NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – After a dramatic, last-second 3-pointer by freshman Gelvis Solano (New York, N.Y.) sent the contest to overtime, the Merrimack men's basketball team ran out of gas, as visiting AIC outscored the Warriors by four in the extra session to eventually prevail, 78-74, in a wild Northeast-10 Conference showdown on Saturday afternoon at Hammel Court.
Despite holding a 21-point game early in the second half, the Warriors (7-11, 4-9 Northeast-10) watched that cushion slowly evaporate until the Yellow Jackets (6-11, 3-10 NE-10) took their first lead of the game with just over two minutes to play.
With the game tied at 64-64, Jason Perrier nailed a key 3-pointer with just under five seconds remaining, putting Merrimack on the brink of defeat. But following an inbounds and a timeout, junior Kevin Regan (Philadelphia, Pa.) found a wide-open Solano, who turned and fired a trey from nearly 30 feet away that caught nothing but net, sending the home crowd into frenzy as the match headed to overtime.
But after a dunk from senior Tyler Young (Brooklyn, N.Y.) gave Merrimack a 71-70 edge with 3:10 to play in overtime, AIC would respond by scoring eight of the game's final 12 points, as back-to-back layups from Mark Ellis following a Merrimack turnover sealed the deal for the Warriors, who could not sink key free throws down the stretch or muster another long distance shot to get back in the game.
The loss came despite Merrimack holding an 18-point advantage at halftime after outscoring AIC by a 41-23 margin in the opening stanza. The difference came by means of the Yellow Jackets' hot hand in the second half; after shooting just 31.8 percent (7-for-22) in the opening period, the visitors converted 15-of-28 (53.6) from the floor in the final 20 minutes, including a red-hot 9-for-16 (56.3) from the arc.
Merrimack saw its accurate first-half shooting percentage drop from nearly 60 percent down to 40 percent in the second stanza, as the Warriors went 10-for-24 (41.7) over the course of the second half. But in overtime, the Warriors would convert just 3-for-9 (33.3) from the floor and miss all four of their long distance shots. In fact, after starting the game 6-for-12 from long range, Merrimack would make just one of its next 12 opportunities from downtown, a mark that played a factor in the final outcome.
Another difference-maker came in the form of the Warriors' poorest outings at the free throw line of the season. Merrimack converted just 7-for-19 (36.8) at the line, while the visitors were much more opportunistic of their freebies, finishing 15-for-20 (75.0) from the stripe.
Turnovers haunted both sides, as Merrimack committed 19 giveaways compared to AIC's 16, and the Yellow Jackets managed to turn those turnovers into 24 points. Merrimack held a commanding advantage in second-chance points (16-5), as the Warriors' 41-32 rebounding advantage led to 40 points inside the paint.
In total, the Warriors finished the game 30-for-62 (48.4) from the field and just 7-for-24 (29.2) from downtown, while AIC posted a 44.6 percent mark overall on 25-of-56 shooting. The visitors also shot a healthy 48.1 percent from long range thanks to a 13-for-27 clip.
Three Warriors finished in double-digits, with senior Mike Clifford (Danvers, Mass.) leading the way. Clifford earned his seventh double-double of the year thanks to his team-leading 18 points and 10 boards. Behind him, Solano added 15 while finishing 3-for-9 from long range, and Regan chipped in 11 points and a team-best six assists, while he and Young added eight rebounds apiece.
Leading AIC scorer Ricky Hudson made up for a scoreless first half with an outstanding final 25 minutes, finishing with a game-high 25 points and a team-best four triples to lead the way for the Yellow Jackets. Janek Schmidkunz also chipped in 14 points, while Ellis hauled in a team-high seven rebounds while adding seven points himself.
Merrimack soared out of the gate to start the first half, building a double-digit lead that wound up as high as 18 points before the final buzzer sounded at the break. But after a Clifford layup made it a 21-point advantage with 16:10 to go in the second, AIC slowly chipped away over the ensuing 10 minutes, and thanks to a 14-3 run, the Yellow Jackets eventually took their first lead of the match with 2:28 to go on a triple from Schmidkunz.
Both teams would then trade baskets over the final moments of regulation until Schmidkunz nailed what appeared to be the game-deciding 3-point basket with four seconds to play. Undeterred, Regan sent a long inbounds pass down to Young, who managed to call timeout with 1.7 seconds left on the clock and the ball near halfcourt.
After the break, Regan found Solano, and the rookie point guard let his 3-point prowess do the rest of the talking, nailing one of his most improbable shots of his young career.
Unfortunately for the home side, they were unable to follow up that fanfare in overtime, missing their last four field goal attempts to close out the contest.
Merrimack returns to action Tuesday (Jan. 29) night, wrapping up the month with an NE-10 battle against Pace. Tip-off from Hammel Court is set for 7:30 p.m.