KEENE, N.H. -- In a battle of teams undefeated in the Little East Conference, the No. 22 Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team erased a 17-point first-half deficit, holding Keene State College without a field goal over the final eight minutes of the game in a 70-64 victory Wednesday night at Spaulding Gymnasium.
With the score tied at 62 with four minutes left, senior guard Kendall Marquez (Willimantic) contributed to Eastern's (14-2, 6-0 LEC) final eight points by sinking six of seven free throws and finding sophomore forward Jake McCarthy (Berlin) alone under the basket for his only assist of the game as the Warriors remained undefeated (8-0) on their opponents' home court and delivered Keene (11-5, 5-1 LEC) its first home loss in six games this year. The Warriors have won five straight while Keene lost for only the third time in its last 13 games.
Marquez led Eastern with 15 points in 18 minutes, with sophomore guard Carlos Gonzalez (Springfield, MA) adding 12 points, five rebounds and four assists and senior guard Tarchee Brown (Rockville) finishing with nine points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
McCarthy and senior guard Collin Jordan (Cheshire) made important contributions off the bench. McCarthy pulled down a career-high eight rebounds and scored a career-high nine points in 18 minutes, while Jordan had 11 points (5-of-10 FGs), two rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes.
Eastern commited six turnovers in the first eight minutes of the game, propelling the hosts to a 23-5 blitz that opened up a 17-point, 29-12 lead for Keene with eight minutes left in the first half. In danger of being run out of the gym, Eastern re-grouped instead, cutting ten points off the lead to pull to within seven, 38-31 at the break. Gonzalez sank two of his three three-pointers in that stretch, with Brown and freshman guard Cory Muckle (Westbrook) each chipping in one.
After the early spate of six turnovers, Eastern commited only six more the rest of the way – only two coming in the second half -- forcing the hosts into 17 in the game. In the second half, Keene managed only 26 points on 34.8 percent shooting and gave the ball away ten times. As has been the case this year, Eastern lived and died with three-point shooting, with its game total of 11 providing them with twice as many points than Keene from long range.
In one four-minute stretch in the second half, the Warriors had nine chances to move in front, but failed each time. After the ninth opportunity went by the boards on a missed free throw by Gonzalez (attempting a conventional three-point play) in a tie game, Gonzalez came down with his own rebound, and Brown converted an inside hoop off a pass from Muckle to give the Warriors their first lead, 57-55, since the first four minutes with 7:30 left. The Warriors never trailed thereafter but weathered four more tie scores before Marquez buried three consecutive free throws coming out of a timeout after being fouled on a three-point attempt with 1:35 left to give Eastern the lead for good, 66-63. On the other end, Brown rebounded a potential game-tying three-pointer by Nichols and Marquez spotted the 6-foot-8 inch McCarthy underneath for an easy bucket that made it 68-63 with 62 seconds left.
While Keene -- which starts three freshmen -- went the final eight minutes without a field goal, it used strong free-throw shooting to keep it close, hitting seven straight. Ty Nichols tied the game at 62-all with 3:44 left by connecting on the first of two, but failed on the second for what could have been a go-ahead point. Keene never led again.
Eastern and Keene entered the game ranked 1-2 in the LEC in defense. The final point total was the lowest for the hosts this year while the Warriors' final point total was their second-lowest this season in a victory. Eastern was held 14 points below its LEC-leading 83.7 average, and Keene 16 points below its average.
Dizel Wright led Keene with 18 points, with top scorer Nichols finishing with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Nichols was limited to four points in the second half, partially due to foul trouble when he was whistled for his third five minutes into the second half and Keene leading by one.
The teams were meeting for the first time since Eastern's 72-70 home win over Keene in last year's LEC championship game. Eastern had lost its previous two on Keene's home floor.
Eastern hosts Rhode Island College in a conference game Saturday at 3 p.m.