It was a one-point game at the half.

It was a one-point game at the end of the third quarter.

But by the end of the fourth, the Keene boys basketball team had pulled ahead, downing Merrimack, 46-38, Saturday afternoon in Purbeck Gym at Keene High School.

Two big buckets down the stretch for sophomore Isaac Nelson (11 points) and two important free throws from senior Andy Colbert (two points) pushed the Blackbirds over the edge as Keene recorded its second consecutive victory.

“It’s absolutely huge that they can do that,” said Keene coach Matt Azzaro. “They don’t give up. They believe in themselves. They don’t think it’s over until it’s over.”

“It was great to help out our team and solidify the win,” Nelson said. “And to play aggressively at the end. The will to win and playing through the fatigue, just playing hard no matter what.”

Junior Lucas Malay had a field day in the post, scoring a game-high 13 points. Malay saw the free throw line five times — four in the first half alone — after drawing fouls while going to the basket down low.

That wasn’t exactly the game plan, though, Malay said.

“It just kind of happened that way,” Malay said. “I think it was good to get [Merrimack’s David Hamilton] out of the game. We were working on simple foot work and using pump fakes, that’s how we got it.”

Junior Jack Riendeau hit two big three-pointers in the second quarter, then hit a couple important shots in the fourth to help secure the victory. He finished with 10 points — the third Blackbird in double digits.

What started off as an overall sloppy game — on both sides — picked up in the second half. Keene shot a measly 5-for-20 from the field in the first half (25 percent), then went 11-for-23 from the field in the second half (48 percent).

“Sometimes it can be tough to play on a Saturday afternoon,” Azzaro said, alluding to the fact that the game was postponed from Friday to Saturday because of snow. “They’re amped to play on Friday night. Luckily, we woke up in the second half. We did what we had to do to earn the victory.”

Despite struggling to get shots to fall in the first half, Keene made up for it on the other end of the court, using the full-court press to disrupt Merrimack and not letting the Tomahawks get good looks on offense. Keene had a four-point lead at the end of the first and led 20-19 at the half.

A back-and-forth third period saw the teams go into the final frame with the Blackbirds still ahead by just one point, 28-27, and at that point Keene knew they had to pull this one out.

Which they did.

“We wanted to come in and play how we played in the second half against [Bishop Guertin],” Malay said. “Come out and just play hard.”

“We’ve asked a lot from them, everyone,” Azzaro said. “And they’ve all bought in. They’re starting to see now that good things can happen.”

Now halfway through the season, Keene has won two in a row and is continuously showing improvements on the court.

“We still have some things to work on,” Malay said, and Nelson agreed. “But we’re starting to roll, for sure.”

The Blackbirds are currently 19th in the division, but the middle of the standings is as crowded as it gets, with 15 of the 22 teams at four wins or less. The top 15 teams at the end of the regular season make the playoffs.

But there’s still a lot of regular season left before even thinking about the tournament.

“It’s about finding a way to win,” Azzaro said. “We’ve set the standard, and we’re moving forward and making the standard more difficult and so on and so forth. Keep moving forward, and I think we’re taking steps in that direction.”

Up next for the Blackbirds (2-7) are the Division I-leading Pinkerton Astros (7-0), in Derry on Monday at 6:30 p.m.

“They’re a very good team, very well-coached team,” Azzaro said. “They’re one of the teams to beat. But I think we can beat anyone if we do the right things and come to play.”

Chris Detwiler can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1411, or cdetwiler@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Detwiler.