NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Winners of a season-high four straight contests, the Merrimack men's basketball team returns to the hardwood for its first road trip in over a month, traveling to Garden City, N.Y., to battle the Adelphi University Panthers on Wednesday night.
The Warriors have not tasted defeat since a 100-73 setback on Dec. 1 at UMass-Lowell. Since starting the year 2-6, Merrimack has climbed back to .500 overall and will look to do the same in league play with a win on Wednesday.
Since starting the year 2-7, the Panthers have been on a bit of a roll themselves, winning three out of their past four (including back-to-back wins for the first time in 2012-13) to move to 5-8 on the year.
Compared to the all-time series between other members of the NE-10, the Merrimack-Adelphi rivalry is relatively young, as the two league foes have faced off just 13 times previously. Adelphi owns a slim 8-5 advantage in the all-time series.
Last year, Merrimack lost the only battle of the year between the two squads. Adelphi traveled to North Andover on Jan. 3, 2012, and handed the Warriors a 64-55 setback. In fact, Adelphi has won the last two meetings after Merrimack had won three in a row.
The two teams have played once yearly dating back to 2010 after both sides went just more than five years without a single showdown.
Last time out, thanks to a combined 29 points from freshmen guards Gelvis Solano and JT Strickland, Merrimack notched its season-high fourth consecutive victory, as the Warriors moved back to .500 on the season by means of a 73-59 victory over league foe Stonehill on Saturday afternoon at Hammel Court.
In a game that Merrimack led nearly throughout, the Warriors posted respectable shooting efforts from both the floor (44.8 percent) and long range (43.8 percent), and for the fourth consecutive match, Merrimack registered a plus-70 percent free throw conversion rate (85.7 percent), all while scoring 20 points off turnovers compared to six allowed off giveaways.
Solano rang in the New Year with a team-leading 17 points, while both Strickland and senior Tyler Young chipped in 12 apiece. Senior forward Mike Clifford also contributed a respectable 14 points on a perfect 6-for-6 mark from the field, while Young led all players with 13 rebounds to post his third double-double of the season and second in a row.
Stonehill posted a 39.2 percent clip from the field while going just 6-for-25 (24.0 percent) from long range, as one of the league's top 3-point shooting squads could not capitalize on the long ball on Saturday. The Skyhawks also finished a mere 60 percent (12-for-20) from the line.
The Panthers, who were picked fourth in the Preseason Coaches' Poll, are coming off a 2011-12 campaign that saw them share the NE-10 regular season title.
Adelphi started the year slowly, winning just twice in its first nine games. But since then, the Panthers have won three times in four tries, including a 61-56 victory at AIC this past Saturday. The Panthers own identical 2-4 records both at home and on the road.
Two players own scoring averages in double figures for the Panthers, with senior forward Bradley Simpson leading the way with an even 12.0 ppg. Simpson's 6.5 rpg also is a team-best, and the senior has shot 45.8 percent (60-131) from the floor over his first 13 games.
Behind Simpson, John Calarco ranks second in scoring, averaging 10.5 ppg while going 52-for-119 (43.7 percent) from the field and 14-for-39 (35.9 percent) from long range. Anthony Libroia is the team's leading shooting from long range, converting 40.9 percent (18-44) from downtown.
Adelphi's offense ranks last among all NE-10 squads, averaging just 57.0 ppg as a team. What the Panthers have lacked in offensive firepower, however, they have more than made up for in defensive prowess, as Adelphi owns the league's toughest teams, allowing a league-best 58.7 ppg. The Panthers' 7.6 steals per game and 3.7 blocks per game ranks sixth and seventh, respectively, as well.