Warrior Faithful Makes Case for ‘Sixth Man of the Game’

The sold-out crowd for the Northeast Conference men’s basketball championship game created an electric atmosphere at Lawler Arena on Tuesday, March 12.
Photo of a crowd of spectators in the stands watching Merrimack men's basketball.
Over this past season, men's basketball home games averaged 1,024 spectators at home conference games.

With a trip to the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament on the line, the significance of the 2024 Northeast Conference men’s basketball championship game on Tuesday, March 12, was not lost on the more than 2,800 Warrior faithful who packed a sold-out Lawler Arena to cheer on Merrimack College.

And the fans’ thunderous support, despite a 54-47 loss to Wagner College, was not lost on Joe Gallo ’04.

“The energy was unbelievable,” said Gallo, who completed his seventh season as head coach of the men’s basketball team. “I’ll take that crowd every game. It certainly helped us on defense.”

Merrimack College’s men’s basketball fans are among the most devoted in the NEC. For the 2023-24 season, the Warriors averaged 1,024 spectators for home conference games, good for the second most in the NEC. 

And the fans—students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends of the College, led by the Merrimack College Marching Band, Dance Team and Cheerleading—had much to cheer for this season: co-regular season champions, a 12-game winning streak in Lawler dating back to the 2022-23 season, NEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Derkack ’26, Rookie of the Year Adam “Budd” Clark ’27, Most Improved Player of the Year Bryan Etumnu ’26 and playing for a bid to the NCAA tournament in the team’s first year of eligibility.

“This is the most enjoyable team I have ever coached,” Gallo said of the 2023-24 squad. “If you saw us practice in July and saw us practice at shoot around (before the championship game), they looked the same. Just a fun, energetic group. Obviously, super disappointed for these guys.”

This marked the second consecutive year Merrimack hosted the NEC men’s basketball championship. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, which most of Merrimack’s varsity programs will move to next year, plays its basketball conference tournament at a neutral site.

During his postgame press conference, Gallo shared his gratitude for the opportunities the NEC and commissioner Noreen Morris gave the men’s basketball program during Merrimack’s transition to Division I.

“It was a great conference tournament,” he said. “(If not for the NEC) we’d probably be on our way to St. Mike’s for a Division II regional game, which would be fun but not as exciting as this.”

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