WALTHAM, Mass. – Merrimack College used a pair of 11-0 runs, one in each half, to shoot down Bentley University, 71-62, in Northeast-10 Conference men's basketball Wednesday night at Hammel Court. The win was the Warriors' first over the Falcons since 2005, ending an 18-game Bentley streak in the series.
The freshman guard tandem of Gelvis Solano (New York, N.Y.) and JT Strickland (Laurel, Md.) combined for 35 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds and five steals to power the Warriors while junior guard Jasper Grassa (Lynn/Lynn Classical HS) topped Bentley with 16 points.
Bentley started strong, hitting its first five shots, including a pair of jumpers by Grassa, one of those coming from outside the arc. That produced a 12-8 lead less than four minutes into the contest.
Following Grassa's three-ball at 16:27 of the first, it would be about 5:45 before the Falcons scored again as the hot shooting start was followed by nine straight misses. Merrimack took advantage of the dry spell, running off its first 11-0 burst with five different players putting the ball in the basket.
Bentley bounced back with seven straight points, the last five by sophomore guard J.P. Koury (Red Bank, N.J./CBA), to even the game at 19 apiece with 8:25. Following two missed free throws that would have given the Falcons the lead, Solano nailed one of his four three-pointers to put Merrimack back on top and the Warriors remained in front the rest of the night.
After Merrimack stretched the lead to nine, Bentley ran off eight straight, including five by Grassa, to pull within one in the final minute. But it was a four-point game at the break, 37-33, after sophomore guard Ryan Woumm (Lynn) drained the Warriors' seventh triple of the opening half with just one second remaining.
Six straight Merrimack points made it a 52-40 game with 12:55 to play. After Bentley scored three straight, all by freshman forward Tyler McFarland (Rockport, Maine/Camden Hills HS) to temporarily interrupt the Warriors, Solano netted the first six of what grew into an 11-0 spurt and a commanding 63-43 lead with 9:23 left.
Bentley bounced back with 10 straight of its own, with five different players contributing, but any hopes of a Falcon comeback were dashed when Solano hit a short jumper and senior forward Tyler Young (Brooklyn, N.Y.) followed with a lay-up, making it 67-53 with under four to play.
Merrimack, with Young and six-foot-seven senior Mike Clifford (Danvers) leading the way, dominated the boards, particularly in the second half. It was 30-12 over the final 20 minutes and 49-27 overall with the Warriors' 17 offensive leading to an 18-4 advantage in second chance points. Young finished with 12 rebounds and Clifford claimed 11, eight at the offensive end.
Merrimack (9-12, 6-10 NE-10) shot better, 44-37, and had more threes, 10-7. On the other hand, Bentley took better care of the ball (14 turns, five less than MC) and had a 17-4 advantage in free throw attempts and 13-1 in makes.
Grassa was followed in the scoring column by Koury, with 14 points, along with four rebounds, two steals and a pair of assists. McFarland was next, finishing with nine.
Solano filled the stat sheet with 21 points, eight rebounds, five steals and four assists. Strickland scored 14 and came within an assist of a double-double, and Clifford completed his double-double with 12 points, most coming on put-backs.
Bentley (7-13, 5-11 NE-10) will also be on the road Saturday, weather permitting, with a 3:30 game at conference-leading Saint Anselm.