NORTH ANDOVER — Wednesday night’s showdown between Merrimack and Northeastern, the first ever game between these in-state foes, was all about the Huskies. The visitors dominated both sides of the court, cruising to a 75-47 victory to snap a three-game skid.
Two keys to the game for the Huskies were limiting turnovers and finding perimeter shooting, and they did just that at the start. After having struggled in the half-court set in previous contests, Northeastern looked to push their pace on offense. Finding looks in transition generally minimize turnovers, and the Huskies executed well.
A 15-3 run in the first seven minutes of the opening frame was sparked by numerous fast breaks and defensive stops. Sophomore forward Asha Parker and junior guard Derin Erdogan got the scoring started with a pair of layups after an early Merrimack bucket from redshirt senior forward Marissa Hamilton; then, the floodgates opened.
Erdogan, usually one of the Huskies’ go-to scoring options, was quiet in the points column in the first and instead played facilitator. The Warriors were overloading their strong side defense, leading to a pair of cross court passes from Erdogan, which found sophomore guards Gemima Motema and Camille Clement for a midrange jumper and three pointer, respectively. Clement connected again from downtown, but the Warriors countered with two of their own from Hamilton and graduate student guard Makenzie Bray.
Northeastern stretched their lead to 15 in the second quarter, finding scoring from some unlikely faces. Parker, who scored all of her eight points in the first half, was rewarded for her off-ball movement — Erdogan and Motema found the forward for easy layups early in the quarter. Freshman guard Marian Turnbull also had five points in a quick two-minute stint to close the half.
Despite the offensive prowess the Huskies displayed before the break, the defense was the star of the show. Merrimack only had two reliable scoring options — Hamilton, who averaged 18 points on 43% shooting going into the game, and senior guard Jayme DeCesare, who averaged 10.4 — and both were shut down. Northeastern aggressively double-teamed the two every time they touched the ball and was more than happy making them pass the ball to their teammates or taking a contested shot.
“We have to continue to grow in that area of stopping go-to players,” said head coach Bridgette Mitchell. “But because of our ability to help the helper, [and that] our rotations were there, we had a solid effort on team defense.”
DeCesare, who did not make a field goal the entire game, only took one shot during the half; Hamilton had 11 points (17 on the night) on inefficient shooting while turning the ball over five times. The Warriors didn’t do anything to adjust to the pressure, though, and Northeastern capitalized with 22 points off turnovers this game.
“Our defense definitely led to those transition scores,” Mitchell said. “[The defense] was really being aggressive from a ball pressuring standpoint.”
Coming out for the second half, the Huskies looked to put the Warriors away, and were able to thanks to Motema. The guard scored all of her eight second-half points on transition layups either going coast-to-coast following her own steal or rebound, or beating the Warriors back on defense and receiving a pass from a teammate. She finished the game with 16 points on 50% shooting while adding two steals and five rebounds in just 22 minutes of play.
During the third quarter, Northeastern also capitalized on their side advantage, securing nine offensive rebounds, leading to eight second chance points. Junior forwards Izzy Larsen and Halle Idowu were able to find open looks following an offensive board while Parker gave Northeastern second possessions twice.
“We were plus-14 on the boards today, the goal that we set out was to be plus-15,” Mitchell said. “[I] was really impressed with the effort, as a team, to crash the glass tonight.”
The Warriors saw their deficit grow by another 10 points this quarter as they were unable to contain the Northeastern offense or put together any extended run of their own. Hamilton scored a layup in transition to start the quarter, and then Merrimack was held scoreless for the next three and a half minutes. Freshman guard Lydia Melashenko, playing in her collegiate debut, broke the drought for the Warriors with a jumper for her first career points.
The Huskies’ lead was 60-35, a whopping 25 points, at the end of the third, so Mitchell gave Motema and Erdogan the rest of the night off in favor of the second unit. Junior guard Amyrah Sapenter was able to capitalize, scoring a career high eight points with two threes in the final stretch. Freshman forward Oralye Kiefer also grabbed two rebounds, two steals, and recorded four points as the Huskies were on cruise control for the final 10 minutes.
“We are firm believers of ‘you get what you work for’ and having that lead allowed [the bench] to see playing time in a game,” Mitchell said. “I was impressed by their contributions both offensively and defensively.”
Northeastern will finally return to play hosts for their second home game of the season and their first in the newly renovated Cabot Center, against Holy Cross on Saturday. The Crusaders handily defeated Merrimack 67-39 on opening night and will come into Boston looking to spoil the festivities this weekend. Peyton Doyle and Jordan Walsh will have the call on WRBB 104.9 FM at 1 p.m.