DANBURY, Conn. -- The Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team converted 12 of its first 13 shots – including its first eight three-point field goals – to build a 20-point lead over the first eight minutes and went on to secure its fifth straight Little East Conference regular-season title and sixth in the last seven years with a 106-82 victory over Western Connecticut State University Wednesday night at Feldman Arena.
Ranked No. 11 nationally and No. 5 in the NCAA Division III Northeast Region, defending LEC tournament champion Eastern (21-3, 12-1 LEC) avenged its only LEC loss of the season Saturday (101-99 in overtime) by scoring 61 first-half points en route to its 15th straight win over Western (13-11, 8-5 LEC). En route to a 19-point halftime lead, Eastern shot 66.7 percent from the floor (22-of-33) and 75 percent (12-of-16) from three-point range.
In Tuesday's first-round LEC tournament games, top-seeded Eastern will host No. 8 seed Plymouth State University at 7:30 p.m. in the second of a women's-men's doubleheader. The Panthers are 2-11 in the LEC but upset No. 2 tournament seed Keene State College, 84-75, Wednesday night. Western is assured of a first-round LEC home game Tuesday as either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed.
Senior guard Kendall Marquez (Willimantic), a second-year transfer from Western, struck for 22 first-half points Wednesday, going 7-of-10 from the floor, 5-of-7 from distance and 3-of-3 from the foul line. Marquez was perfect on his first nine shots of the game, sinking six field goals (4-of-4 from long range) and three free throws over the first 13 minutes.
Marquez led all players by equaling his two-year Eastern high of 26 points to pace six double-figure scorers, with senior guard Tarchee Brown (Rockville) adding 18 points and eight rebounds. Senior forward Jacob Collins (Bristol) came off the bench to contributed 17 points (7-of-11 FG) in 16 minutes for the second straight game. Sophomore guard Carlos Gonzalez (Springfield, MA) had 12 points (5-of-5 FG), eight assists, three steals, four rebounds and no turnovers in 19 minutes. Freshman guard Cory Muckle (Westbrook) added 11 points – all in the first half – and senior guard Collin Jordan (Cheshire) chipped in ten points, four assists and three rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench. Gonzalez is ranked fourth nationally in steals and steals per game.
In the game, Eastern shot 54.3 percent from the floor, and its 15 three-point field goals (on 31 attempts) left it two shy of the game record set in a 94-55 victory over Western last Feb. 8 at Geissler Gym.
Playing its third straight game without top scorer Tyler Rowe, Western got 22 points from Rashard Rodriguez and 16 from Legend Johnson. The pair combined on 12-of-19 field goal shooting and 9-of-9 marksmanship from the foul line.
Eastern is the top offensive and defensive team in the Little East and is 15th nationally in scoring margin and eighth in turnover margin. The Warriors commited only seven turnovers against Western and finished the regular season with a 13-2 road record, 10-1 on their opponent's court.
Having won at least 20 games in the regular season for the fourth time in the last seven years, Eastern needs a win Saturday in the regular-season and conference finale against visiting University of Southern Maine to finish with the best regular-season winning percentage (88.0) in program history.