Merrimack stops Spaulding for 43-34 win
By MICHAEL ABELSON
MERRIMACK – It was a scratch-and-claw kind of night at Taylor Gym, and it was rebounds that told the tale.
The Merrimack boys basketball team crashed the glass to the tune of a 36-20 rebounding advantage against Spaulding and did everything else necessary to pull out a 43-34 win.
"We played very aggressive, hard-nosed, man-to-man defense, and that’s what we’re going to have to play if we want to win any games," Merrimack coach Tim Goodridge said. "I thought we played outstanding defense against a great basketball team. We are what we are. We rebounded well and took care of the basketball tonight better than we have in the past."
After surrendering the first six points of the game, the Tomahawks locked it down and recovered to take a 16-12 lead at the end of the first quarter. Merrimack never gave up the lead and would grow it to as much as 12.
Spaulding’s talented forward duo of Arie Breakfield and Cal Connelly could not handle Merrimack’s pressing halfcourt defense. Breakfield finished with nine points and Connelly with 12, but were neutralized for much of the contest.
After giving up 12 points in the first quarter, the Tomahawks held Spaulding for 13 in the second and third quarters combined and kept Breakfield and Connelly to a total of six points during that stretch.
"We tried to shut down Cal and [Breakfield] because they’re really talented players, and the other kids can shoot," Merrimack senior Dan McKillop said. "We knew if we got offensive rebounds, held them to one [shot per] possession and execute our stuff, we’d be fine."
McKillop did it all for the Tomahawks with 15 points, 13 boards, and a monster block in the fourth quarter.
Junior guard Ian Cummings put in 15 points of his own and dished out a pair of assists. Senior guard Joe DeGregorio scored five points and pulled down seven rebounds as well.
"We were just able to slow down the offense and pick the shots we want," McKillop said. "We knew if we could just take care of the ball and get good shots, we’d be OK."
Despite a game in which victory was not in doubt down to the final seconds, Goodridge said that Spaulding will be in the hunt for a state title come March and called Connelly one of the state’s best players.
"I think Spaulding’s going to be one of the better teams in the league," Goodridge said. "They’re going to be a team to contend with at the end of the year."