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Warriors Waltz into NEC Championship game behind 24 points from Adam Clark

Robert Gambale and Jack Lawhorne – Student Reporters

Marcus Antonelli – Sports Editor

NORTH ANDOVER, Ma. – Following a narrow first-round victory over LIU, Warriors Basketball entered the weekend with a chance to make back to back NEC Championship games.

To get there, No. 2 Merrimack (19-11, 13-3 NEC) looked to continue their run of great basketball and conference dominance against No. 4 Le Moyne (15-16, 9-7 NEC). 

In the end, the boys found themselves victorious. But in every playoff game, a win does not come without it’s difficulties.

Luke Sutherland and Darrick Jones Jr. were tough to stop early for the Dolphins. After going down 17-9, Warriors veteran forward Jacob O’Connell hit two massive three’s to flip the game upside down and give Merrimack a much-needed boost of energy.

A lackluster start was the story in the beginning, regardless of that, Merrimack ended the half on a 25-8 run as they were able to hold Le Moyne scoreless for the final 8 minutes of the first half. Which excluded a pair of free throws with one second remaining. 

At half, the Warriors led 28-20 in a contest dominated by defense. With Jordan Derkack less than 100% due to injury, Budd Clark stepped up to the task and led all scorers in the first with 10 points.

The Dolphins did not come out of halftime ready to sink as they kept much of the second half even, but Merrimack maintained control of a brief lead. 

The big men were crucial for the Warriors down the stretch. Jacob O’Connell, the fifth year transfer from Princeton, continued to be a difference maker in this one, he continued to knock down huge threes and tilted the tables Merrimack’s way. He was 3 for 4 from three-point land.

“I thought we had a little lull where they went zone and it kind of took our spunk away and when we’re not getting good offense, it affects our defensive energy,” said Coach Joe Gallo. “Jacob banged that three to go up seven and I called timeout and said, ‘you guys can thank him for bailing you out of those last few minutes,’ So he was huge.”

Bryan Etemnu made his mark late with a huge and-one bucket inside to extend a tight Merrimack lead to six with just under four minutes to play. 

Despite Derkack being limited, Adam “Budd” Clark came alive at the end and iced the game for the Warriors.

Clark came up with a huge steal in the final minutes, and offensively he consistently created his own shot and converted in the paint as well as the free throw line. All while being pressured the entire length of the court in the final minutes.

For Clark’s coach, there’s no surprise how quickly he’s adjusted to crunch time situations, “I’ve just seen so much now,” said Coach Gallo, “Philly guards are different, they come battle tested and ready. He (Budd) came as a ready piece. We just had to polish it up a little bit.”

Behind Clark’s 24 points, Merrimack gritted out a 61-51 win over Le Moyne to advance to their second conference championship in back-to-back years.

The Warriors will play No. 6 Wagner in the conference championship game after the Seahawks upset the regular season winning Central Connecticut State.

“Wagner beat us at home, so either way it’s a game,” said Coach Gallo, “They’re really good, have good coaching and they play really hard. We’re just looking forward to the matchup and whatever it brings.”

One more win, solidifies the Warriors first ever March Madness appearance.

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