DARTMOUTH, Mass. – The Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team responded to its only deficit late in the game by scoring eight straight points and took over sole possession of first place in the Little East Conference with a 74-68 victory over the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Wednesday evening at the Tripp Athletic Center.
In a battle of LEC co-leaders, Eastern (13-3, 7-1 LEC) snapped the eight-game winning streak of UMass Dartmouth (12-5, 6-2 LEC) in winning its fifth in a row and moving a game ahead of the Corsairs at the halfway point of the LEC regular season. The Warriors are the five-time defending LEC regular-season champions.
The win is the fifth in six games on its opponent's court this year for Eastern, which won for the first time at the Tripp Athletic Center in its last three games.
The Warriors led by eight at halftime and by as many as 11 five minutes into the second half before the Corsairs chipped away, getting seven straight points from second-leading scorer Jake Ashworth (he was scoreless in the first half) and moving into their first (and only) lead, 60-57, with six minutes left.
With the Corsairs pressing, senior guard Jaysen Nunez (Hartford) and sophomore guard Cory Muckle (Westbrook) drilled consecutive three-point field goals to allow the Warriors to regain a 63-60 lead and after both teams missed the front end of one-and-one free throws, Nunez beat the UMD defense with a left-side drive that pushed the lead to five, 65-60, with three minutes left. The three-pointer came on Nunez' first shot of the game and only attempt from distance.
Junior point guard Carlos Gonzalez (Springfield, MA) iced the win by converting five of six free throws over the final 28.2 seconds.
With Eastern senior forward Leonel Hyatt (Greenwich) limited to 18 minutes due to foul trouble, the hosts exploited the Warriors on the boards with a +20 advantage, including a 16-3 dominance of the offensive boards which resulted in a 16-2 margin in second-chance points.
With Muckle and junior guard Jake Collagan (Wethersfield) each pouring in four three-pointers, Eastern outscored UMD by 27 points from three-point range, where the Corsairs were 1-of-15. Eastern also helped its cause with 12-of-14 marksmanship from the stripe while the Corsairs missed five of 12. With his team trailing by only three (65-62) with 2:27 left, season scoring leader Arinze Obiora failed on both ends of a two-shot foul and Eastern senior guard Donny Craig (Waterford) followed with a right-side drive that made it 67-62 with two minutes left.
Collagan led Eastern with 18 points, Gonzalez scoring 14 (6-of-7 from the foul line) to go along with four steals and a season-high nine assists. Muckle and freshman forward Seth Thomas (Norwich) chipped in 12 each, with Thomas grabbing six rebounds and Muckle five and each making two steals. Craig came off the bench for nine points and three rebounds in 28 minutes.
Obiora (11 points/11 rebounds) and Atakan Akcam (21/10) of UMD each had double-doubles.
Eastern hosts Rhode Island College in a conference game Saturday at 3 p.m.