PLYMOUTH, N.H. – Four different players contributed points when the Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team outscored Plymouth State University 13-2 over three minutes late in the game on the way to a 77-62 Little East Conference victory Saturday afternoon at Foley Gymnasium.
Coming off a conference loss Wednesday and in danger of losing consecutive LEC regular-season games for the first time in six years, Eastern (6-2, 3-1 LEC) never trailed after the first two minutes, led by ten at halftime and used its late scoring spurt to hand Plymouth (6-4, 3-1 LEC) its first conference loss.
Plymouth and Keene State College both entered conference play undefeated, with Keene falling into a share of third place with UMass Dartmouth – both a half-game behind Eastern and Plymouth – following its 80-71 home loss to UMass Dartmouth Saturday.
Plymouth scored six straight points early in the second half to cut Eastern's lead to four, 45-41. With the Warriors clinging to a six-point, 59-53 lead with 7:35 left, sophomore guard Cory Muckle (Westbrook) converted two three-point field goals, senior guard Jaysen Nunez (Hartford) added three more points with his only basket of the game, and junior guard Jake Collagan (Wethersfield) capped the run with a breakaway layup off a steal and pass from junior guard Carlos Gonzalez (Springfield, MA) to put the game away, 72-55, with 4:20 left.
The Warriors used an early 14-2 run to race to a ten-point, 18-8 lead eight minutes into the game and took that advantage into the lockerroom. In the +12 burst, senior forward Leonel Hyatt (Greenwich) scored all five of his first-half points with a free throw, a putback on Gonzalez' airball, and a layup off a blind pass from Nunez. Collagan also swished a three, freshman Seth Thomas (Norwich) tipped in his own miss, and Muckle capped the run by draining his second three-pointer.
Collagan's driving layup from the left side had given Eastern a ten-point lead four minutes into the second half, but Plymouth – which has ridden the play of a handful of talented freshman to early success after being picked for eighth (of nine teams) in the coaches' pre-season poll – again whittled away. The Panthers scored six in a row when it cut the lead to four, 45-41, early in the second half. Coming out of an Eastern timeout, Collagan canned a pair of free throws after being fouled on a jumper to slow down the hosts, and senior guard Donny Craig (Waterford) provided his familiar spark off the bench with a spinning left-hander in the lane and his only three-pointer of the game off one of Nunez' (career-high 30 minutes) career-high nine assists.
With the Panthers' shooting touch off the mark for much of the second half, Hyatt restored Eastern's nine-point lead with a bucket in traffic that made it 54-45 with 11:30 left. Plymouth followed with its final run moments after, before the Warriors' decisive 13-2 stretch that built the lead to 17 with just over four minutes remaining.
Behind Muckle & Co., Eastern connected on ten of 27 three-pointers in the game, sank 13 of 15 free throws and outrebounded Plymouth by 12.
All of Eastern's starters finished in double figures. Collagan had 20 points (15 in the second half), Muckle 12 and Gonzalez, Thomas and Hyatt 11 each. Gonzalez and Thomas each grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds, Hyatt pulling down eight. Craig had nine points and two rebounds in 13 minutes off the bench. Gonzalez had half of Eastern's ten steals and no turnovers in 31 minutes.
Plymouth, which started three freshmen, got a game-high 23 points from junior guard Jaylen LeRoy and 13 points (11 in the second half) from freshman guard Dante Rivera. Freshman guard Bryton Early and freshman forward Manny Alisandro led Plymouth with seven rebounds apiece.
Eastern faces Carthage College Dec. 17 and Widener University Dec. 18 in Miami. Both games start at noon.