Experience is a good thing to have on your side in the playoffs.
With an all-senior lineup, Merced prides itself on having players who know what it takes to win at this time of year.
It showed on Friday night.
Second-seeded Merced jumped on a young No. 15 Kennedy team early and didn't let up until the game was out of hand in the fourth quarter as Merced cruised to a 77-60 win in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs.
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"Experience definitely helps," said Merced senior Tyrone Bowie, who came off the bench to score 14 points.
"The guys that were here last year have been through this. Even though they were a young team, we couldn't take them lightly. We wanted to come out and make a statement."
Otis Caery helped make that statement.
Merced's point guard surprised everyone in the gym when he scored his first points by taking the ball to the basket on a layup.
Caery then did most of his damage from long range, knocking down four 3-pointers on his way to a team-high 16 points.
"I'm sure when I scored my first basket my teammates thought, 'What? Otis doing a layup?' That play kind of got us going," Caery said. "Then I had to show them I can still shoot, too."
Merced (24-4) advances to a quarterfinal matchup on Tuesday against Modesto Metro Conference champion Grace Davis (24-4), which defeated Oak Ridge 67-63.
It's the third straight year Merced has reached the second round, which is played at the University of the Pacific.
"It's obviously good to get back there, but at the same time it's not everything we want," said Merced coach Marcus Knott, whose team won its 13th straight game.
"At the risk of sounding overconfident, we expected to get there. Now we're there and we've still got some work to do."
With seven sophomores playing up at the varsity level this year, Kennedy could likely be a section title contender down the road.
But its youth showed against Merced, as Kennedy turned the ball over too many times and didn't attack the basket.
Kennedy (10-17) found out what playoff intensity is all about.
Long shots turned into long rebounds, which led to quick transition baskets for Merced.
"That's what we figured they would do," Knott said. "We just wanted to be there to contest their shots.
"Looking at their scores, I think we didn't allow them to play as methodical as they would like to play. It's no secret we like to run."
Bowie and Caery made an impact early, combining for 14 points in the first quarter as Merced jumped out to a 20-9 lead.
Bowie's ability to contort his body and get shots off from weird angles paid off in the paint.
"That's what I'm about," Bowie said. "Going through league a second time, the other teams get to know you.
"(Kennedy) doesn't know me, so it was like starting fresh. I basically used every move I have."
Merced put on a show in transition with every player looking to make the extra pass.
Merced used an 11-2 run to open up a 37-18 lead late in the second quarter before taking a 15-point lead into intermission.
Merced kept adding onto the lead in the second half, extending it to 75-42 before Knott unloaded the bench midway through the fourth quarter.
Brian Cooksey added 10 points. Reggie Nelson and Marques Barron each chipped in with nine points.
"We've been here before, we know you can't get caught up in the crowd," Caery said. "(Kennedy) was young and if they would have upset us that would have made their season. We weren't going to let that happen."