THE STREAK BEGINS
With headline-grabbing wins at Northwestern, competing against notable foes such as Providence College and ringing in the Division I era on campus with a win against Army in front of a sellout crowd at Hammel Court, Merrimack entered Northeast Conference (NEC) play with an established reputation. Could the Warriors, however, handle the grind of its first NEC slate? Yes, yes they could.
Merrimack started league play by splitting its first two games, a win on the road against Sacred Heart – an eventual top-four program in the conference – and a loss at home to Robert Morris, the eventual NEC Tournament champs. After that game, the Warriors would go on a run that would define their conference season.
The next three games saw the Make Chaos crew host Mount St. Mary’s and Bryant University with a road trip to Central Connecticut sandwiched in between. The first contest against the Mountaineers featured a back-and-forth affair with 13 lead changes and 10 ties; Merrimack held on for a 64-61 win. The Warriors then won at last-place Central Connecticut to bring their league record to 3-1 before a come-from-behind win against Bryant – recovering for a seven-point deficit with under eight minutes to play – to improve to 4-1 and increase their winning streak to three games.
The dreaded “Western Pennsylvania” road trip awaited Merrimack the following weekend, playing games at Robert Morris and Saint Francis. Why is this trek so daunting? Only one NEC program had “swept” the weekend since 2014-15. In 2019-20, the Colonials and Red Flash were their typical selves – eventual playing one another in the finale of the NEC Tournament. On this snowy weekend when Merrimack arrived, the Colonials sat in first place in the league and Saint Francis would be tied for first when the Warriors visited Loretto in the coming days.
First up for the Warriors was a rematch with the undefeated Colonials, who had not dropped a game since beating Merrimack at Hammel Court two weeks prior. A low-scoring contest played out at Robert Morris – with 17 lead changes and 10 ties – including nine lead changes in the first nine minutes of the second half. The Warriors prevailed, however, with senior Jaleel Lord hitting the game-winning bucket with less than two minutes to play. To avenge the early season defeat was sweet for the Road Warriors:
Monday’s contest against Saint Francis arrived with the Warriors and Red Flash tied for first in the NEC with 5-1 ledgers. Behind a career game from senior Idris Joyner with 28 points on 11-12 shooting and a suffocating defensive effort that allowed 21 second-half points, Merrimack surged past Saint Francis, 72-55, to take sole possession of first place. At the time, Saint Francis boasted the NEC’s top offense and Merrimack’s league-leading defense held them to season lows in points (55) and 3-pointers made (2).