Merrimack’s defense locks up New Haven’s top star in NE10 Quarterfinal victory
NORTH ANDOVER — When Merrimack lost at New Haven earlier this season, the Chargers star guard, Danny Upchurch, poured in 24 points. On Sunday afternoon at a jam-packed Hammel Court in the NE10 Quarterfinals, the Warriors limited him to just two (1 for 11 shooting), breezing past the Chargers 75-59 to advance to Wednesday’s NE10 Semifinal at Le Moyne.
Upchurch was averaging 19.5 points per game for the Chargers.
“That was our whole thing,” said Merrimack head coach Joe Gallo. “In the first game, he had probably three three-pointers in the first half off of us being lazy. A guy like that, when he sees ones go in, all of a sudden he’s Superman. All week we kept saying that we can’t let Upchurch beat us. He couldn’t find a look today. How many double-pump deflected shots did he take with two seconds left on the shot clock? Our guards up top were amazing at bothering him and everyone else rallied to him when he put it on the floor.”
At the other end of the floor, Merrimack star guard Juvaris Hayes was on point, finishing with 11 points and 15 assists to go with five steals, two blocks and he finished with a team high five rebounds.
“The whole game they tried to double (Hayes’) ball screens,” said Merrimack senior Kyle Howes. “In the second half, Coach said he needed to make more hockey assists, and he got us the ball and we were making plays. We had four guys in double figures.”
Ryan Boulter finished with a team high 17 points for the Warriors, knocking down three triples in the last few minutes to put the game away for the Warriors.
Merrimack shot 50 percent from beyond the arc (14 for 28), including Howes hitting three of his four shots; Devon Moore was for 3 and Boulter was 5 for 11.
“If anyone is shooting like that it’s tough to beat them,” Gallo said. “Kyle stepped up. The great think about Kyle is that he thinks every one is going to go in. He’s never scared of the moment. He carried us.
“Then at the end, that was the old (Boulter). He was our closer. We had guys flying around and it’s nice to have a guy who can hit two or three threes in a minute like that and be our Mariano Rivera. You can tell in practice that he’s getting his rhythm back.”
Meaningful March Games
Merrimack will play Le Moyne in the NE10 Semifinals on Wednesday, with the winner playing for the NE10 Championship on Saturday at 1 p.m.
“We talked before the game that, as a college basketball team, what you hope for is big, meaningful games at this time of year,” Gallo said. “That was one of them.”
Gallo said that the Warriors had some of their best preparation of the season ahead of the semifinal against the Chargers.
“They did some things that hurt us in the first game,” he said. “We were locked in mentally all week. We tried to take it easy on them physically, and I think that showed because we had a lot of energy to come out, but we were locked in mentally all week long.”
NCAA Hopes Look Promising
Merrimack and New Haven were both on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament heading into the game on Sunday. Merrimack’s victory over the Chargers likely locks up a spot for them in the tournament, but the Warriors won’t be taking their fate for granted ahead of the NE10 semifinals.
“We know we need a couple of wins,” Howes said. “We want to keep going in the conference tournament as far as we can, and that helps with the NCAAs. We at least now know that we have a chance.”
Hammel Court Rocking Hard
Merrimack packed Hammel Court on Sunday, with an announced attendance of almost 1,200 fans. There was
“There was great support,” Howes said. “Every team was here, family was here, it was awesome.
“The gym isn’t too big, so you can see the faces. You walk around campus and you see who was there. The support from everyone was unreal.”