Trailing by 23 points at the halftime break, the Wilmington University men's basketball team battled all the way back to tie the game but was unable to overtake Merrimack, as the visitors escaped with an 89-82 victory at the WU Athletics Complex on Saturday afternoon.
Despite trailing by as many as 26 late in the first half and heading into the halftime break down 23, the Wildcats (3-8) battled all the way back to tie the game for the first tie with 5:38 left in regulation and as late as 1:15 to play before the Warriors (4-6) escaped down the stretch.
The Warriors' Gelvis Solano proved to be too much for the Wildcats, as the Northeast-10 Conference's scoring leader proved his worth with a game high 31 points, 20 of which came in the first half.
The defense duo of Valentino Thompson and Tyaire Ponzo-Meek held Solano to only 11 points in the second half while the rest of the defense kept Merrimack to 34.6 percent from the floor to fuel the second stanza comeback.
Offensively, Kevin Ohen scored 21 points in the second half, shooting 4-of-8 from deep, while Ponzo-Meek added 12 points in leading the Wildcats to 50 percent from the floor to get back into the game.
The comeback started following a Solano three-pointer with 16:25 to play as Ohen sparked a 14-2 run with a jumper of his own. Shai Henry capped the run with a fastbreak layup off a Thompson steal to bring the Wildcats to within 10 at 66-56 with 12:14 left to play.
Ponzo-Meek brought the Wildcats to within single digits for the first time since the 15:58 mark of the first half with a layup with 9:03 to play before another Ohen jumper sparked one final run.
An 11-0 run tied the game for the first time on the afternoon as Ohen capped the run with a three-pointer from the left side with 5:38 remaining on the scoreboard. But Merrimack's Solano came right back down the floor and converted a layup to regain the lead for the visitors.
Pozno-Meek tied the game for the third time with 2:03 remaining with a jumper and the Wildcats had a possession to take the lead after earning a stop on the defensive end. But Ohen's go-ahead three was off the mark and the Warriors hit a pair of free throws with 1:14 to take the lead for good.
The Wildcats got to within three again with 44 seconds to play but the Warriors hit 8-of-10 from the charity stripe to close out the contest.
Ohen led the Wildcats with a season high 27 points while hitting four three-pointers. Ponzo-Meek finished with 14 points while Thompson added 11 points and five assists off the bench. Shai Henry chipped in with 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench for his second double-double of the season.
The loss snapped a three game winning streak for the Wildcats but the team has another opportunity to improve its record with one final game prior to the NCAA Division II mandatory break.
The Wildcats head to Philadelphia to battle another tough NE-10 team, Saint Michael's, on Sunday at Chestnut Hill College. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. and admission at the door is $5.00 per person.