after starting 2-5 in November.
Next up, the Warriors return to Northeast-10 Conference play for the remainder of the season, starting with a home tilt against Stonehill next Saturday, Jan. 5. Tip-off from Hammel Court is slated for 3 p.m.