HARTFORD, Conn. — The Merrimack men’s basketball team trailed by as little as six points in the second half before Connecticut pulled away for a 79-63 victory Monday night at the XL Center in Hartford.
For the Warriors, the tuneup against a Division I program yielded some positive results, including showcasing some depth off the bench.
“We stayed together,” said Merrimack head coach Joe Gallo. “There was great body language. I told them that everyone would play. We can go 10 deep. If we can buy-in to going 10 deep and wearing teams down, we’ll be good. It’s tough here with media timeouts, but in our league, I think we will be able to wear teams down.”
The Warriors and Huskies played relatively even for the first few minutes before UConn opened things up late in the first half to take a 40-29 lead into the locker room. However, Merrimack stud sophomore guard Juvaris Hayes was held scoreless in the first half.
Hayes delivered in the second half, scoring five points in the first minute off two field goals and a free throw to cut Merrimack’s deficit to 40-34 and he finished the game with a double-double, scoring 10 points to go along with four assists and 10 rebounds.
The Warriors scored seven points in the first 57 seconds of the half, with Tawayne Anderson Jr. also hitting a jumper to open the run 15 seconds in, but UConn recovered to score eight unanswered points, building its lead back to double digits at 56-41 with 12:18 remaining. The Huskies never trailed by less than 10 after that run.
“(Hayes) was a little too tentative early on, which resulted in some turnovers,” said Gallo, “but once he started attacking in the second half, he can play with anybody. That got us going when he got it out and was making plays in transition. That’s when we’re at our best.”
UConn had a clear advantage in the paint, outscoring the Warriors 70-24 inside. UConn had 10 players on its roster listed at 6-foot-7 or taller and the Warriors had only two, with Ryan Boulter the only one to see the floor. At one point, UConn had four players 6-foot-8 or taller on the floor at the same time.
“It’s a unique matchup,” Gallo said. “We’re not going to see that size the rest of the year. We wanted to come out here and see how we would compete for 40 minutes.”
Added Boulter, who finished with nine points and seven rebounds, “That was a different challenge. We won’t face a lot of teams that have four 6-foot-8 kids on the floor at the same time. It was a good challenge, and going down the road I think this will be a challenge that helps us.”
Merrimack committed 22 turnovers and the Huskies turned them into 19 points. UConn’s size also led to 20 second-chance points to Merrimack’s even.
“I thought we did a great job tonight,” Boulter said. “The turnovers killed us, but overall our intensity was good, we played hard and we competed for 40 minutes.
Merrimack’s regular-season opener will be one week from Saturday when the Warriors play their first of two games at the East Region Conference Challenge hosted by Holy Family University at 2 p.m.against Jefferson University.
More to follow in a notebook posted late Monday …
UConn 79, Merrimack 63
at the XL Center Merrimack: 29-34—63 Connecticut: 40-39—70 Merrimack (28-14-63): Anderson Jr. 1-2-4; Boulter 3-2-7; Hayes 4-2-10; McLauglin 2-0-4; Howes 2-0-5; Crawford 3-5-12; Moore 0-0-0; Lord 2-1-7; Jensen 2-0-6; Joyner 2-2-6; Giuliani 0-0-0. UConn 38-2-73: Larrier 8-1-17; Cobb 2-0-4; Vital 4-0-9; Gilbert 4-0-8; Adams 3-0-6; Anderson 0-0-0; Whaley 5-0-10; Wiliams 3-0-6; Polley 2-0-4; Diarra 5-1-11; Foxen 0-0-0; Carlton 2-0-4; Noyes 0-0-0. 3-pointers: Merrimack 7-23; UConn 1-14 Rebounds: UConn 45-34 Turnovers: Merrimack 22, UConn 17