Men's Basketball: In First-Ever NCAA Home Game, Warriors Hold off Stubborn Wildcats

A Geissler Gym record crowd of 2,200 fans served as the Warriors' sixth man Friday night as Eastern withstood Johnson & Wales' charge to post a 75-59 victory in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament and move into Saturday's 7 p.m. regional title game against Middlebury College. Carlos Gonzalez (1) keyed a final 19-4 scoring run and finished with 18 points, five assists, five steals and five rebounds. (Photo by Nick McAneny)
A Geissler Gym record crowd of 2,200 fans served as the Warriors' sixth man Friday night as Eastern withstood Johnson & Wales' charge to post a 75-59 victory in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament and move into Saturday's 7 p.m. regional title game against Middlebury College. Carlos Gonzalez (1) keyed a final 19-4 scoring run and finished with 18 points, five assists, five steals and five rebounds. (Photo by Nick McAneny)

 

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – Sophomore guard Carlos Gonzalez (Springfield, MA) sparked a game-ending 19-4 run over the final six minutes as the No. 10 Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball withstood upset-minded Johnson & Wales University for a 75-59 victory in the opening round of the NCAA Division III tournament Friday night at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium in its first-ever NCAA tournament home game in front of 2,200 fans.

On the strength of its 12th straight home win, Eastern (26-3) hosts No. 18 Middlebury College (20-6) Saturday at 7 p.m. in a second-round game, with the winner advancing to the Round of 16 next weekend. Middlebury expanded a four-point halftime lead and Jack Daly had a triple-double to in the team's 83-63 victory over Lebanon Valley College in Friday's first game.

Eastern led by ten five minutes into the second half and never trailed thereafter, but withstood a Johnson & Wales' (19-10) team which  bcut the gap to one with 6:27 left before the Warriors' late-game tear. With Eastern leading by one, Gonzalez grabbed an offensive rebound and fed sophomore guard Jake Collagan (Wethersfield) for a three-pointer,  and after a missed Wildcat shot, Collagan pulled down the rebound and senior forward Tarchee Brown (Rockville) got the ball to Gonzalez for a layup to make it 62-55 with five minutes left.

Senior guard Kendall Marquez (Willimantic) led four Eastern double-figure scorers with 20 points – 13 in the first half on the strength of four three-point field goals. Gonzalez had 18 points, five assists, five rebounds and five steals, Brown 15 points, 11 rebounds and six assists and freshman guard Cory Muckle (Westbrook) 12 points and five rebounds.

Marquez connected on five three-point field goals and Muckle four as the Warriors outscored the Wildcats, 42-12 from three-point range.

Randal Ferdinand and Jarell Lawson each had 16 points for Johnson & Wales, but he Wildcats missed 16 of 20 three-pointers. Top scorer Brian Hogan-Gary fouled out midway through the second half with the Wildcats down by only three, 53-50,. Hogan-Gary had six points and nine rebounds and Jamari Johnson came off the bench for 11 rebounds.

Middlebury starts out quick against Lebanon Valley

Competing in its ninth NCAA tournament in 11 years, Middlebury scored the first ten points against Lebanon Valley (18-10), but the Dutch chipped away to take a four-point lead midway through the half.

In the second half , however, the Panthers outrebounded the Dutchmen 30-11, and Matt Folger (11) and Eric McCord (10) combined for half of Middlebury's 43 points. Holding to a four-point lead, Middlebury put together another ten-point run to take over the momentum for good in building a 14-point, 60-46 lead with 11 minutes left.

In that decisive stretch, Folger had a tip-in and swished a three-pointer, Daly dropped in two off a steal by Adisa Majors, and Joey Leighton drilled a three-pointer following Daly's offensive rebounds as the Panthers pulled away.

Daly had 13 points, a game-high 11 rebounds and 14 assists, Folger adding 14 – 11 after the break – and six rebounds and Eric McCord came off the bench for 12 points and five rebounds (6-of-7- from the floor).

Andy Orr sank half of his 14 field goal attempts to lead the Dutchmen with 18 points and grabbed ten rebounds with four blocked shots. Top scorer Sam Light (23.3 ppg.) was limited 14 points on 4-of-13 field goal shooting. He had six rebounds.