NEW LONDON, Conn. -- What the Eastern Connecticut State University women's basketball team lacked in experience and depth it made up for with heart and hard work as the undermanned Warriors battled once-beaten Connecticut College before dropping a 57-47 decision Monday night at the Charles Luce Field House.
At left: Shannon McCourt (42) drives to the basket against Conn College Monday night.
Starting four newcomers - three of them freshmen - and utilizing only two reserves, Eastern (4-5) cut a double-digit deficit to nine points with three minutes remaining before Conn (9-1) went on to its sixth straight victory and first win over Eastern after five straight losses.
In its first outing following a three-week layoff, Eastern cut an 18-point deficit in half in less than three minutes late in the game before senior Kim Horne swished a perimeter shot from the left side and season scoring leader Tara Gabelman sank two free throws after Eastern was whistled for an offensive foul to push the Conn lead back to 12 with 71 seconds left.
In the first half, Eastern led on several occasions and never trailed by more than five until the hosts scored the final ten points to break a tie with four minutes left and carry that ten-point cushion into the locker room. The Warriors, who missed ten of 15 free throws in the first half, missed three field goals and four free throws and turned the ball over three times on their final eight possessions of the opening half. Four consecutive free throws allowed the Camels to break the tie and take the lead for good, and sophomores Caitlin Cimino and Dana Albalancy came off the bench to connect on their only three-pointers of the game in the final two minutes to account for Conn's ten-point halftime lead.
The Warriors featured superior quickness - amassing six steals and scoring 14 points in the second half on 12 Conn turnovers -- but Eastern couldn't overcome the Camels' overall size which accounted for 15 points on offensive rebounds in the game and depth (nine players saw at least ten minutes of action). Conn outrebounded Eastern 48-29, 16-5 on the offensive glass.
Eastern freshman forward Shannon McCourt (New Fairfield) recorded her first double-double since the season-opener with game-highs of 21 points and 11 rebounds, while freshman guard Taylor McBride (Willimantic) added a season-high ten points.
Gabelman, a 5-foot-10 inch sophomore, had 16 of her team-high 18 points and nine of her game-high 11 points in the second half after sitting out all but the first five minutes of the game due to foul trouble. Gabelman scored four second-half buckets on her own put-backs, two coming a minute apart midway through the frame.
With her 482nd game, 18th-year head coach Denise Bierly has now coached more games than any other individual in the program's 41-year history. Late last year, Bierly had become the program's winningest head coach.
Eastern visits SUNY-New Paltz Wednesday at 6 p.m.