In what is becoming a one for the ages type of season, the Merrimack Warriors (18-9, 12-2) picked up their eighth home win of the season on Saturday afternoon. They defeated a tough but undermanned Wagner (5-19, 2-1) 68-59. The story of this one was the Warriors’ ability to knock down shots from deep and get outstanding point guard play from senior Juvaris Hayes. He ran the Merrimack offense like he had drawn it up by himself. He finished the game with a season-high 15 assists and his scoring was not needed on this day (three points). But his floor general playmaking was as Haynes put the ball to teammates in the right spot all game long, and they delivered.
Because of the way Haynes handled the rock, Merrimack ended the game with 22 assists on 24 made baskets. They were also good from three-point land knocking down 14-of-24 for the game. Junior Devin Jansen was a killer from deep hitting 4-of-9 from behind the arc finishing the game with 14 points. All of Jansen’s points came in the first twenty minutes as the Warriors were 10-for-13 from deep. They had the lead for 33 minutes of game time with their biggest lead being 13 points in the first half. Their best scoring run also came in the first half. That too was a 13-0 run toward the end of the half to break a 28-28 tie with Wagner. Three three-point makes from Mikey Watkins (17 points for the game), Jaleel Lord (15 points), and Watkins again fueled this run.
Despite Merrimack’s hot shooting from the floor, Wagner hung tough. An 8-0 run to finish the half from the visitors cut the half-time deficit to five at 41-36. Curtis Cobb had five of those points on a three-pointer and a jumper in the paint. Cobb was Wagner’s go-to scorer in the first half. He had 15 in the half on his way to game-high 26 on the afternoon. The first half was the Cobb and Jansen show with each player taking turns hitting shots from all over the gym. The sold-out crowd at Hammel Court enjoyed the show.
The second half saw Wagner make a push at this one getting the Merrimack lead down to four at 48-44 with 14:58 to play. Cobb was getting some offensive help from Alex Morales who gave them a quick four points on his way to 12 for the game. Merrimack was having a hard time getting distance from the Seawolves. However, the Warriors finally did with Joyner and Lord doing the damage from the floor. Then Hayes got in on it with a three-point dagger of his own. It was the only basket he would get on the night and his coach, Joe Gallo, did not seem to mind. After the game calling Haynes “a special player.”The final four minutes were about the Warriors taking care of the ball making four free throws in the last minute to get the victory and move into first place in the Northeast Conference by a game in the loss column based on a loss earlier in the day by Robert Morris.
After the game, Gallo talked about the season saying “we don’t beat ourselves, and we really defend.” The shooting numbers by Wagner would bear that out by shooting only 37% from three, 20% from distance in the second half. and 46% for the game from the floor. The coach also praised the sold-out crowd at Hammel and the energy they get from them when they play at home. Despite this being a position that NOBODY at Merrimack ever dreamed of when the season began back in November, here they are. With a chance to win a league championship in their first year of Division 1 hoops. Gallo said it best “it’s pretty real.”
There are two weeks left in the regular season and the next game up for Merrimack will be on Tuesday night when they head to Rhode Island to play Bryant College.