WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – The University of Massachusetts Boston relinquished a 14-point second-quarter lead but outscored Eastern Connecticut State University 10-2 over the final three minutes of the game on the way to a 61-56 Little East Conference victory over Eastern Connecticut State University Saturday afternoon at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasiium.
The win is the fifth straight for UMass (19-2, 9-1 LEC) and keeps the Beacons one game back of undefeated LEC leader UMass Dartmouth with four regular-season games remaining. Eastern (9-12, 6-4 LEC) had won its last four conference games but was swept in the season series with UMB for the first time in six years. The Warriors retained a three-game lead over Western Connecticut in the race for fourth place in the LEC standings and a first-round LEC tournament home game.
At left: Kelly Reardon attempts to beat the buzzer with this desperation attempt beyond mid court at the end of the first quarter Saturday. (Photo by Nick McAneny)
Eastern shot just 26.7 percent from the floor and trailed by 11 after one quarter and by 14 three minutes into the second quarter and was down by nine at halftime before rallying to take a three-point lead with just under three minutes remaining. At that point, the Beacons ended the game on a 10-2 run to improve to 9-1 on their opponent's home court this year.
Freshman forward Joie Grassi hit a critical inside bucket to cut Eastern's lead to one, and after senior forward Raven Kelsey grabbed the rebound of an Eastern miss, senior guard Lydia Vital nailed a critical three-pointer with just over a minute left to give UMB the lead for good, 56-54. Vital and Grassi combined to sink five of six free throws over the final 24.9 seconds to preserve the lead.
Six-foot freshman center Shania Osborne led UMass with 16 points and ten rebounds, sinking 7 of 12 field goals, with Vital contributing 13 points and three steals and the six-foot Grassi, the team's season scoring leader, adding 11 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two blocks, and two steals.
With Eastern facing a seven-point deficit four minutes into the second half, sophomore guard Julie Jordan (Sterling) helped Eastern tied the game for the first time, 39-39, with three minutes left in the third quarter. Jordan sank two free throws when she was fouled on a defensive rebounds, then turned a rebound by sophomore guard Sabrina LeMere (North Branford) into an inside bucket to make it 39-all. The Beacons answered by scoring the final six points of the quarter (Osborne sank two inside buckets and Grassi converted two free throws and added an assist in that final run), before the Warriors rallied again to take their three-point lead with three minutes left in the game.
Sophomore forward Mya Villard (Cromwell) totaled her fourth double-double in seven games with game-highs of 26 points and 12 rebounds. She was 6-of-7 from the foul line and had 16 poiints and eight rebounds in the second half. Jordan had eight points, seven rebounds and three steals.
Eastern hosts Keene State College Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in a conference game.