Merrimack opens strong at Queen City Invite

MANCHESTER – When the state’s best player fouls out with over four minutes to go in a game no one would blame his team for folding up and heading home.

Merrimack had other plans. Star forward Eric Gendron fouled out with 4:13 to go and the Tomahawks responded with a 13-0 run to turn a five-point deficit into an eight-point lead to get past Weaver of Hartford and hold on for a 62-58 win in the opening round of the Queen City Invitational.

“I said Gendron is a great player but it isn’t all about Gendron; it’s about everybody else,” Merrimack coach Tim Goodridge said. “I thought Dylan Richardson played fantastic tonight. We have other basketball players; we just need to mesh Gendron together with those basketball players and that’s going to make us a better team. Sometimes were in such awe of Gendron that we just watch him play. We need to be playing basketball. Once Gendron fouled out then they played. They show you they can play.”

Richardson owned the moment, leading the team with 14 points including a three-pointer from the corner with just over three minutes to go to put Merrimack ahead for good.

The game started 45 minutes late because Weaver was stuck in traffic, but once the Beavers took the floor it was clear they came with the afterburners. Weaver’s high-intensity style forced Merrimack into playing much more transition basketball than they were used to playing.

“It was tough,” Merrimack guard Austin Franzen said. “They’re real quick. I had to keep playing D every possession; defense is the key to win games.”

Defense was the story early as the teams racked up steals and turnovers in bunches. The game was tied at 25 at the half. Merrimack picked 12 steals during the game.

“I thought both teams defensively played really well,” Goodridge said. “Neither team was shooting the ball particularly well. Neither team was finishing well. I just thought in the second half things got more like a basketball game.”

The game opened up in the second half as both teams found their shooting touch. Gendron and Franzen each pumped in 12 points. Franzen hit four free throws in the final minute to salt the game away. Shayne Bourque added five points and pulled down five boards.

Even though he only had four points, Merrimack’s Mickey Gasper put in yeoman’s work in the paint to help salvage the win. Gasper pulled down a team-high eight rebounds and snagged five steals.

“That’s what you get with seniors,” Goodridge said of Gasper. “He’s a tough kid, he’s a tough basketball player. He rebounds, he defends; that’s what you get. We like Mick Gasper’s game a lot.”

The Tomahawks face Exeter at 6 p.m. Friday in the first semifinal matchup.