NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. - The regionally-ranked Saint Michael's College men's basketball team completed the regular season with a 67-59 loss at Merrimack College on Tuesday evening at Hammel Court. The Purple Knights, who are sixth in the latest NCAA East Region poll, slip to 18-8 overall and 13-8 in the Northeast-10 Conference, finishing third in the Northeast Division. The Warriors are 9-17 and 7-14.
Saint Michael's will hold down the No. 3 seed from the Northeast Division while qualifying for the NE-10 Championship for the second time in four years, but for just the third time in 12 seasons. The Purple Knights, who earned a bye through the first round, travel for Sunday's quarterfinal round to the University of New Haven, the No. 2 seed from the Southwest. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m.
Junior Mike Holton Jr. (Portland, Ore./The Winchendon School) netted a team-high 16 points for Saint Michael's, which has sustained all of its losses by 10 points or fewer. While also knocking down three three-pointers and snagging five rebounds, Holton moved into 17th in program history in career points (1,321), passing SMC Athletic Hall of Famer Tom Hoey '79 (1,317) and Jay Wandtke '98 (1,317) along the way.
Junior Corey Crawford II (Dover, Del./The Phelps School) had 15 points, and classmates James Cambronne (De Bary, Fla./The Winchendon School) and Dom Ditlefsen (Portland, Ore./Sunset) each totaled nine. Cambronne also rejected three shots and pulled five boards, while Ditlefsen was 3-of-4 from three-point range. Junior Mike Thompson (Rosedale, N.Y./Christ The King Regional) snagged double-digit rebounds for the third straight game, collecting 11.
Sophomore Gelvis Solano (New York, N.Y./Health Professions) notched 19 points, six assists and four steals for Merrimack, and classmate JT Strickland (Laurel, Md./Georgetown Prep) contributed 19 points, five boards and five helpers. Senior Kevin Regan (Philadelphia, Pa./Roman Catholic) posted 10 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
Merrimack scored the first seven points before Holton and Solano swapped threes, and Ditlefsen knocked down a triple of his own to draw Saint Michael's within 12-9 at 15:42 of the opening half. Another Ditlefsen triple created a 17-15 margin, but the Warriors put together a 12-2 run on the strength of two Strickland threes. The hosts still led by 12, at 34-22, but Crawford hit two jumpers and Ditlefsen canned another trey during a 7-0 run, making it 34-29. Merrimack went back ahead by 12 on a Solano three with 1:16 go to, but Crawford hit one from beyond the arc to trim the deficit to 42-33 by halftime.
Crawford's jumper 1:03 into the second half brought Saint Michael's within seven, and sophomore Morrell Gaskins' (Cambria Heights, N.Y./Archbishop Molloy) free throw later created a 44-38 margin at 16:12. However, the Warriors scored the next eight points, eventually leading by as much as 58-45 with 9:25 left. Holton knocked down a three to cap a run of six straight Purple Knights points, but Merrimack went back up 63-52 on a Strickland triple at 6:04. Saint Michael's used a 7-2 run to chip the deficit to 65-59 on Holton's bucket with 21 seconds left but came no closer.