Merchant Marine Claws Past Eagles, 66-61, in Crucial Landmark Conference Battle
Huntingdon, PA – In a clash of two teams fighting for a Landmark Conference playoff berth, Merchant Marine outlasted Juniata Saturday afternoon, 66-61, behind Nick Sergio's (Patchogue, NY) 19 points and 12 rebounds. David Smith (Lakewood, WA) gave USMMA its first lead of the game with 4:04 to play in regulation as he buried a contested three-pointer to make it 59-56. Preston Padgett (Leavenworth, KS) knocked down a pair of critical free throws with six seconds remaining to provide the final margin of victory.
Juniata (14-9, 5-7 Landmark) led by as many as 11 points in the first half but needed a Brian Scholly three-ball followed by a Jeremy Hays layup to grab a 61-59 edge with 3:03 on the clock. Hays had a team high 18 points for the Eagles while Scholly finished with 12 points.
Zach Karczewski (Austin, TX) responded in a big way for the Mariners with a trifecta on the next possession to push the visitors back on top, 62-61. The senior struck again with 52 seconds left, getting a tough floater in the lane to fall, giving USMMA a 64-61 advantage.
Merchant Marine (12-11, 6-6 Landmark) survived a pair of potential game-tying three-pointers from Juniata before Padgett's key rebound, which led to the final two free throws. The Mariners dominated inside, outrebounding the Eagles, 42-21, and owned a 34-18 lead in second-chance points. USMMA shot a blistering 53.8% (14-of-26) from the field in the second half to overcome a 32-22 halftime deficit.
Sergio has struggled this season at the free throw line but was clutch Saturday at the charity stripe, hitting a perfect 9-of-9. Merchant Marine was 13-of-14 at the line in the second half en route to its sixth win in the last seven games. Matthew Miller (Augusta, GA) and Karczewski each tallied 11 points while Smith cracked double figures with 10 points.
Merchant Marine will look to run its current winning streak to four games in another key Landmark Conference battle Wednesday night at Drew.