Defending your home court is the goal of every team in college basketball. The reason it is so important is that winning on the road is so hard. The Merrimack College Warriors (8-12, 4-4) came home with a five-game winning streak and feeling good about themselves. This four-game homestand has taken some of the wind out of that sail. On Sunday, they faced the best team in the Northeast Conference in Wagner College (12-2, 8-0). A team that arrived at Hammel Court riding a seven-game winning streak, and a spot in the Mid-Major Top-25 poll at #20. No question this was going to be a major task for the home team to come out with a win.
The Seahawks placed four of their five starters in double-figures and had five overall. They extend their win streak to eight with a 71-57 victory over the Warriors. After the game, coach Joe Gallo said “really good to see us compete and play really hard.” For the most part, he was right. However, the flaw in the statement took place right off the opening tip that the Seahawks got and converted into an alley-oop dunk by Elijah Ford off an assist from Alex Morales. it set the tone for the way the game-opening minutes would be played. Wagner went on an 11-0 run to start the game with eight of those 11 points coming in the paint. Merrimack would stop that run with back-to-back buckets by Mikey Watkins (14 points). The Warriors would hang tough for the rest of the first half and would play their best stretch of basketball late into it.
Down 26-15, Merrimack then went on a run that got them back in the game. A 10-0 run by the home team brought them back to within one at 26-25. Jordan Minor (15 points, 11 rebounds, his sixth double-double of the season) had five points in the run. Guard Malik Edmead (14 points) had the other five. With just over a minute to play, Merrimack was right there. Edmead would tie the game at 28-28 on a three-ball and it would be the only tie of the game. Wagner came right back and took a lead with them to the locker room at 30-28 on a second chance layup at the buzzer by Morales (12 points).
The second half was all Wagner as they never gave up the lead they started the second half with. Zaire Williams (16 points) knocked down consecutive three-point baskets to get things rolling for the Seahawks. Wagner would push it back to ten on a jumper by Ford (20 points). A guy that Gallo said afterward “has had a good day all his life.” That made it 46-36 Seahawks. The Warriors did get to within five on a couple of occasions in the half but could never get over the hump in this one. Wagner hit their high watermark with a dunk by Raekwon Rogers (10 points) with 70 seconds to play and the final score from Hammel was Wagner 71 Merrimack 57.
Coach Gallo called Wagner “a good and older team.” He was disappointed in his team’s free-throw shooting where they were 4-11. They missed the front ends of one and one three times in the game. The Seahawks were 16-18 for the game and 14-16 in the second half. Those missed points by the Warriors could have made things interesting. The other stat that sticks out is 38 points in the paint by the Seahawks. What now changes for Merrimack is the schedule, as the team will finish the year playing seven of their last ten games on the road.
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