DARTMOUTH, Mass. – If nothing else, this year's two-game Little East Conference set between Eastern Connecticut State University and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth proved one thing: both teams play drastically better on their home court.
Saturday, the teams completed an exchange of blow-out home victories, UMass Dartmouth avenging a 27-point loss at Eastern exactly one month ago with a 26-point, 96-70 triumph at the Francis Tripp Athletic Center. With its seventh win in nine games since that loss at Eastern, UMass (16-7, 9-3 LEC) forges a three-way tie atop the conference standings with Eastern (15-8, 9-3 LEC) and Keene State College (16-7, 9-3 LEC). Keene pulled even with a 95-80 home rout of Western Connecticut Saturday.
Against UMass, three-time defending LEC regular-season champion Eastern never led after the opening bucket. A quick run of seven straight points pushed the Corsairs into an early ten-point lead, the lead ballooning to 19 points by halftime as the hosts shot just under 60 percent from the floor (6-of-9 from three).
The Warriors trailed by 11 and in possession of the ball and a chance to cut the gap to single figures in the opening minutes of the second half, but the Corsairs turned an Eastern turnover into a three-point field goal by senior guard Chris Mendes, and junior forward Joshua Imadiyi converted his third attempt at the basket into a conventional three-point play that re-established a 17-point lead midway through the second half.
The loss is Eastern's third in eight games since routing UMD a month ago and was the team's first setback on UMD's court in eight years, a string of seven straight triumphs. Still the LEC's top-rated defensive team, Eastern has allowed an average of 92.7 points in its last three losses, all coming in conference play since a 7-0 conference start.
Freshman forward Mert Sert, relegated to bystander status in Eastern's earlier win, had 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Corsairs, with senior guard Mendes leading UMD with 19 points on 7-of-10 field goal shooting (4-of-6 on three-pointers). Imadiyi came off the bench for 11 points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes. The hosts shot 52.6 percent from the floor (11-of-17 from three-point range), scoring 22 points on second-chance tries. Senior guard Jon Robinson added 15 points, sinking all three of his three-pointers and six of seven shots overall.
After totalling a program-record 19 three-pointers in a 39-point home over Western Connecticut Wednesday, Eastern managed just five and a 29.4 three-point percentage Saturday. Junior guard Tarchee Brown (Rockville) led Eastern with 21 points, 13 coming in the first nine minutes.
Senior forward Hugh Lindo (Enfield) had 19 points – 12 in the second half – and a team-high eight rebounds. The Warriors shot just 60 percent from the foul line, dropping their season percentage to 64.2.
Eastern hosts Keene State College Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., having dropped a 99-92 decision to the Owls Jan. 25, before closing out the regular season with an LEC home game against UMass Boston Saturday at 3 p.m.