Spaulding led by as many as 19 points in the 2nd half in their Division I clash with Merrimack. But Eric Gendron (26 points) heated up late in the game and the Tomahawks cut the lead down to just 8. But it was too late, as Spaulding forward Dominic Paradis (19 points) scored his 1,000th career point and the Red Raiders held on for the 63-51 win.
Merrimack was coming on strong at the end of the game, trying to mount a miraculous comeback. Gendron had just hit his fourth 3-pointer of the 4th quarter to cut the lead to 45-37. On their ensuing offensive possession, Spaulding was once again having trouble getting it across half court and moving the ball against Merrimack's pressure 'D' (which they really picked up in the 2nd half). Finally they got it inside to Paradis inside for a layup to make it 57-47. Then Spaulding got a steal, and in the hands of Paradis who was fouled (Gendron fouled out on the play). Paradis went to the line for 2 shots, needing only 1 more point for 1,000 on his career. The crowd went nuts as the 6-foot-5 senior stepped to the line. He made the first shot, and the crowd absolutely erupted. Play was stopped, as Paradis was congratulated by his teammates, coaches and even Merrimack's players.
"It was amazing" said Paradis, who also had 12 rebounds on the night. "I was glad that he (Gendron) got his last foul, then I heard the roar of the crowd. I calmed myself down and sunk it."
Paradis would then add two more free throws, and then Alex Gray got the ball on a runout and slammed down a one-handed dunk to put the exclamation point on the Red Raider victory.
"Dom is the epitome of a high school student-athlete" said Spaulding head coach Tim Cronin. "He's raised his level of play up every year. He's a top 10 student in his class, he has always been coachable. It's been a pleasure coaching him."
Spaulding dominated the 2nd quarter and the first 6 minutes of the 3rd. They went up 30-17 at halftime, and with 2:00 left in the 3rd quarter they were up 40-23. During this time they were playing terrific team basketball. They were getting contributions from many different players - Paradis, Anthony Cicotelli (12 points and 8 rebounds) Nick MacGregor (9 points), Charlie Nevejans (8 points), Gray (7 points), Mike Bellio (6 points), Mark Leahy (4 points) and Seth Fogg (3 points). This is a very deep basketball team, and all of them are tough, hard-nosed player who play good defense, move the ball on offense and crash the boards.
Bellio hit a 3-pointer from the corner while also getting fouled which put SHS up 18-13 and ignited the run. Paradis then hit a pair of FTs before Cicotelli made a great post move and finish. It was 10 fouls for Merrimack and only 4 for Spaulding, as the Red Raiders now led 26-15.
Then came one of the best plays of the game (besides Paradis' FT for his 1,000th point and Gray's dunk). Cicotelli grabbed a rebound, turned and fired an outlet pass across the court to MacGregor, just on the other side of half court near the sideline. It was a dangerous pass as it barely floated over the head of a Merrimack defender but it got the job done. MacGregor immediately zipped a pass over to Leahy, hitting him right in stride for a layup. The SHS crowd showed their approval, as their team now led 28-15 with 1:00 left in the 1st half.
"I don't think we played well in the 1st half" said Merrimack head coach Tim Goodridge. "Gendron wasn't shooting well, and we ask him to do a lot. We need our big guys to start making some buckets and crashing the boards."
Spaulding kept the momentum as MacGregor jumped the passing lane and made a great steal. He missed the layup but Gray as there for the follow-up and it was 30-17 Red Raiders.
They kept the momentum rolling in the 2nd half, as MacGregor drove and kicked it over to Fogg for a big 3-pointer. That was followed by a nicely executed pick-and-roll from Gray to Nevejans, who made a tough lefty finish inside for a 35-19 Spaulding lead. After MacGregor made a smooth catch and finish on the break, Paradis slashed to the rim for an and-1 finish as he crept closer to point #1,000. MacGregor then took a charge, as Spaulding had their largest lead of the game late in the 3rd quarter.
That's when the momentum swung over to Merrimack's side of the court.
The Tomahawks put on the full court press, and really started to play pressure defense. That rattled Spaulding, who turned it over. Merrimack also started to heat up offensively, especially Gendron and sophomore guard Austin Franzen.
"We put some pressure on them, and I thought that was the only way to get back in the game" said Coach Goodridge. "I will give my kids credit, they didn't give up."
Spaulding sat Paradis for the last 2 minutes of the 3rd quarter with 3 fouls. With him on the bench, Merrimack went on a 9-3 run to end the 3rd quarter. It was 45-34 Red Raiders headed to the 4th.
Paradis went back in to start the 4th quarter, as Spaulding went with a bigger lineup. Paradis 6-foot-5, Nevejans and Cicotelli (both 6-foot-3) were all out there together. With the bigger lineup, Spaulding went on a 8-0 run to go back up 53-34 with just 4:00 left in the game. At that point this thing looked like it was in the books.
But that's when Merrimack really got rolling.
Gendron hit back-to-back 3-pointers, one from right wing and one from the left. Just like that the lead was cut to 12, 53-41 with 2:56 left. It was a 7-0 run for the Tomahawks, as Spaulding was once again having trouble with the Merrimack pressure 'D'.
After Spaulding made it 55-41, Gendron again hit back-to-back threes. Now he was really on fire and the Red raiders' lead was done to 8, 55-47. But it was too late. Paradis got his layup, then free throws for the 1,000 points and Gray had his slam dunk. And Spaulding held on for the 63-51 win.
"This was a big win for us" said Cronin. "Everyone talks about how we haven't beaten the other good teams at the top."
Well now Spaulding has done just that. And Merrimack has now lost 2 in a row, both by double digits. Central, South, Memorial, Trinity and Spaulding are starting to separate themselves at the top of D-I. Buckle up, it's going to be a fun ride the rest of the way.
Paradis ad Gendron have both been mentioned in D-I Player of the Year conversations, and they both played like legit POY candidates in this game.
Paradis said after the game that he is still weighing his options for next year. He is considering D-I colleges (wouldn't play basketball) such as Boston University and Holy Cross, as well as some D-III schools (which are recruiting him for basketball) such as University of New England, Gordon and Endicott. A coach from UNE was at the game on Tuesday night.