MIAMI SHORES -- The Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team used early and late scoring runs for a 74-69 non-conference victory over Widener University at the Miami Shootout Tuesday afternoon at the Health and Sports Center on the campus of Barry University.
After an 18-4 run turned an early five-point deficit into a nine-point lead, Eastern (8-2) got points from four different players in a 13-2 stretch in the second half that turned a one-point deficit into a ten-point lead with six minutes left as the Warriors won for the eighth time in their last nine outings and for the second time in 24 hours in Miami. Monday, Eastern scored the final ten points of the game in trimming Carthage College, 78-71.
Last year's ECAC champion, Widener (7-4) cashed in two free throws following an Eastern technical foul to take its first lead since the opening minutes, 49-48, midway through the second half. The lead was short-lived, however, and proved to be the last one for the Pride, which lost for the first time in their last five games.
Junior guard Carlos Gonzalez (Springfield, MA) who recorded his 200th career steal (fourth all-time) and 300th career assists in the game, capped the 13-2 scoring run over the next three minutes with a pair of free throws awarded on a Widener technical foul and later sank a free throw after his own defensive rebound and converted a steal into a driving layup (forcing a goal-tending call on Widener) to push the lead to ten, 61-51, with just over six minutes left.
The Pride cut the ten-point gap to two, 67-65, with 2:40 left on a three-point field goal from senior forward Jalen Howard, who then blocked a shot on the other end. A three-point field goal off that possession that would have given Widener the lead failed, however. The Pride then couldn't capitalize on two ensuing missed shots by Eastern. The Warriors grabbed offensive rebounds on both misses, and following a timeout, Gonzalez took a pass from senior guard Donny Craig (Waterford) and sank his only three-point field goal of the game – a dagger which gave Eastern a five-point lead with 1:22 left. The Pride connected on its final two shots to make it a three-point margin and a one-possession game with 21 seconds left, but Eastern broke Widener's press out of a timeout and junior guard Jake Collagan (Wethersfield) buried two free throws with 18 seconds left to nail down the victory.
Gonzalez paced four Eastern double-digit scorers (all starters) with 20 points, Collagan adding 16, sophomore guard Cory Muckle (Westbrook) 13 and senior forward Leonel Hyatt (Greenwich) a season-high 12 points and a game-high ten rebounds – his first double-double since a 14 points/15 rebound effort Jan. 27 of last year at Plymouth State. Gonzalez equaled his season-high with eight assists and also came up with four steals to make him one of four players in program history with at least 200 career steals. Muckle followed Hyatt by tying his career high with eight rebounds.
Senior guard Tyler Drews of Widener – coming off a 30-point game and the team's scoring and three-point leader – was limited to two first-half points and ten in the game (0-of-5 from distance).
Eastern faces Nichols College in the opening round of the Springfield College Naismith Classic Dec. 29 at 3 p.m.