HARTFORD, Conn. — Joe Gallo knows the ins and outs of the Merrimack basketball program better than anyone. From his days as a player and assistant coach to now running the program as the head coach, Gallo has watched the Warriors up close, and from afar, for more than a decade.
Even when he was an assistant at Dartmouth and Robert Morris, Gallo kept a close eye on the program, especially on the recruiting trail.
Following Merrimack’s 79-63 exhibition setback against UConn on Monday night at the XL Center, Gallo said that this Merrimack team is the deepest he’s ever seen.
“This is the deepest we’ve been by far,” he said. “If you came to practice, we have a blue team and a gold team, and we switch them every day and it’s pretty even.”
The depth was on display against the Huskies. Freshman guard Khalief Crawford played 21 minutes off the bench and led the Warriors with 12 points. Transfer Idris Joyner had six points, two rebounds and four assists in 17 minutes off the bench and Jaleel Lord had seven points in 17 minutes, knocking down two of the three three-point shots he attempted. Freshman guard Devin Jensen had six points in just nine minutes.
“We had a scrimmage about a week ago and Crawford and Joyner both played well there,” Gallo said. “Devin Jensen can make shots as well, he’s 6 for 6 with 16 points in about 20 total minutes. He has some other things he can work on, but he can come in there and light it up.”
Added starting forward Ryan Boulter, “Everyone fits in nicely. We’re playing 10 guys and everyone is getting minutes and working hard. We’re going to be a deep team. Legs and bodies will start getting worn down in March. Being so deep will help that.”
The genesis for last night’s exhibition game was the relationship between Gallo and UConn assistant coach Ricky Moore. Gallo and Moore were together on the coaching staff at Dartmouth from 2010-12.
“Ricky and I have stayed close, we talk every couple of weeks,” Gallo told The Eagle Tribune. “He’s become a good friend of mine and we’ve developed that relationship. If we’re ever on the road recruiting we usually sit next to each other.”
“I really enjoyed working with Joey,” Moore said. “He’s a hard worker, really knows the game, and you can see it in their play. First year going to the NCAA Tournament, he’s going to do big things there.”
Zone Problems For UConn
UConn head coach Kevin Ollie didn’t seem pleased that the Warriors played their 2-3 zone defense the whole game.
“We need to really go in and shoot and make sure we have some guys who are knocking down open threes because we’re going to see zone a lot,” Ollie said. “They play zone the whole game, and to play an exhibition game against zone this early, the whole game, is something I don’t like from an opponent but it was good, we’ll use it and it will be fuel to our fire.”
But, that’s how Merrimack plays. The Warriors are a zone team. And, the Huskies knew that when they put the Warriors on the schedule.
“The only thing that I didn’t like when we were scheduling the game is their 2-3 zone, we want to see in our exhibition games what our guys can work on against man, and then some zone,” Moore told The Eagle Tribune. “So that was the only thing we had to think about, but we ended up deciding to play them.”
Merrimack limited the Huskies to just 1-for-14 shooting from beyond the arc.
“We stopped them from three, and that’s one of our goals as a defense,” Boulter said. “We don’t want to see uncontested threes. Overall, they didn’t shoot a lot from the outside, but I thought we did a good job defending that.”
Joyner Adds Toughness Up Front
UConn had such a size advantage last night, it was difficult to gauge the true impact that sophomore-transfer Idris Joyner will have on the roster. But, Gallo said he believes Joyner is just what the Warriors need in the paint.
“Idris adds an element of putting it on the floor a little bit, and I think he’ll be a mismatch in our league,” he said. “It’s tough out there against those guys.”
UConn had 10 players on its roster listed at 6-foot-7 or taller, and the Warriors only had two. Of those two players, only Boulter saw action.
Joyner is 6-foot-5 and was a high school teammate of sophomore guard Juvaris Hayes. Last season, Joyner played for Western Oklahoma State College, averaging 11.5 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 52 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from three-point range. Joyner was a starter for Saint Anthony’s 2016 New Jersey State Championship team.