Rapid Recap: Merrimack 71, Northwestern 61


Alison Albelda/Daily Senior Staffer

Ryan Young tries to break a zone.

Peter Warren, Print Managing Editor

Men’s Basketball

There is a new member of the Underdog Hall of Fame.

Playing in only it’s second game as a Division I program, Merrimack pulled off one of the biggest upsets in years, defeating Northwestern 71-61 at Welsh-Ryan Arena. After pulling off the upset, the Warriors (1-1) were all smiles as the went to the locker room.

Sophomore forward Miller Kopp helped the Wildcats (0-1) get off the best start possible, scoring the first eight points of the game and pushing the Cats out to an 8-0 lead.

But while Kopp had an efficient start, the first half belonged to Warriors guard/forward Devin Jensen. In the first half, Jensen scored 17 points in the first half, shooting 5 of 9 from beyond the arc, and finishing 23 points.

Merrimack climb back from its initial deficit to take a 26-24 about 12 minutes into the contest. Neither team had a lead of more than two points for the rest of the half, but Jensen hit a triple with about a minute left in the game to send the Warriors into the locker room up 36-35.

NU did not look sharp coming out of halftime, with Nance committing a turnover and guard Juvaris Hayes nailing a shifty layup to go up 38-35. But graduate guard Pat Spencer hit a couple of shots driving to the basket to give the Cats the lead.

Yet, the pesky Warriors just wouldn’t die. They kept the game close — Merrimack never trailed by more than five points in the first half — and stayed locked in and took a 59-58 lead with about four minutes remaining following a Mikey Watkins layup.

Junior guard Anthony Gaines committed turnovers on back-to-back possessions before Hayes hit another shot to up Merrimack up 61-58. Warriors starters Ziggy Reid and Idris Joyner fouled out in the final few minutes, but their 2-3 zone held firm and they hit enough free throws down the stretch to pull of the historic upset.

1. The 2-3 zone caused problems for the Wildcats. Some offensive struggles were expected, especially with Merrimack utilizing a 2-3 zone on defense. NU did a good job at some points breaking down the zone, especially with quick, crisp high-low passes. But other times the Cats couldn’t get into their offense. They missed a lot of layups and shots around the hoop. Starting off against a zone is not what Collins probably would have hoped for, but his team needed to do better than this.

2. Pat Spencer earned the start and looked legit. Spencer started every single game during his four years as a lacrosse star at Loyola Maryland, but his starting spot in the NU rotation looked unlikely. But coach Chris Collins gave the 2019 Tewaaraton Award and Spencer proved to be the right choice. Spencer looked smooth running the point with the starting unit, showing an advanced touch on his passes and dribbles. And while he played mostly as a facilitator, he also illustrated an ability to get his own shot — with a floater as smooth as a cashmere sweater being his weapon of choice. He hit a nifty dribble move before hitting a soft floater in the lane early in the first half before later going coast-to-coast and hitting a contested floater in traffic.

3. The season could not have gotten off to a worse start. Losing to a non-conference team is one thing. But losing to a team playing in only its second ever game as a Division I team, and after that team just lost to Maine — a team that won five games last season — by 20, is awful. Throw in the fact that the game was at Welsh-Ryan Arena, and this may go down as one of the worst losses in school history.

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