Merrimack and Exeter kicked off the 2014 Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament (QCIBT) with a physical, hard fought battle that went down to the final seconds. Merrimack trailed by 9 points in the 4th quarter but they clawed their way back in it and took the lead on a 15-footer by junior forward Ian Roberts. Roberts scored 11 of his 13 points in the 2nd half, Austin Franzen (14 points) played a strong all-around game at the point and freshman wing Ian Cummings chipped in with 11. Merrimack explodes for 24 points in the 4th quarter and wins 55-54.
"We take pride in our basketball tradition at Merrimack" said Merrimack head coach Tim Goodridge. "We battled all day. That's a good Exeter team. They scored 84 on BG the other day. We ran them hard though. We played well defensively. Ian Cummings for only being a freshman out there, he was sensational for us."
Exeter lead 38-31 after 3 quarters. They are a deep team, as Coach Holmes rotated 11 different kids in and out and 8 of them scored. They are also tough, scrappy have good size and play team basketball. The Blue Hawks stole the ball and got it ahead to freshman guard Cody Morissette for a layup and a 40-31 Exeter lead early in the 4th quarter.
That's when the Merrimack comeback began. Then Cummings scored a quick bucket. 2 of the game's leading scorers were freshmen (Cummings with 11 for Merrimack and Morissette with 12 for Exeter). Meanwhile, things were getting physical and heated between Franzen and Exeter senior wing James Peel. Peel scored on Franzen who was trying to draw a charge but didn't get the call. On the other end Franzen answered back, drilling an 18-footer in Peel's eye.
The Blue Hawks were running some good sets in the half court - good ball movement and player movement, as 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Jacob Randolph (12 points) zipped a pass over to Peel for a layup. Then Andrew Wojciak hit perhaps the biggest shot of the game for Merrimack, a 3-pointer off a drive-and-kick by Franzen which cut the Exeter lead to 49-48 with 2:20 left in regulation.
Roberts hits a 15-footer, and the Tomahawks retake the lead 50-49 with 1:55 remaining. Randolph answered with a strong lefty finish inside to put Exeter back on top 51-50. Roberts answers right back with an and-1, as Merrimack goes back ahead 53-51. Then Roberts continued his big 2nd half, coming over from the weak side to block Morissette's shot. Morissette is fouled and goes to the line for a 1-and-1 with his team trailing 53-51 and 15.1 seconds left. If he sinks both shots we have a tie game. Instead he missed the first shot. Peel grabs the offensive rebound but falls down and is called for traveling. Merrimack ball. Exeter needs a quick steal and if they don't get it they need to foul. Instead Merrimack breaks the press and gets the ball ahead to Wojciak for an uncontested layup. he Tomahawks take a 55-51 lead with just 4.9 seconds left. Exeter isn't giving up yet, as they go the length of the floor in about 2.5 seconds for a 3-pointer. They throw a long pass to Randolph, who dishes it over to Holmes for the 3. That cuts the Merrimack lead to 55-54 but there's only 1.7 seconds left. Merrimack gets the ball in, Exeter tries to foul but the buzzer sounds and the Tomahawks win 55-54.
It was an evenly matched, back-and-forth 1st half. Franzen hit a 3-pointer early. Then Bryant Holmes (team-high 14 points) made a nice play by blowing by his defender on the press break before making a great lob pass ahead to Randolph, hitting him right in stride for a layup. Holmes (son of Exeter head coach Jeff Holmes) hit a 3, but Merrimack still led 11-9. Then Morissette buried a 3 from the corner and the Blue Hawks go on top 12-11 after 1 quarter.
Morissette hit another 3 early in the 2nd frame, followed by another 3 by Holmes. Randolph converted a strong put-back, and Exeter now lead 20-13. Merrimack responded with a 8-1 run, capped by a nice move by Franzen to creat space with the dribble-drive before hitting a 15-footer to tie it up 21-21 with 2:30 left in the 1st half. Cummings connected on a 3 from the corner off the catch, as Merrimack goes back up 24-22. Zak Kerr was doing a nice job on the boards for the Tomahawks. Morissette was a blur in transition, racing with the ball from half court to the rim for a layup and we were tied 24-24 at halftime.
Holmes hit a fade-away jumper early in the 3rd quarter, followed quickly by a strong take and finish by Zach Pafford. Holmes made that shot but on most of the shots that he missed it's because he was fading away too much. Wojciak hit a 3 for Merrimack, but Exeter ended the 3rd quarter with a nice run. PJ Hansen finished 2 quick layups and then Tim Larkin hit a jumper from the elbow off the catch. The Blue Hawks lead 38-31 headed to the 4th quarter.
Merrimack advances to the semi-finals where they will take on Bedford on Saturday at 6 pm. Both of these teams will be tough for anyone to beat all season.