WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – The Eastern Connecticut State University women's basketball team missed its first nine shots from the floor and trailed by 16 points late in the first quarter before using a 24-7 surge in the third quarter on the way to a 60-42 Little East Conference victory over Keene State College Thursday evening at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.
With three games remaining in the LEC regular season, Eastern (10-12, 7-4 LEC) holds a 3 ½ game lead over Western Connecticut for fourth place in the conference and the final first-round tournament home game. The Warriors snapped a two-game losing streak while Keene (4-18, 2-9 LEC) fell to 1-11 away from home this year. The Owls defeated the Warriors in last year's LEC title game at Geissler Gym, but graduation gutted the lineups of both teams, and to a lesser extent, injury and transfers.
Eastern cut the 16-point gap to 12 by the end of the first quarter and to seven at halftime, before running away with the game by outscoring the Owls, 24-7, in the third quarter and took a ten-point, 42-32 lead into the final ten minutes.
Limited to two points and seven minutes while saddled with early foul trouble, Eastern sophomore forward Mya Villard (Cromwell) totaled 11 of Eastern's third-quarter points, going 5-of-6 from the floor and adding a free throw and three rebounds in ten minutes. The Warriors scored eight points off Keene's five third-quarter turnovers and did not allow a point on their three give-aways.
Eastern outrebounded Keene, 42-25 in the game and did not allow a second-chance point off Keen's five offensive rebounds.
At right: Kelsey Santagata (44) defends Keene's Kenize Bennett in the first half of Thursday's 60-42 Little East Conference victory at Geissler Gym. Against her former team, Santagata had eight assists and six rebounds. (Photo by Nick McAneny)
Villard led all players with 21 points (8-of-10 FG, 5-of-6 FT) and grabbed seven rebounds before with 3:48 left and her team up by 12. Senior guard Kelly Reardon (Holyoke, MA), who had 15 points, ten rebounds and eight assists in the Warriors' 59-45 win at Keene Jan. 17, collected nine points, a career-high 11 rebounds and three assists, with sophomore guard Sabrina LeMere (North Branford) chipping in 13 points and five rebounds. Keene State junior transfer Kelsey Santagata (Stamford) handed out eight assists and grabbed six rebounds.
Senior guard Sandi Purcell, who missed the first meeting with Eastern this year due to injury, was the only Keene players in double figures, with 11 points. She also had four rebounds and four steals.
Two starting forwards – freshman Abby Thut and sophomore Kenzie Bennett -- both fouled out in the fourth quarter. Thut was ejected with 6:38 left and her team trailing by 15, and Bennett followed two minutes later with the Owls behind by 13. The duo combined for eight points and two rebounds in 42 minutes.
Eastern played the final 14 minutes without sophomore guard Julie Jordan (Sterling) – the team's second-leading rebounder. Jordan contributed four points and two rebounds before leaving the game with an injury in the third quarter. Freshman forward Diana Wnuk (Bristol) replaced Jordan and finished the game with six points on free throws and six rebounds in 20 minutes.
Eastern visits undefeated LEC leader Massachusetts Dartmouth Saturday in a Little East Conference game at 1 p.m.