By: Tuesday and Friday
Exeter used a 14 point performance by senior Tyler Russ and the rebounding and shot blocking of 6'6 junior Max Medley to defeat Merrimack 52 to 44. The Blue Hawks confirmed a reservation at the Rochester Community Center with Spaulding this Friday at 7:00 pm in a Quarterfinal showdown.
There was an odd feeling during the 1st quarter of this prelim game tonight. Maybe, the rims had shrunk in the Merrimack gym. On the opening tip Exeter controlled it and with a set play freed up Tyler Russ who missed the wide open lay up. This would be a sign of missed shots to come in the first period. Eric Gendron was ice cold in the first quarter. 2 missed FTs was his stat line. Exeter opened up in a 3-2 Zone and the more shots the Mack squad tossed up the more strengthened the Blue Hawk zone became. Max Medley had a couple of blocks to add to the Tomahawk offensive woes. 6'2 junior Zach Adler muscled a couple of paint hoops to help Exeter take an 11 to 6 lead after one.
12 seconds into the 2nd quarter Michael Gasper said the wrong thing to a ref on an in bound play for Exeter. He was whistled for a technical. Exeter hit 1 of the freebies to quickly go up 6. Exeter wasn't exactly setting an offensive fire either and the 2 teams traded baskets over the next 4 minutes. Gendron scored his first points of the game on an And 1 drive with 3:12 left in the 2nd quarter to bring Mack within 4 at 17 to 13. Exeter switched up their defense in the 2nd and went man. Either way Merrimack's shooting woes continued. Gendron and the Mack squad pressed offensively to score. I thought coach Goody might hire the policeman in the gym to help the Tomos try to find their lost offense. Gendron FINALLY hit his first 3 with 1:24 left in the half to make it 19 to 16 Exeter. The Blue Hawks then went on a 5 - 0 run capped by a beautifully athletic drive finish by Tyler Russ which just beat the buzzer and gave Exeter a 24 to 16 lead at the half.
The rims didn't expand for Eric Gendron and his mates as the 3rd quarter wore on. Merrimack tried full court pressing to up the tempo of the game, but junior Zach Holler made some nice feeds to Medley and Adler for full court finishes which kept a 6 to 8 point margin for Exeter as the minutes ticked away in the 3rd. holler also knocked down two 3's. As long as Mack stayed cold Exeter stayed in a 3 - 2 Zone for the rest of the quarter. A Gendron 3 cut the Exeter lead to 29 - 24 with 2:30 left. Exeter closed out the period on a 5 - 2 run to give them a 34 to 26 lead going into the final quarter.
It became apparent Gendron would have to produce a monster 4th quarter for Merrimack to win. When Merrimack did get the ball inside 6'7 Chris Stowell and 6'6 Max Medley blocked shots and made the Mack Bigs think twice about further shots...... Mental shot alteration as I like to call it. To compound the misery for Merrimack the Blue Hawks were into the bonus situation early in the 4th. Exeter took advantage of this by going 8 - 11 from the line in the last quarter. Gendron started heating up and hit a couple of NBA 3's. With 4:03 left a Malloch 3 made it 41 - 37 in favor of Exeter. Gendron finalized a crucial And 1 with 3:38 left to bring Mack the closest it had been all night at 41 to 40. The Mack faithful now were energized and Exeter was reeling for the first time in the game.
There was no scoring for the next 90 seconds. 2 Russ FTs made it 43 to 40. A couple more Russ FTs increased Exeter's lead to 5 at 45 - 40 with 1:44 left. Merrimack became cold again and they were being limited to one shot on most of their offensive possessions. A break away finish against the Mack press made it 47 to 40 with 55 seconds left. The 2 teams exchanged baskets over the next few seconds and then Joe Scheidler iced the game for Exeter with a couple of made FTs with 24 seconds.
Exeter pulled off the upset because Merrimack could never get on track offensively. Their missed shots were swallowed by the defensive rebounding of Stowell, medley and Adler. Tyler Russ had a solid game in scoring 14 points and handling Merrimack's pressure in the 2nd half. Zach Holler had a fine floor game handling and distributing the ball while scoring 12 points. Gendron finished as the game's leading scorer with 19 points. Brandon Malloch finished with 9. There weren't too many 2nd options for scoring in the Merrimack offense tonight. Coach Goodridge did a great job in having this Merrimack team defend their title. To most observers I think Merrimack overachieved a bit this year. They return a cast that will be Top 8 worthy next season.
Can Exeter pull off another upset on the road this Friday in Rochester? Yes, they have a very good chance of getting to the Semis. They lost at Spaulding on Jan. 25th 43 to 40. Exeter has just enough length, ball handling and scoring where they can compete very nicely in the Quarterfinal game. Of course, don't tell Justin McIsaac that Exeter will pull out their 2nd upset of the tournament. Justin might get out one of his old wrestling outfits and throw you against the red divider in the RCC. If you are a Blue Hawk fan and see Justin as you enter the RCC on Friday, just tell him good luck. I think he can pin a Blue Hawk in 3 seconds..... No Problem !!
For a preview of the D-I boys quarterfinal games, check out www.nhsportspage.com