WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – The Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team connected on 14 of its first 20 field goal attempts – getting a three-pointer from four different players in that opening 11-minute stretch -- to race to a 22-point lead on the way to a 92-76 Little East Conference victory over Western Connecticut State University Saturday afternoon at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.
With two Little East Conference regular-season games remaining, five-time defending LEC regular-season champion Eastern (18-5, 12-2 LEC) clings to a half-game lead over Keene State College, which kept pace with an 87-68 win over homestanding Rhode Island College Saturday.
Eastern closes out Wednesday at Castleton University (0-14 LEC) and Saturday, Feb. 16 at Keene State (12-3). Eastern won, 79-66, over Keene State Jan. 12 at Geissler Gymnasium. The Owls have only Eastern remaining on their schedule
While Eastern converted 14 of its first 20 shots with just one turnover Saturday, Western (14-9, 8-6 LEC) was missing 12 of its first 16 tries with six turnovers and the Warriors were able to withstand pushback from Western the rest of the way – as they bounced back from an 85-75 loss at Western Dec. 5.
At left: Prior to playing the final regular-season home games of their careers Saturday, seniors (from left) Donny Craig, Leonel Hyatt and Jaysen Nunez and their families were honored prior to the start of Saturday's 92-76 Little East Conference victory over Western Connecticut (Photo by Sara Pisanelli).
Six different players contributed to Eastern's opening 32-10 scoring run, with junior guard Carlos Gonzalez (Springfield, MA) tossing in nine points and senior guard Donny Craig (Waterford) six. Making his second start of the season on Seniors' Day, Craig also had two assists and a steal in that opening run and senior guard Jaysen Nunez (Hartford) chipped in two assists in his first career start.
Down by 19, Western peeled nine points off the deficit, cutting the gap to ten, 64-54, on sophomore guard Legend Johnson's inside bucket midway through the second half. Out of an Eastern timeout, junior guard Jake Collagan (Wethersfield) and Gonzalez splashed three-point field goals around a missed Western three-pointer and turnover to push the lead back to 16, 70-54, with 8:30 left.
Eastern freshman forward Seth Thomas (Norwich) came off the bench to post a career-high 22 points – one more than his previous career high set at Western – to go along with seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals, while sophomore guard Cory Muckle (Westbrook) dropped 24 points (6-of-14 from distance) with five rebounds and two blocks, Gonzalez adding 16 points (7-of-14 FG), nine rebounds, seven assists, five steals and two blocks, and Collagan chipping in 15 points and three assists. Senior forward Leonel Hyatt (Greenwich) pulled down seven rebounds and blocked two shots.
Senior guard Aaron Samuel, who had 16 points and 14 rebounds in the earlier win over Eastern that stopped a 16-game losing streak at the hands of the Warriors – led Western with 18 points and nine rebounds. Freshman guard Ahmod Privott had ten points and four steals. Senior guard Geary McLeod, who torched Eastern in December with a team-high 18 points (7-of-10 FG) off the bench, was held scoreless from the floor in a starting role Saturday on 0-of-10 shooting in 24 minutes.