setting the stage
The 2016-2017 season signified the beginning of a new era for the Warriors as Joe Gallo began his first season as head coach, the eighth in school history. Gallo, a Merrimack alumnus (class of '04) and a former assistant for the Warriors (2005-2009) returned to Hammel Court to lead the Warriors. Losing over sixty percent of its scoring from last season, Merrimack entered the year selected to finish second-to-last in the Northeast Division.
Graduate student Anthony Barry (Uxbridge, Mass.) and Riley Calzonetti (Neptune City, N.J.) returned as captains in the frontcourt, joining redshirt-junior Tawayne Anderson Jr. (Garden City, N.Y.) and sophomore Ryan Boulter (Mansfield, Mass.). Junior Kyle Howes (Maynard, Mass.) and sophomore Troy McLaughlin (Old Tappan, N.J.) headlined returners at the guard position. After freshman Jaleel Lord (Jersey City, N.J.) committed last fall, Gallo brought in freshmen Juvaris Hayes (Paterson, N.J.) and Devon Moore (Hanover, Pa.) as well as junior-college transfer Dillon Salva (North Brunswick, N.J.) to comprise the majority of Merrimack's roster.
After splitting two games at the Bentley Tip-Off Classic, the Warriors returned to Bentley for a mid-week showdown to kick off the NE10 schedule. Sophomore Troy McLaughlin came off the bench to score a career high 25 points, with 17 coming in the second half to lead the Warriors to a 68-61 victory. It marked the program's first road victory at Bentley in 13 years.
The win started a five-game winning streak for the Warriors, the first of three runs of at least five games for the Navy and Gold. Merrimack bested Stonehill on the road and Saint Michael's at home to start the year 3-0 in divsional play, while Hayes posted a triple-double as part of his torrid start to the season against Concordia (N.Y.), winning NE10 Player & Rookie of the Week honors in the process.
new year, new streak
After a pair of losses brought the team down to 3-2 in league play, Merrimack gutted out a 62-59 win at Assumption to start a season-long six-game winning streak that extended into the 2017 calendar year. The run included four home victories and a pivotal regional win on the road at Dominican (N.Y.). Highlights from victories over #19 SNHU and Pace are below, as well as Barry's comments addressing the team's 5-2 start to conference play.
After Merrimack dipped slightly - losing three straight to eventual NCAA Tournament participants - the Warriors got back on track by going on their third five-game streak of the year. This run was marked by narrow victories, with each game decided by six points or fewer. The stretch began with a four-point road win against Adelphi, and was followed by a buzzer-beating performance against American International.
Boulter followed suit with one of the most memorable individual performances of the season. He became the first Warrior in nearly two years to produce a 40-point effort, tying the program's single-game record for 3-pointers in the process with nine treys in a 100-94 (OT) win in regional play against Southern Conn. State.
The streak ended with a two-point win at home against Saint Anselm, the eventual NE10 Champions and second-place finishers in the Northeast. The Warriors jumped on the Hawks early, racing out to a 23-6 advantage and never looked back.
ne10 championship berth
The regular season ended with a narrow defeat to Bentley on Senior Night. Barry and Calzonetti were honored as part of the pregame festivities and a thrilling game between the local rivals ensued. The Warriors went ahead late on a tip-in by Barry, but the Falcons banked in a last-second triple to win. The Warriors finished the season in a three-way tie for second in the division, but with tiebreakers fell to fourth, which resulted in Merrimack hosting a NE10 Championship game for the first time since 2010.
Playing in front of a packed Hammel Court, the Warriors battled the University of New Haven to kickoff what proved to be a lengthy postseason run for the program. The Chargers ended up besting the Warrriors and advanced to the quarterfinals, but as the team found out, that was not all she wrote for the Warriors' season.
NCAA tournament selection
Despite earning a spot in the top-eight of the regional rankings in every poll leading up to Selection Sunday, the Warriors entered the conference-championship weekend scoreboard watching in hopes of earning the program's ninth NCAA Tournament berth and first in seven years. Late on Sunday, March 5, the Warriors learned that they qualified as the final at-large bid in the East Region and were headed to Syracuse, N.Y. to face top-seeded and regional hosts Le Moyne College in the opening round.
Merrimack collected arguably the program's biggest win in a decade in Syracuse, upsetting the top-seeded Dolphins on their home floor to advance to the regional semifinals. Merrimack led the nationally ranked Dolphins by four, 29-25, entering halftime behind a 13-point first-half effort from Hayes that featured three 3-pointers.
An early 10-0 run in the second half featuring a go-ahead triple from Boulter gave the Warriors a 37-31 lead. In a game that featured 19 lead changes and eight ties, the Warriors led by three with 17 seconds left, but the Dolphins tied the game on their last possession to force overtime. After Le Moyne opened the scoring, Boulter hit a triple and the Warriors never trailed after that, winning 72-68. Merrimack was the only No. 8 seed nationwide to upset the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
battle with the regional champs
For just the second time in program history, Merrimack and Saint Thomas Aquinas met in the regional semifinals. The Spartans - champions of the ECC - entered the tourney as the fifth seed and knocked off fourth-seeded Saint Anselm in the opening round.
Facing the Spartans' vaunted press defense and despite Hayes' two early fouls as Merrimack's point guard, the Warriors took a 39-37 lead into the locker room behind 19 combined points from Barry and McLaughlin. Facing a 64-54 deficit midway through the second half, Merrimack went on a 15-4 run to take a 69-68 lead behind eight points including two triples for McLaughlin. STAC, however, took the lead with under 90 seconds left, and were ahead by three when Merrimack missed two triples in the final 10 seconds to tie the game. The Spartans went on to win the East Region and advanced to the Elite Eight.
Boulter and Hayes each earned all-conference nods, with the latter collecting NE10 Rookie of the Year honors for the program's first NE10 major award since 2011. The Paterson native and Saint Anthony's (N.J.) product led the country in assists per game (9.3) and total assists (287). The NE10 All-Conference Second Team selection averaged 13.9 points, 9.3 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game over 31 starts and 34.9 minutes per contest. He led Merrimack in helpers and thefts, ranked second on the team in caroms and third in scoring. His 130 free-throws made were the most on the Navy and Gold as he went to the line 176 times – more than double the next closest Warrior. He set Merrimack's single-season record for assists, while ranking third all-time in NE10 annals.
Merrimack's leading scoring at over 18.0 points per game, Boulter enjoyed a breakout year in his second season with the Navy and Gold. He led the Warriors in 3-pointers made (99), 3-point percentage (37.9) and free-throw percentage (86.1). Boulter finished the regular season as one of three players in the NE10 with at least 90 triples, and was among the top-15 nationally.
Hayes also took home one more honor, as the first-year floor general was one of 10 freshmen nationwide to be named to the Division II Bulletin's All-Freshmen Team. In addition to his prowess as a distributor, Hayes ranked among the top-five nationally in both total steals and steals per game.