COLCHESTER, Vt. - The Saint Michael's College men's basketball team continued a challenging five-game stretch with an 85-67 loss to regionally-ranked Merrimack College on Wednesday evening in the Ross Sports Center. The Purple Knights, whose current run includes two nationally-ranked foes, one receiving national votes and another pair that are regionally ranked, slipped to 1-5 overall and 0-4 in the Northeast-10 Conference. The Warriors are 5-3 and 1-2 while occupying 10th in the D2SIDA East Region Media Poll.
Junior Matt Bonds (Accokeek, Md./North Point) led Saint Michael's in three major categories, with 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting, 10 rebounds and three assists. He notched his fifth double-double, keeping him tied for first among all NCAA East Region players. First-year Levi Holmes III (East Brunswick, N.J./Rutgers Prep) tallied 14 points while knocking down three three-pointers, and senior Morrell Gaskins (Cambria Heights, N.Y./Archbishop Molloy) scored 10 points thanks to 6-of-7 free throw shooting. Among his six rebounds, five came on the offensive end, and his career-high five blocks were the most by a Purple Knight since James Cambronne '15 rejected five shots on Jan. 2, 2013.
While seeing the first extensive playing time of his career, first-year Derek Cheatom (Buffalo, N.Y./The Park School of Buffalo) totaled a career-best 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting, including 2-of-4 from deep, in 16 reserve minutes. Senior Greg Grippo (Edison, N.J./Rutgers Prep) added 10 points. After playing five of its first six games on the road, Saint Michael's began a seven-game stretch during which six contests will occur at home.
Senior Troy Hammel led all scorers with 33 points for Merrimack, shooting 12-of-18 overall while adding eight rebounds, three assists and two steals. Classmate Gelvis Solano turned in 19 points, six boards, six assists, three steals and two blocks. The duo accounted for eight of the Warriors' nine triples, splitting the total. Junior Anthony Barry scored 14 points off the bench, and senior JT Strickland dished out seven assists.
Solano drained two threes 40 seconds apart for the opening baskets before Holmes knocked down one of his own, making it 6-3 2:41 into the contest. Grippo's trey kept the Purple Knights within 10-6 at the 14:28 mark before Strickland capped a quick 5-0 spurt on a lay-in. Senior Will Davis (Valley Stream, N.Y./Holy Cross) scored to cut the hole back to 17-10, but Hammel scored 10 points during a 14-2 counter, giving Merrimack a 31-12 lead with 7:05 remaining. Eleven of the next 15 points came from Saint Michael's, with Gaskins scoring five, and Cheatom buried a three to create a 35-23 margin at 1:44.
The Purple Knights, who were down 13 at halftime, edged within a dozen points twice more early in the second half, including on Cheatom's jumper at 15:16, and continued to counter Merrimack's quick bursts with tiny rallies. Still down 16, Saint Michael's made a charge on a pair of Cheatom free throws and a Bonds breakaway dunk-and-one, created by a Cheatom steal, which brought the hosts into a 54-43 deficit with 11:25 remaining. After a Gaskins block on the ensuing possession led to Holmes' rebound, the Purple Knights were rushing the other end in transition while looking to cut the hole to single digits, but Solano came up with a steal and a breakaway dunk of his own, the first of two Merrimack dunks in 39 seconds.
Bonds' jumper with 9:55 left kept the teams separated by 12 points, but after his ensuing lay-in made it 61-48, Solano scored the final five points of a 7-0 run that gave the Warriors their largest lead, 68-48. Grippo netted seven points during an 11-2 counter, the first of two times down the stretch that Saint Michael's trailed by just 11 points, but the hosts never trimmed the deficit back to single digits.
In their final road game until Jan. 6, the Purple Knights visit Stonehill College on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The Skyhawks, who qualified for the 2015 NCAA Tournament, are receiving votes toward the latest D2SIDA National Media Poll while tying for third in the D2SIDA East Region Media Poll.