PROVIDENCE — Merrimack men’s basketball coach Joe Gallo presumably wouldn’t have scripted the start of the game any differently. Just 10 minutes into the first half against Providence College last night at the Dunkin Donuts Center, the Warriors, who were heavy underdogs (21.5 points), held a 12-point lead and had forced the Friars to take their second timeout. From there, Providence switched from its man-to-man defense into a zone and began to press.
That changed the game.
Providence went on a 16-2 run to take a 24-22 lead and ended up leading by five points at halftime. The Friars opened it up in the second half, rolling to a 93-56 win over the Warriors.
“I told the guys that I’m proud of the way we came out,” Gallo said. “We stuck exactly with our plan. We were defending in the half-court and they couldn’t get anything early. We executed on the other end and I think gave them a little bit of a scare. They burned two timeouts early and we made them get out of man-to-man and they had to go to the zone because of the way we were executing.”
The Warriors hung around late in the first half, with Devin Jensen hitting a three to keep the game close.
Providence’s ability to up the pressure on the Warriors forced turnovers and swung the momentum back to the Friars’ side. Providence forced Merrimack into 18 turnovers.
“(The pressure) got to us,” Gallo said. “We haven’t seen pressure like that yet. We will learn from it and be ready if we see something like that again.
“We needed to attack a little more. I thought we were passive. I don’t think we were hunting to get the ball, I think we were almost hoping someone else would just go get it.”
After playing in the River Hawk Invitational over the weekend, the Warriors were playing their fourth game in just five days, which isn’t typical of a college basketball schedule.
On top of that, due to injuries, the Warriors have been rotating just three guards over this stretch, with senior Juvaris Hayes playing a heavy share of the minutes along with freshman Mykel Derring and senior Jaleel Lord.
“The schedule could have had something to do with us getting tired in the second half,” Gallo said. “It’s like an NBA West Coast swing. We’re taking a day off (Wednesday). I told the guys I don’t want to see them in the building unless they’re getting treatment, no one in the gym, and we’re lucky because we have guys who always want to be in the gym. (Freshman) Jordan Minor got mad at me because I told them they’re not allowed to come anywhere near the gym tomorrow.”
The Warriors also had trouble matching Providence’s size; Merrimack has just two players who are 6-foot-6 or taller whereas the Friars had nine on the roster.
“You need to take care of the basketball because we’re never going to beat them on the backboards,” Gallo said. “This was the first game that we lost the turnover battle. Any turnover or any bad shot you take ends up in a dunk at the other end, and that was the story of the last 28 minutes.”
Freshmen Filling Big Roles
Gallo’s first Division I recruiting class is already making its mark on the program. Against the Friars, Jordan McKoy played 18 minutes, Ziggy Reid played 14 minutes, Jordan Minor played 13 minutes and Mykel Derring played 17 minutes. Derring led the team with 11 points.
“It’s almost like they were freshmen (in the season opener) against Maine and now they’re sophomores,” Gallo said. “It’s great to see Mykel Derring playing with confidence and making shots. He missed his first 15 on the year, which isn’t uncommon for a freshman, so when you look at his overall percentage it’s not what he’s truly capable of. He’s becoming the shotmaker we expected him to be.”
The Warriors are 3-3 on the season with wins over Northwestern, Jacksonville and UMass Lowell.
Listen to Joe Gallo’s Postgame Media: