Ed. Note — This story will also appear in Wednesday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune
NORTH ANDOVER — On a night where the Merrimack men’s basketball team needed their best player to be their best player, sophomore guard Juvaris Hayes took over the game in the second half and overtime as the Warriors beat Adelphi, 92-89, in overtime.
Hayes finished the game with a career-high 35 points, including scoring nine of Merrimack’s 11 points in the overtime. Hayes also finished with 10 assists and five steals. Not to be outdone defensively, Hayes blocked a potential game-tying three pointer with under minute left in overtime and then made another block as the Panthers tried for one last-second heave as time expired.
“He can take over games in a lot of different ways,” said Merrimack head coach Joe Gallo. “It’s not his scoring all the time, it’s his steals and he also leads the country in assists. They really deny on defense. Instead of taking a chance on throwing a ball away, you can’t deny and help. So if they aren’t going to help, they don’t have a guy who can keep Juvaris in front of them. We really stopped running an offense. That’s what the game called for.”
Hayes scored his 35 points without attempting a single three pointer. Merrimack made 36 field goals in the game and he figured on the scoring in 24 of them, hitting 14 and assisting on 10 more.
“We needed to stay disciplined,” said Hayes. “We wanted to keep them under pressure and follow our principles on defense. Offensively, we wanted to be smart and take the right shots.
“Coach gets on me about making the smart play. I kept driving looking for teammates but every time the lane was open, so I just kept taking shots that I’ve been working on in practice and it was falling for me today.”
Hayes is ambidextrous, and Gallo said that’s really helped Hayes when he drives to the rim.
“That really helps him at the rim because he can leave his feet and twist his body. It’s really amazing,” Gallo said.
“I played football when I was younger and I threw with my right hand,” Hayes added. “I’ve always been ambidextrous. High School was big because Coach Hurley really taught me how to transition to my right hand and now with Coach Gallo he’s worked with me on making it more consistent.”
Despite their struggles in the win column, Adelphi is one of the best scoring teams in the Northeast 10. Gallo said the Warriors wanted to keep the high-scoring team in check.
Gallo pointed out that the Panthers have averaged 14 three-pointers in their wins and 17 free throws.
The Warriors did a nice job of that in the first half, taking a 10-point lead into halftime. Then in the second half, the Panthers began to open up the offense and outscored the Warriors by 10 to send the game to overtime.
“Our big thing was to not foul and chase them off the three-point line,” Gallo said. “We did a good job of that in the first half. In the second half they really let it rain. I’m not sure if we had the Men in Black pen at halftime or what, because we got away from it in the second half.”
“We had some silly turnovers in the second half, too. A team that shoots the ball like that, when they make a few, they feel good about themselves. We shot 70 percent in the first half which slowed them up a little bit. I envisioned making this a grind-it-out 75-65 game. That’s the direction it was headed, but then it started getting crazy. This is the third game in a row where we just figured out a way to win.”
Merrimack remained without Ryan Boulter, who has been out since Dec. 5 with an injury.
Other scorers in double figures for the Warriors included Khalief Crawford (17) and Kyle Howes (14). Howes also led the team with seven rebounds.
Merrimack outscored Adelphi 62-44 in the paint.
Merrimack (12-5) currently sits one game in front of Saint Anselm for the Northeast Division lead. The Warriors head to Syracuse to take on Le Moyne this Saturday, facing the Dolphins for the first time since beating them in the NCAA Tournament last spring.
“Coach brought in new pieces to the team. Everyone is stepping up in the moment right now and it’s been getting us some wins,” Hayes said.