NORTH ANDOVER — Juvaris Hayes put Merrimack on his back in the first half and nearly finished with a triple-double as the Merrimack men’s basketball team beat Bentley, 72-60, on Tuesday night at Hammel Court.
The Warriors, who have been without the services of Troy McLaughlin and Ryan Boulter due to injury, needed to rely on defense against the sharpshooting Falcons. Hayes recorded nine steals — seven came in the first half — which was a new career high and the Warriors forced 23 turnovers. Hayes finished one steal shy of his second career triple-double, also posting 16 points and 12 assists.
“For the most part, we’ve been locked in on defense and we pride ourselves on that,” Hayes said. “We need to pick ourselves up, we’re two guys down, so we need to be tough and pull out these wins.
“We pride ourselves on principles on D. We wanted to take their shooters off the three and we did that. Teams like Bentley play until the end.”
Hayes was forced to pull back on steal attempts later in the second half after getting in some foul trouble.
With Boulter missing his second game and McLaughlin out for his fifth in a row, the Warriors inserted freshman Khalief Crawford in the starting lineup. Crawford finished with a career-high 18 points, while Devon Moore (11 points) and Tawanye Anderson Jr. (9 points) also set new career bests.
“We talked about our depth a lot in the preseason and then we didn’t necessarily play as many guys early in the year,” Merrimack head coach Joe Gallo said. “But it’s showing now. Devon Moore and Khalief Crawford have had two big games in a row.”
Merrimack never trailed in the game.
The Warriors built a comfortable 16-point lead in the first half due in large part to turnovers, including Hayes’ seven thefts. At one point, Hayes scored six of Merrimack’s eight points in an 8-2 run to gain a 12-point edge. Merrimack would lead by as many as 18 points at the start of the second half.
Bentley’s Ryan Richmond is one of the top scorers in the NE10, and the Warriors held him to 10 points. That defensive effort comes on the heels of Merrimack holding Saint Michael’s Levi Holmes, another top scorer in the league, to just 10 points this past Saturday.
“Our biggest thing was we didn’t want them to get off their threes because they’re a good shooting team,” Gallo said. “We’ve played two of the top scorers in the league the last two games and held them both to 10 points. That’s big. Holding them to 60 points is something we can be proud of.”
Winners of five straight games, Merrimack will now have 19 days off before hosting Dominican College on Dec. 31 at noon. Regional rankings aren’t posted yet by the NCAA, but Dominican and Merrimack figure to be two of the top teams in the region. The Warriors enter the break 9-3, while Dominican is 7-1 with four games still on the docket before Dec. 31.
For Merrimack, it’s a good time for a break despite a five-game winning streak.
“This is a big break for us,” Hayes said. “We’ll have time to rest, get treatment and hopefully get everyone back and healthy and then we hope we can pick up where we left off when we get back.”
Added Gallo, “We’re playing so well you’d love to play on Saturday, but we have some guys out that we need to get back. It’s a good time for it. We just need to make sure we don’t lose our edge.”