NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – After squandering a 20-point halftime lead and a game-high 23-point cushion early in the second half, allowing visiting Le Moyne to take a seven-point advantage with under five minutes to play, the Merrimack men's basketball team dug deep and responded with a game-deciding 13-0 run to close out the contest, as the Warriors survived a dramatic rally from the Dolphins to come out on top, 65-59, in an exhilarating Northeast-10 Conference showdown on Tuesday night at Hammel Court.
But momentarily, it seemed as if the Warriors (7-8, 4-6 NE-10) had allowed the visitors to erase a season-high 23-point lead early in the second frame, as the Dolphins (7-7, 4-6 NE-10) sliced, diced and slashed their way back by means of an eye-popping 23-0 run over a span of nearly 10 minutes that lifted Le Moyne on top, 59-52, with 4:40 to play.
That, however, would be the final time that the Dolphins would register a basket, as the Navy and Gold finally clamped down after being outscored by a 38-11margin over the first 15:20 of the second stanza.
Senior forward Mike Clifford (Danvers, Mass.) finally posted a Warrior point with 3:27 to go after drawing a foul, making a free throw but missing the next. But after a missed basket on the other end, junior Kevin Regan (Philadelphia, Pa.), who finished with a team-high 16 points, nailed his second trey of the game to slash the deficit to three.
Following another missed Le Moyne bucket, Clifford gobbled up a miss trey for an offensive board and sank a key put-back layup to make it a one-point game with 2:19 to play. Finally, after another missed Le Moyne shot, freshman Gelvis Solano (New York, N.Y.) answered with his second triple of the contest, pushing Merrimack back in front by two (61-59) with 1:36 to go.
Nearly a minute later, after a missed trey from the visitors, freshman JT Strickland (Laurel, Md.) slashed down the baseline and put home a reverse layup, pushing the Warriors up by four, 63-59. One more missed trey later from the visitors, and freshman Troy Hammel (Valencia, Calif.) found himself at the line icing the game with the final freebies of the night, accounting for Merrimack's final margin of victory.
"We definitely displayed some growing pains tonight," head coach Bert Hammel said. "I'm proud of the way we fought back, absolutely, but we have to be surer of ourselves on the defensive end of the court. We have to be more consistent on a nightly basis. But tonight, we'll take the win and prepare for another tough road contest on Saturday."
Merrimack finished the game shooting just a hair under 40 percent from the field, going 22-for-56 (39.3) overall. And after going 4-of-8 (50.0) from downtown in the first half, the Warriors went just 3-for-14 (21.4) in the second frame, accounting for their final 7-for -22 (31.8) clip from 3-point land. Finally, the home side posted a 66.7 percent (14-for-21) clip from the free throw line.
The Dolphins more than made up for their modest 28.6 percent clip from the field in the first half by going 15-for-28 (53.6) in the second frame and finished 23-for-56 (41.1) overall. From the outside, the Dolphins went 8-for-22 (36.4), including 6-for-11 (54.5) in the second half. Le Moyne did not help themselves with a 2-for-6 showing at the free throw line over the final 20 minutes, finishing 5-for-11 (45.5) at the stripe in total.
For the home side, Regan (16) and Strickland (14) were the only players to finish in double figures, while the latter dished a game-high five assists. Clifford chipped in nine points and hauled in eight rebounds, while classmate Tyler Young (Brooklyn, N.Y.) posted eight points and a team-high nine boards, as well.
Le Moyne was led by Brian Zapisek, who went 6-for-12 overall – including an impressive 6-for-11 from the outside – to lead all players in the contest. Behind him was Qwadere Lovell, who added 11 points off the bench on 5-of-8 shooting. Gamal Mohamed posted a team-best nine rebounds, while Lovell added a game-high four steals, as well.
The visitors just edged out the hosts in rebounding (39-38), but the Dolphins committed 17 turnovers while Merrimack converted 18 points off those giveaways. The Le Moyne bench outscored Merrimack's by a 10-point margin (22-12), while the visitors also owned leads in points scored in the paint (28-26) and on second-chance opportunities (16-13).
For awhile, it seemed as if the game would be a breeze for the Navy and Gold, who built up their lead to 20 points in the first half. Merrimack finished 14-for-32 (43.8) in the opening stanza, as the Warriors cruised ahead to a double-digit lead with less than seven minutes to go, and took a 41-21 advantage into the break.
But Le Moyne would not go down easily. Down by 13 (52-36) with 12:50 to go, the visitors would go on to score the game's next 23 points over an incredible span of nearly 10 minutes, as the Warriors went on to miss their next nine shots (including free throws) until Clifford finally sank one from the stripe at the 3:27 mark.
By that time, the Warriors were down by six (59-53), but that did not deter the home side, who went on to close out the game on a 13-0 run following that dramatic stretch from the visitors.
Next up, the Warriors hit the road for back-to-back contests for the first time this season, starting with a conference tilt at Southern Connecticut on Saturday (Jan. 19) starting at 3:30 p.m.