WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – Junior guard Carlos Gonzalez (Springfield, MA) scored nine straight Eastern Connecticut State University points in the final minutes – including the 1,000th of his career on the way to a career-high 35 points – to power the Warriors to their 44th straight Little East Conference regular-season men's basketball home win, 80-75, Saturday afternoon at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.
Trailing by seven points with seven minutes left, Eastern (15-4, 9-1 LEC) outscored Plymouth (10-9, 5-6 LEC) 25-13 the rest of the way. In those final seven minutes, the Warriors were 7-of-11 from the floor without a turnover and canned eight of nine free throw.
Now 7-1 at home and a winner of seven of its last eight, five-time defending LEC regular-season champion Eastern holds a 1 ½ game lead over Keene State College. The Owls defeated UMass Dartmouth, 82-57, Saturday at Dartmouth, MA. UMass Dartmouth trailed Eastern by one game entering play Saturday.
Eastern ran off ten straight points to turn a seven-point deficit into a three-point, 65-62 lead with 5:37 left. Freshman forward Seth Thomas (Norwich) got it going with five straight points on two free throws and a conventional three-point play on an assist from Gonzalez that cut the gap to two, 62-60. Gonzalez then scored while being fouled following a defensive rebound from senior forward Donny Craig (Waterford) to tie the game, and Craig answered with his only three-point field goal of the game which was set up by two offensive rebounds by sophomore guard Cory Muckle (Westbrook) to push the Warriors into their 65-62 lead.
After Plymouth junior guard Jaylen LeRoy gave his team its final lead, 74-72, with 1:28 left, Eastern held the visitors without a field goal the rest of the way, running off eight of the final nine points. Gonzalez' floater in the lane off a short flip from senior forward Leonel Hyatt (Greenwich) gave him his 1000th career point and tied the game for the final time, 74-74, with 61 seconds left. Gonzalez then stole the ball and nailed the final of his six three-pointers from very long range. Gonzalez (2-of-2) and junior guard Jake Collagan (Wethersfield) combined to convert three of four free throws in the final 11.6 seconds.
Ranked second nationally in steals (he is the program's all-time leader in that category), Gonzalez swiped five balls, handed out four assists and pulled down four rebounds in 40 minutes to go along with his 35 points – five more than his previous high set in the conference tournament championship game during his freshman season in a win over Keene State College at Geissler Gym. He was 6-of-10 from deep Saturday and cashed in nine of ten free throws.
Muckle added 13 points and seven rebounds (four offensive) and Thomas had his second double-double of the season – both coming against Plymouth. He finished with 11 points and ten rebounds (three offensive) after going 11/11 at Plymouth Dec. 8. Senior guard Jaysen Nunez (Hartford) came off the bench for six points and five assists without a turnover in 16 minutes.
Freshman forward Manny Alisandro led Plymouth with 24 points and 12 rebounds without a turnover in 34 minutes, with LeRoy adding 18 points, freshman guard Dante Rivera 14 points, four rebounds and four assists and 6-foot-8 inch senior forward Mike Osgood tossing in 13 points with eight rebounds. Osgood did not play in Plymouth's 77-62 loss to Eastern earlier this year at Plymouth, NH.
Behind Nunez and Craig, Eastern's bench outscored the Plymouth seconds, 13-0, and outrebounded them, 7-2.
Eastern visits Massachusetts Boston in a conference game Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.