HAIL THE CHAMPS: Merrimack Downs CCSU to Capture NEC Regular Season Championship

Merrimack College seniors Idris Joyner (15) and Jaleel Lord (13) celebrate with a sign along side head coach Joe Gallo after defeating Central Connecticut to claim regular season NEC Champions after the college basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in North Andover. (Photo/Mary Schwalm)

The Warriors won the championship after being selected to finish last in the 2019-20 NEC Preseason Poll. Merrimack becomes the second team ever to win a conference championship in its first year of Division I reclassification; the Warriors will become the first program ever to win an outright crown if Saint Francis University loses on Saturday.

Outside of the opening minutes, Merrimack led coast-to-coast during Thursday’s championship-winning evening. Senior Juvaris Hayes led the way with 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals while junior Devin Jensen filled up the stat sheet with 18 points on five 3-pointers. Senior Jaleel Lord and freshman Jordan Minor added 11 points apiece.

Merrimack will now await its postseason destination, which will likely see the Warriors play in one of the multiple postseason tournaments available for Division I basketball programs.

Links: Box Score
Video: Highlights | Postgame Press Conference

The Essentials
Score: Merrimack 69, Central Connecticut 58
Records: Merrimack (20-11, 14-4 NEC) | Central Connecticut (4-26, 3-14 NEC)
Location: Hammel Court | North Andover, Mass.

The Visuals
Merrimack celebrated in fashion, winning the NEC Regular Season Championship in its first year as a Division I program

 

Head coach Joe Gallo capped the festivities, cutting down the final thread of the Hammel Court net and jumping into the outstretched arms of his players

 

Thursday night began with Senior Night as Merrimack recognized its winningest class in school history: Juvaris Hayes, Idris Joyner & Jaleel Lord

 

Rapid Recap

    • With the score tied at 7-7, Hayes and Jensen combined to score Merrimack’s next 10 points to stake the Warriors to a 17-11 lead. Central Connecticut responded, however, using a 9-3 stretch to tie the game up, 20-20, with under 10 minutes remaining in the first half
    • Minor spearheaded a 7-0 run to garner a seven-point advantage, 27-20. After the visitors made it a one-possession game, Merrimack built its lead back up to seven as Minor added exclamation with a dunk to make it a 31-24 ball game
    • Merrimack went on a run to end the half, scoring the stanza’s final five points to take a 10-point lead to the locker room. Hayes fed Lord for a 3-pointer with five seconds remaining to make it a 40-30 margin entering the locker room
    • The Warriors’ double-digit advantage remained through the first six minutes of the second half, with Merrimack ahead, 50-36, with 14:02 left in the game. Lord hit a triple and Jensen nailed a three ball to give the Warriors their largest lead of the night, 59-41, with 7:48 remaining
    • Merrimack’s lead never dipped below double figures over the remainder of the night. The Warriors’ defense led the way once more as Merrimack improved to 15-1 this season when it holds a team under 60 points

 

Notes and Numbers

    • The Warriors joined Birmingham Southern (2003-04) as programs that won conference championships in their first year of Division I reclassification. If Robert Morris beats Saint Francis on Saturday, Merrimack will become the first program in NCAA history to win an outright regular-season conference crown in its first year of Division I reclassification
    • Merrimack is the first team in NCAA history to win 20 games in its first year of Division I reclassification
    • Merrimack posted a 20-win season for the 12th time in school history. For the first time in program annals, Merrimack won at least 20 games for the third straight year
    • Hayes led Merrimack in scoring for the third straight game. It was his fourth game this year with at least 10 points, five assists, five steals and five rebounds
    • Jensen hit at least five 3-pointers in a game for the third time. He entered Thursday ranking second in the NEC in three-point percentage
    • Minor nearly added a double-double with 11 points and eight rebounds off the bench

Up Next
Merrimack awaits its postseason fate, which will see the Warriors play in either the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) or College Insider Tournament (CIT). Stay tuned for the latest information.

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