Boys’ basketball: Merrimack Valley turns in ‘lackadaisical’ performance, still beats John Stark by 31

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 02-15-2023 1:23 AM

PENACOOK – Merrimack Valley head coach Tim Mucher did not sound like a coach whose team had just won a game by 31 points to improve to 11-5 on the season after the Pride beat John Stark, 63-32, on Tuesday night. 

“Very lackadaisical, until the third quarter where they decided they wanted to come out and make a stand and play the way that Merrimack Valley basketball is supposed to be played,” Mucher said. “It was a better performance in the third quarter.”

The Pride led 25-17 at the half against a John Stark (0-16) team still searching for its first win of the season; the score would’ve been closer if not for Brandon Dukette’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the second, after the Generals put together a little 10-5 run to claw back within striking distance.

But MV came out stronger in the third, starting the quarter with a 6-0 run and ending the quarter having outscored John Stark, 20-5.

Buddy Eddy led MV’s scoring with 13 points, while Trevor Simonds had 11 and Dukette scored eight.

From the Generals’ perspective, the game could be viewed from an opposite lens – it was an encouraging first half followed by a disappointing second.

“I liked our effort in the first half,” said Generals’ head coach Mike Smith. “Obviously, Merrimack Valley’s in a different spot than we’re at. They’re fighting for home court; we’re still fighting to get our first W.”

Smith cited the production from his young players as reason for optimism moving forward. John Stark started the game with three sophomores, a freshman and a junior on the floor. 

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Logan Montgomery, Hayden Pond, Ty Gajowski (five rebounds) and Cedar Beaupre (five rebounds, four steals) all scored six points apiece.

The Generals have two games remaining in their season to pick up that first win, and they’ll certainly have favorable matchups against Sanborn (4-11) and Hanover (3-12).

“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say we want to get a win,” Smith said of his goals for the team the rest of the way. “We just really need to focus on what we can control, and what we can control is our improvement. We just want to improve from game to game, from quarter to quarter, possession to possession. I know that sounds like a cliche, but that’s really where we’re at.”

The Pride, meanwhile, hope to come out stronger from the jump on Friday, when MV hosts the defending Division II champions Souhegan (12-1). Currently seventh in the D-II standings, the Pride need to keep winning games to secure home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

And if MV is going to do that, its defense will be a key reason. Even in Tuesday’s performance, players consistently and clearly communicated with each other in their 3-2 zone defense and created havoc for the Generals. 

“It starts with defense with us,” Mucher said. “I always tell the kids, you can’t ever have a bad night on defense because you play defense with your head, your heart and your feet. I think a lot of kids have bought into that concept, and I think they enjoy playing defense.”

Smith seconded that notion, having witnessed his team struggle offensively for most of the night.

“Merrimack Valley’s a really good team,” he said. “I’d hate to play them in the first round. You know they’re going to come out, and they’re going to be tough and well-coached. That’s what they were tonight.”

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