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Challenge accepted: Merced turns up defensive heat to pull out tough road win at Atwater

ATWATER -- Marcus Knott challenged his defense at halftime.

With Merced holding a 37-35 lead at intermission, Atwater wasn't exactly bombarding his squad with offense.

Still, Knott wanted a few things shored up.

"They'd been able to get a few easy baskets from breaking our press and I felt they were things we could fix," Knott said. "I told our guys we needed to hold them to about 10 to 12 points per quarter in the second half."

Merced heeded its coach's advice, intensifying its defensive effort and eventually wearing a scrappy Atwater team down.

Three quick transition buckets off of turnovers helped Merced break open 3-point game in the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run.

Merced closed things out from there, improving its Central California Conference record to 8-1 with a 73-56 victory.

"When you're playing against a team this good, mistakes become amplified," Atwater coach John Kane said. "They force a couple turnovers and all of a sudden a five-point game is a 12-point game.

"I'm really proud of the guys' efforts tonight."

Kane had reason to be proud.

Atwater (1-8 CCC ) got major contributions from just about everyone in its lineup and trailed Merced just 51-48 going into the fourth quarter.

Eriq Belt (14 points) and Colton Beatty (13 points) led Atwater's assault from the outside, while Giavonni Dalmaso (10 points, eight rebounds) and Bryant La Count (eight points and 13 rebounds) created some havoc on the interior.

"We didn't do anything special, we just came out and stuck with our game," Belt said. "Unfortunately, we kind of ran out of gas."

Merced's athleticism and depth won out.

Allen Huddleston led all scorers with 28 points. Patrick Franey added 13 points and Otis Caery (12 points) hit four big 3s off of the bench.

"We're pretty used to being in tight games, which is good," said Huddleston. "There's no panic out there.

"We just keep executing like we can and it's made a big difference for us."

At Atwater

Merced 14 23 14 22 -- 73

Atwater 17 18 13 7 -- 56

MERCED -- Otis Carey 12, Ronnie Dunham 2, Bernard Bolden 2, Bobby Salinas 2, Reggie Nelson 4, Eddie Beavers 2, Allen Huddleston 28, Marques Barron 8, Patrick Franey 13. Totals 30 6-9 73.

ATWATER -- Eriq Belt 14, Juan Diaz 2, Giavonni Dalmaso 10, Colton Beatty 13, Bryant La Count 8, Albert Martinez 8. Totals 22 6-18 56.

3-pointers: Merced 7 (Carey 4, Franey 2, Huddleston), Atwater 5 (Beatty 3, Belt 2); Total Fouls: Merced 19, Atwater 15; Fouls Outs: None. Rebounds: Merced 38 (Barron 12); Atwater 34 (La Count 13).

Records: Merced 8-1 CCC, 15-8; Atwater 1-8 CCC, 6-17.

JV -- Atwater 50-41.

Frosh -- Atwater won.