NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – In search of back-to-back wins and with a chance to move back to .500 on the year, the Merrimack men's basketball team heads to Southern Connecticut State to begin a two-game road trip on Saturday afternoon.
The Warriors snapped a two-game skid on Tuesday night, holding off an incredible charge by visiting Le Moyne before closing out the match on a 13-0 run to emerge victorious, 65-59. With three wins in its last four contests, Southern Connecticut will be looking for its seventh conference victory of the season, as the Owls sit three games back of first place and are in the midst of a three-way tie for fourth place.
Merrimack and Southern Connecticut will be playing the 30th game of the all-time series. The Warriors just lead the series, owning a 20-19 all-time mark against the Owls. The series dates back to the 1966-67 campaign, when Merrimack lost, 89-79, in the first matchup between the schools.
Last year, the Owls won the only meeting between the schools, 60-57, on Jan. 14, 2012, in North Andover.
Most recently for Merrimack, 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 Warriors dug deep and responded with a game-deciding 13-0 run to close out the contest on top, 65-59.
The Dolphins slashed their way back by means of an eye-popping 23-0 run over a span of nearly 10 minutes that pushed them ahead, 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 38-11 margin over the first 15:20 of the second stanza.
Senior forward Mike Clifford 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, 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 answered with his second triple of the contest, pushing Merrimack back in front by two (61-59) with 1:36 to go. From there on out, the Warriors would add four final points to finish the match ahead by six.
Entering Saturday's showdown 9-5 overall and 6-4 in NE-10 play, the Owls have three of their last four matches and currently sit in a tie for fourth place, sitting three back of first-place Assumption. Southern Connecticut has gone just 3-3 at home, compared to a 5-2 road mark.
Most recently, the Owls traveled up to Colchester, Vt., and survived a scare from four-win Saint Michael's thanks to the efforts of three double-digit scorers en route to a 60-56 victory over the Purple Knights.
Two players average double figures in scoring, as senior forward Trevon Hamlet leads the way with a team-best average of 18.9 ppg, the second highest mark in the league. Hamlet also averages 6.1 rebounds per contest, while his 37 blocks are first in the NE-10.
Behind him, Greg Langston ranks second averaging 15.0 ppg, the 10th highest average in the league. The junior also averages 6.2 rpg (19th), while his 48 made free throws are the seventh most in the conference.
As a team, the Owls' offense ranks third in the league, averaging 76.0 ppg, but their defense ranks third-to-last (71.4). Southern Connecticut ranks fifth in overall shooting percentage (44.3), but rank 14th from long range (32.1). The Owls, however, are the top rebounding team in the league, averaging 40.1 rpg overall with a +2.1 rebounding margin (third). Finally, the team's 4.4 blocks per game average is good for second best in the NE-10.