ALBANY, N.Y. – The Merrimack men's basketball team held a 10-point lead midway through the second half, but host Saint Rose pushed ahead in the waning minutes and withheld a late charge by the visitors, as the Warriors dropped a 76-72 decision to remain winless on the road in Northeast-10 Conference action on Wednesday night at Daniel P. Nolan Gymnasium.
Losers of four out of their last five, the Warriors sink to 7-10 overall with a 4-8 mark in league play, while the host Golden Knights improve to 9-7 and move back to .500 within the conference at 6-6. Merrimack returns home to face AIC on Saturday (Jan. 26) afternoon at 3 p.m.
The Warriors took a four-point lead into the locker room after a back-and-forth first half, but after holding a 10-point lead midway through the second stanza, and despite a team-high 18-point output from freshman JT Strickland (Laurel, Md.), the visitors could not hold on, as Saint Rose stormed back to eventually take the lead for good with 3:10 to go and withheld a late Merrimack push before ultimately prevailing by four.
"We lost our composure when we had a big lead and a chance to take control of the game," head coach Bert Hammel said afterward. "If we don't take care of the basketball, if we're as careless as we were tonight with a lead, we won't have a chance to win many games. But if we can fix those problems, hopefully we can right the ship with some big home games coming up."
After commanding the turnover battle in the first half, the Warriors committed 10 giveaways in the second stanza alone, as the hosts were able to score 13 total points thanks to 14 Merrimack turnovers. That wound up being the key to the Golden Knights' comeback, as the visitors turned the ball over three separate times during an 11-1 run by the home side.
All tied up at 59-59 with 4:26 to go, both sides exchanged buckets until Saint Rose went ahead by five (70-65) with 42 seconds to go. Both teams traded a pair of free throws before Merrimack sliced the lead to one after freshman Anthony Barry (Uxbridge, Mass.) banked in a layup with 23 seconds to go, and after Tyler Sayre converted just one free throw on the back end of the play, sophomore Travonne Berry-Rogers (Lynn, Mass.) nailed his career-high second triple to make it a one-point game (73-72) with 10 seconds left.
Following two more freebies from Saint Rose, the Warriors squandered their chance to tie it after a turnover on the ensuing inbounds. The Golden Knights iced it with one last free throw to close it out ahead by a 76-72 margin when the final buzzer sounded.
The Warriors ended the game shooting 44.6 percent overall on 29-for-65 shooting, including a 7-for-20 (35.0) mark from long range. Merrimack did, however, finish only 7-for-12 (58.3) from the free throw line, while the Golden Knights won the rebounding battle (40-34).
Saint Rose finished 27-for-55 (49.1) overall and 6-for-16 (37.5) from downtown, but the hosts went to the line 13 more times than the Warriors and finished 16-for-25 (64.0). The Golden Knights did commit four more turnovers (18-14) than Merrimack, while the Warrior bench outscored Saint Rose's by a 20-9 margin.
Strickland led all Warriors with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including a career-high seven 3-pointers (7-for-12), while adding five helpers and four steals. Behind him, senior forward Mike Clifford (Danvers, Mass.) added 12 points, while the lone other Warrior to finish in double figures was junior Kevin Regan (Philadelphia, Pa.)¸who chipped in 10 points and a side-high seven boards, as well.
Off the bench, Berry-Rogers eclipsed his personal best in scoring by two, finishing with a career-high eight points on 3-of-7 shooting, while senior Adam Marshall (Kent, England) chipped in eight, as well. Barry totaled six rebounds while finishing 2-for-3 from the floor.
For the home side, four out of five starters finished in double digits with Tyler Sayre leading the way on 19 points thanks to a 7-for-10 clip from the field. Behind him, Andre Pope added 17 points with six boards, while Dan Mundweiler finished with 15 thanks to his 4-for-7 mark from downtown. Finally, Dominykas Milka added 14 points, and the NE-10's leading rebounder made his presence felt in the paint, finishing with a game-high 18 rebounds.
After falling behind early on, the Warriors jumped ahead midway through the first half, building up their lead to as many as nine points (37-28) at one point before the Golden Knights closed out the frame on a 7-2 run. Strickland was dominant in the opening stanza, contributing 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 2-of-4 from downtown.
As a team, the Warriors posted a 40.5 percent clip on 15-of-37 shooting in the first stanza, including a 6-for-14 (42.9) effort from the outside. Merrimack was also opportunistic off the hosts' giveaways, as Saint Rose turned the ball over 11 times in the first half alone.
Both sides exchanged scores in the opening minutes of the second half, but Merrimack began to pull away before taking a game-high 10-point lead (58-48) with 10:32 to go. Undeterred, the Golden Knights slowly began to chip away, and thanks to an 11-1 run Saint Rose tied the match at 59-all with less than five minutes to go.
From there on out, Saint Rose would outscore Merrimack by four points and withheld a late charge to keep the Warriors winless in six road tilts.
The Navy and Gold return to North Andover to welcome AIC for a Saturday (Jan. 26) afternoon conference showdown. Tip-off from Hammel Court is slated for 3 p.m.