Men's basketball downs Merrimack, 74-71, in OT behind Bonds' 31 points, 19 rebounds

Men's basketball downs Merrimack, 74-71, in OT behind Bonds' 31 points, 19 rebounds

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. - Junior Matt Bonds (Accokeek, Md./North Point) provided the tying and go-ahead hoops in overtime to cap a 31-point, 19-rebound performance, putting the Saint Michael's College men's basketball team on top for good in a 74-71 victory at Merrimack College on Wednesday evening at Hammel Court. The Purple Knights improved to 5-15 overall and 3-12 in the Northeast-10 Conference, moving to 4-6 in their last 10 games, while the Warriors are 11-10 and 6-9.

Saint Michael's, which avenged an 18-point loss at home on Dec. 2, won consecutive games on Merrimack's home floor for the first time since a four-game run that ended in 1988 during the teams' first meeting as NE-10 counterparts. The Purple Knights held a 55-36 rebounding advantage while shooting 12-for-16 on free throws and holding the hosts to a 28.2 percent three-point performance. During the second half alone, the visitors held a 30-13 advantage on the glass and ended the game with a 29-5 lead on second-chance points.

Bonds' career-high 31 points came on 12-of-21 shooting in a team-high 43 minutes, as he also went 6-of-9 at the charity stripe. His 19 boards included eight on the offensive end, as Bonds moved back into a tie for the Division II lead with 15 double-doubles, which also tie Dave MacFarlane '83 (1982-83) for the second most by a Purple Knight since complete rebounding records became available in 1981-82. During the second half alone, Bonds totaled 20 points and 10 rebounds while playing all 20 minutes. Bonds, who played the final 36:36, also pushed his career rebound total to 705, becoming the 15th known player in school annals to reach the 700-board plateau.

Senior Greg Grippo (Edison, N.J./Rutgers Prep) scored 13 points with six rebounds, three assists and two steals, classmate Morrell Gaskins (Cambria Heights, N.Y./Archbishop Molloy) had 11 points and six boards, and first-year Levi Holmes III (East Brunswick, N.J./Rutgers Prep) neared his first double-double with nine points and nine rebounds. The teams combined for 18 lead changes and 10 ties.

Senior Troy Hammel scored 26 points for Merrimack, classmate JT Strickland added 15 points and nine assists, while senior Gelvis Solano had 13 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals.

Hammel hit two free throws with 31.4 seconds left in regulation to put Merrimack up 63-62, but Holmes' driving lay-up at 17.2 gave Saint Michael's a late edge. Strickland was fouled on a drive at 7.1 and had a chance to put the hosts in front but knocked down only the second freebie to tie the game, and the Purple Knights were unable to get off a game-winning shot attempt before the horn.

Solano and junior Zaire Williams (Paterson, N.J./Newark Academy) traded three-pointers in the opening 44 seconds of overtime before first-year Jordan Thornton's dunk put Merrimack up 69-67 at 3:59, but the hosts didn't score again until fewer than 20 seconds remained. In between, Saint Michael's held Merrimack to 0-of-5 shooting - all three-point attempts - with a turnover, and the Warriors missed two free throws. Bonds drove baseline for a tying lay-in at 2:45 before tipping in a miss 41 seconds later to give the Purple and Gold the final lead.

Grippo made two important free throws at 22.7 seconds, pushing the lead to 73-69, but Strickland countered with a lay-in at 16.7. Merrimack forced a turnover of the ensuing inbounds pass, but a missed mid-range jumper was snagged by first-year Winston Jones II (Valley Stream, N.Y./Valley Stream Central), who was fouled. Jones went 1-of-2 at the charity stripe with 11.1 ticks left, putting Saint Michael's up by three, and a tying three-point try by the Warriors missed everything, as Bonds secured the rebound just before the buzzer.

The teams traded the lead six times in the opening 5:09 alone, with Grippo's three-pointer giving Saint Michael's an 11-9 edge. Grippo was the fourth Purple Knight to score by then, while Hammel's three treys accounted for all of Merrimack's points. Gaskins pushed his point total to six in giving the visitors a 13-9 lead, but Hammel canned his fourth three to kick off a 12-4 run, which he capped with a jumper with 6:58 left in the half. Bonds' putback tied the contest at 21 before the hosts scored the next four points, and Merrimack wrapped a half-ending 8-3 run around Gaskins' three-point play, taking a 33-27 lead into halftime.

Bonds buried his first career three-pointer 41 seconds into the second half before Williams nailed a jumper, bringing the visitors within one point, and a pair of Bonds freebies again had Saint Michael's down just 35-34 at 16:23. Hammel responded with another triple and Solano buried a jumper to push the lead to six. The Purple Knights forged ahead with a 13-0 run, as Bonds scored six points. During one 1:41 stretch in that time, Bonds had all six of his points, six rebounds and an assist. The Purple Knights led 47-40 on his putback at 12:51.

Saint Michael's was kept off the board for more than three minutes, but the Warriors could muster only a three-pointer and a 2-of-4 showing at the charity stripe, and Holmes knocked down a triple at 9:20 to make it 50-45. Strickland dropped in a lay-up before Bonds netted a lay-in and two freebies to push the advantage back to seven, at 54-47 with 6:44 remaining, but four straight points from Strickland and five from Hammel put Merrimack on top at 56-54 with 4:46 left, the first of eight lead swings before the end of regulation. Bonds produced two go-ahead possessions in that time, and Grippo knocked down a big three, leading to the close closing minutes.

The Purple Knights head to regionally-ranked Southern New Hampshire on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., with the contest appearing on NESNplus and NESN National. The teams also met on national television during last season's meeting in Manchester, N.H. The Penmen are ninth in this week's D2SIDA East Region Media Poll.