HARTFORD, Conn. - The trademark defense of the Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team that carried it to last year's Round of 16 re-emerged after a one-game hiatus Tuesday night as the Warriors limited Trinity College to one basket over the first 12 minutes of the second half in a 56-53 non-conference victory at the Ferris Athletic Center.
At left: Mike Garrow's jam on an inbound pass from Trachone Preston following a Trinity turnover gave the Warriiors a one-point lead early in the second half Tuesday night.
Trailing by as many as a dozen points late in the first half, Eastern (2-1) outscored Trinity (1-2) 19-2 over the first 12 minutes of the second half, then nursed a ten-point lead to its fifth victory over Trinity College in the last five years.
Barring a return engagement in the NCAA tournament this season, Eastern's senior class - for the second straight year - will have gone undefeated against the Bantams in its four-year career.
Holding a slim lead in the final minutes, Eastern finally put the game on the positive side of the ledger when Trinity's attempted game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer fell short.
Hampered in pre-season and early this year with a pulled leg muscle, freshman point guard Trachone Preston (Enfield) provided a second-half spark for the Warriors, and senior guard Joe Ives (Avon) and junior guard Brian Salzillo (North Haven) combined to sink five of six free throws over the final 60 seconds.
In its first road contest of the season, Eastern collected nine blocked shots (the teams combined for 16), nailed half of 12 three-point field goals, turned the ball over only 11 times, and was 16-for-21 from the foul line. This overcame a 42-30 deficit on the boards, including a -10 margin on the offensive glass.
Relying upon one of the Little East Conference's top defenses to record 20-win seasons each of the past three years, Eastern harassed Trinity into terrible second-half shooting and numerous turnovers Tuesday which accounted for just 19 points by the Bantams.
The Warriors had opened the season Friday night by holding Western New England University to just 34 points in a 28-point victory in the Eastern Tip-Off Tournament, but surrendered an uncharacteristic 75 points in an 11-point loss to Clark University in Saturday afternoon's championship game.
At left: Trachone Preston is guarded by Trinity's Jaquann Starks in the second half Tuesday.
After a tip-in by Steve Spirou gave Trinity a 12-point lead with 53 seconds left in the first half, the Bantams did not score again until 13 minutes remained in the game. In-between, Eastern scored the final five points of the first half and the first eigt of the second to take its first lead, 35-34, since the game's seventh minute.
Preston's three-pointer from the top of the key and junior Mike Garrow's (Terryville) follow-up of a miss by senior Chris Robitaille (Canton) cut the gap to seven by the break, and consecutive three-pointers from Garrow and Salzillo and a slam dunk by Garrow on an inbound pass from Preston had the hosts backpeddling in the opening minutes of the second half.
Eastern's lead crested at ten, 46-36 with nine minutes left when Robitaille blocked a shot and later scored from underneath on a pass from Garrow. The Warriors scored only ten points the rest of the way but made enough big defefnsive plays to hold off the Bantams.
After struggling from the floor throughout most of the second half, Trinity finally found its shooting touch by connecting on baskets on three straight possessions, the final one a short jumper by Hart Gliedman that pulled Trinity to within two, 55-53, with nine seconds left.
Salzillo, who had converted two free throws on the team's first two-shot bonus of the half less than ten second earlier, rimmed the second of two free throws with 8.4 seconds left that left Eastern's lead at three, but a potential game-tying three-point attempt by Trinity's Jaquann Starks from the left side was partially blocked by an Eastern defender as the horn sounded.
At left: Eastern's Brandon Yarborough gets gangled up with Trinity's Jamil Ebo in the second half of Eastern's 56-53 win Tuesday evening.
Preston, who had scored five points in 14 minutes this past weekend, contributed nine points against Trinity in 19 minutes off the bench. Preston took over for Ives one minute into the second half after the latter fell hard on his back on a field goal attempt. Preston entered the game with Eastern trailing by four and was replaced by Salzillo with the Warriors leading by eight with just under ten minutes left.
Eastern senior starter Tyler Hundley (Cheshire) did not score a point, but contributed three key plays in the final minutes that helped the Warriors maintained the lead. The 6-foot-6 inch forward grabbed consecutive defensive rebounds on Trinity shots after Eastern had turned the ball over, then tied up Trinity's 6-foot-6 inch Jamil Ebo with a blocked shot with 65 seconds left that set up Ives' two free throws that made it 53-49 with a minute left.
Eastern emerged with the win despite the fact that only five players scored points - Preston off the bench and Ives, Robitaille, Salzillo and Garrow in starting roles. Robitaille led a balanced effort with 15 points, a game-high 12 rebounds, and five blocked shots, Salzillo and Garrow adding 11 points each, and Garrow contributing seven rebounds and six assists while playing all 40 minutes.Ives had ten points. Salzillo had two three-pointers and combined with Ives to go 10-for-11 from the line, the only miss coming in the final seconds.
Trinity, coming off a two-point win over Little East opponent UMass Dartmouth Saturday, did not have a double-digit scorer and was outscored by nine from the foul line.
Eastern enjoys three off days for the holiday before returning to practice Saturday in preparation of Tuesday's 5:30 home game against Connecticut College.