Boy, what a ballgame I saw In Exeter tonight. Merrimack survives a scare and defeats Exeter tonight, 73-70 in overtime. Merrimack controlled the game throughout the first half, and led 34-18 after two quarters of play. But Exeter cam storming back in the second half. Louie Vigars drained a three from 28 feet away at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. In overtime Eric Watson and Dimitri Floras came up with big buckets to lead the Tomahawks to the win.
Travis Maser led the way for Merrimack in the first half with 11 points, 7 coming in the first quarter. He played a very good all around first half, but was very quiet in the second half and in OT. He finished with 15 points.
How did Exeter get back in the basketball game? Well two main things. One was missed free throws by Merrimack. They missed at least 10 foul shots in the second half, including about 8 misses in the last 5 minutes of the fourth quarter alone.
"We're only a 50% free throw shooting team" said Merrimack Head Coach Tim Goodridge after the game.
The other thing that got Exeter back in the game was the fact that the Blue Hawks flat out stepped up their intensity. They were led in the second half by Tucker Munroe, Mike Fecteau, Louie Vigars and James Holler. They got after it on both ends of the floor and played as a team.
The third quarter was big for Exeter, when they outscored Merrimack 21-10, including an 11-1 run to begin the frame.
Both teams had chances to win the game at the end of regulation. Exeter had the ball down 56-54 with 44 seconds left. And they got the ball to Fecteau, who scored a game high 22 points, including 18 in the second half and OT. But Fecteau's jumper rimmed out and Merrimack grabbed the rebound. On the next Blue Hawk possession it was 57-54 Merrimack when Munroe turned it over while trying to pass the ball into the frontcourt against the Tomahawk press. Merrimack's chance to win it in regulation came with 4.2 seconds left. Senior guard Anthony Floras was at the line for two, and Merrimack was still leading 57-54. But he missed both shots, and Vigars came down to the other end and nailed a three from eight feet behind the line at the buzzer and we were headed to overtime.
Give Merrimack credit though. After all of those missed free throws, Vigars hitting that big shot and playing on the road they could have packed it in. But Eric Watson drilled a three in OT to tie it at 69 with 37 seconds left. Then freshman Dimitri Floras drove to the bucket and made a layup to put the Tomahawks ahead 71-70 with 7.3 seconds left. Tyler Gendron made two free throws at the end for the 73-70 final.
One other note, Ben Callahan had the flue and didn't play for Exeter. Callahan is a senior forward for the Blue Hawks and either starts or gets good minutes off the bench for them. Also, James Holler didn't start the game for Exeter. Holler is arguably Coach Holmes' best player. But he went down to Florida over break to play in a soccer tournament instead of playing with the basketball team in the QCIBT. With Holler on the bench, Merrimack went on a 14-4 run to start the game.
Additionally, this was a close game yet Exeter played 12 kids. And that's without Callahan. That's a pretty big rotation.
"We're still trying to figure out our rotation" explained Blue Hawk Head Coach Jeff Holmes. "We have a lot of kids that are very close talent-wise. Everyday is a battle for them in practice to fight for playing time."
On the other end of the spectrum is Merrimack. Coach Goodridge seems to have his rotation already figured out. He only played 9 players tonight, and one of them was only in there for a minute.
My Take: I don't think this was as well as Exeter can play. James Holler and Munroe were in foul trouble a lot tonight, and not having Callahan in the lineup also hurt a little. Still, I don't see them getting a whole lot better than this, because EVERYTHING seemed to be falling for them in the second half, especially for Fecteau.
Finally, this was clearly not Merrimack's best game. They led by 16 at halftime but that could have been more. And they missed a TON of free throws in the second half. I've seen Watson and both Floras brothers play much better than they did tonight. Merrimack is still a top 5 team in Class L if you ask me. Still, the Tomahawks two flaws were exposed: Size and free throw shooting. They need to improve their free throw shooting. It's not like they just shot poorly tonight, because like Coach Goodridge said above they're only a 50% FT shooting team so far this season. And inside Tucker Munroe dominated in the second half both scoring and rebounding. Their lack of size could prove to be their biggest weakness.