Owls make a comeback in second half and beat Merrimack College 92-85
Aaron Johnson – Sports Editor
March was in the air Monday night at the Moore Field House, as the Southern Connecticut State men’s basketball team rallied from 10 points down in the second half to defeat Merrimack College 92-85.
It was not looking good for the Owls for much of the evening. Merrimack had come in and completely dictated the tempo of the game behind NE-10 leading scorer Gelvis Solano. The Warriors were able to get the Owls out of their normal pace of run and gun as Solano scored 23 points in the first half leading to the 10-point Merrimack advantage.
“He’s such a great player,” said Southern head coach Mike Donnelly. “I don’t know if I’ve seen anyone have a better half than he did because of the way he was scoring. We’ve got long, athletic guys and he did a fantastic job in the first half.”
Solano shot 8 for 16 from the field in the first half as Southern tried to figure out a way to stop the Merrimack guard. Donnelly then made the choice to put in sophomore forward Austin Carter to guard Solano, hoping to slow him down. It worked. Carter was able to stifle Solano for much of the second half as he finished just 3 for 11 for a total of 33 points to go with seven rebounds.
“We had to try something,” Donnelly said. “Austin is super athletic, super long, and moves his feet really well. He did a great job. His length really bothered him [Solano] and gave him a different look.”
Despite only scoring two points, Carter let his defensive intensity lead the way for the Owls’ comeback. He finished the game with six rebounds and three blocks while keeping Solano in check for most of the second half.
“[My] mindset was just don’t let him score,” said Carter. “He had 23 in the first half and we knew if he came out scoring in the second half it would be a long game. So I just wanted to get out there, limit his shots, and just get stops for the team.”
While Carter took on the task of shutting down Solano, the rest of the Owls began to get the offense moving. After shooting just 38 percent in the first half, Southern came roaring back in the second led by senior Luke Houston. Houston finished with a team-high 28 points along with 11 rebounds.
“I’m just so proud of those guys man,” said Houston. “They’ve been working so hard all year long and I think the young guys really grew up a lot tonight and made some huge plays down the stretch.”
Junior Desmond Williams battled through foul trouble for most of the game to finish with 16 points and 11 rebounds matching the double-double from Houston. Senior Tylon Smith turned in an impressive game for the Owls finishing with 18 points, five assists, and five rebounds as Southern improved to 20-5 (14-3 NE-10) on the season.
The game took on a postseason atmosphere as the Owls’ home crowd began to come alive and helped propel Southern through the comeback. Houston said that a win like this is just a testament to how strong this team will be come March.
“That’s a huge win,” he said. “That’s a playoff atmosphere game right there. That’s a great team. Going forward knowing that we can win in a playoff atmosphere like that with high intensity situations; so that was a big game for us.”