DURHAM – All season, the Merrimack High School boys basketball team has won games with its defense.
Tuesday’s Division I semifinal against Spaulding was no different.
The seventh-seeded Tomahawks held the sixth-seeded Red Raiders to 14 points in the second half while Dimitri Floras scored a game-high 21 points to lead Merrimack to a 53-39 win over Spaulding at the University of New Hampshire. The win sends the ’Hawks to Saturday’s championship game for the first time since 2006, where Merrimack will face No. 4 Manchester Central.
Eric Gendron added 10 points for Merrimack (15-6) while Jeff Giannelli came off the bench to score 10 as well.
Despite having three players in double figures, Merrimack didn’t have a stellar offensive night. The ’Hawks shot 39 percent from the field, including 6 for 21 from behind the 3-point line, and had just four offensive rebounds all game.
But over the final 16 minutes, Spaulding (15-6) wasn’t any better. After shooting 44 percent in the first half, the Red Raiders were 6 for 23 from the field in the second.
“I thought we did a really nice job defensively in the second half and that was the difference,” Merrimack coach Tim Goodridge said. “We weren’t communicating too well in the first half defensively. They were shooting the ball really well in the first half. We clamped down on them pretty good. We communicated much better and we got out on the shooters.”
Spaulding’s Dominic Paradis and Nick MacGregor combined for 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting in the first half, but the pair was just 2 for 12 after halftime. Paradis finished with 13 points, while MacGregor was scoreless in the second half and finished with 11.
“They just weren’t making shots in the second half,” Floras said. “We talked in the huddle, I don’t think we brought up the word offense. We already had the lead, so all we had to do was stop them.”
The ’Hawks had the lead at halftime thanks to a 3 by Floras just before the buzzer. The teams traded baskets to start the third quarter and Spaulding was down just two, 33-31, when Merrimack started to pull away
On two consecutive possessions, Floras was fouled on his way to the basket and made 3 of 4 free throws to extend the lead to five. After a Spaulding turnover, the Merrimack junior sank a fade-away 3-pointer to give the ’Hawks a 39-31 lead with 2:36 left in the third.
That was all the cushion Merrimack would need, as the Red Raiders scored just eight points the rest of the way. Paradis hit a 3 to open the fourth quarter, making it a six-point game, 43-37, but Spaulding wouldn’t score again until under a minute remained.
Merrimack also got six points from Tyler Gendron, and Goodridge felt it was the senior’s defensive play against Paradis that made the rest of the ’Hawks’ game plan work.
“He’s such a long-armed young man,” Goodridge said. “Everybody talks about his offense, but he didn’t shoot the ball well. He did an outstanding job defensively.”
The ’Hawks will face Central in the final in a rematch of the 2006 championship game. It’s Merrimack’s fourth title-game appearance since 2003, but first since losing to the Little Green six years ago.
“We got spoiled there,” Goodridge said of making the finals three times in four years. “It seemed like every March we were up here (at UNH). This group really deserves it. They’re just really nice kids.”