Warriors play LEC pre-season No. 1 team to final five-point margin
GORHAM, Maine - The final result of Saturday's Little East Conference women's basketball opener between Eastern Connecticut State University and the University of Southern Maine mirrored the majority of the previous 76 contests in this 26-year rivalry - low-scoring and decided by single digits.
At left: Jill Ritrosky (Photo by Courtney Weber).
However, with the undefeated Huskies coming off a 20-win season and favored by a pre-season vote of the conference coaches to win the LEC regular season, this game should have proven to be an anomaly in this hotly-contested rivalry.
In its fourth straight loss Saturday, Eastern (1-5, 0-1 Little East) trailed by only two points inside the final minute before Southern Maine (6-0, 1-0 Little East) broke Eastern's fullcourt press and scored an inside hoop, then converted a key free throw 13 seconds later and pulled out a 59-54 victory at the Warren Hill Gymnasium.
Four free throws by freshman guard Jill Ritrosky (Pittsfield, MA) pulled the Warriors to within a pair, 56-54, with just under a minute left. After junior guard Erin McNamara broke a full court press and sank a layup on the Huskies ensuing possession for a 58-54 lead with 44 seconds to play, the Warriors missed a shot with 26 seconds left and McNamara added one of two free throws seconds later to make the final margin give points.
Senior guard Nicole Garland and sophomore forward Rebecca Knight combined to score 31 points to lead the Huskies , who had routed undermanned Eastern by 42 points when the teams met last January in Gorham.
Despite being outshot from the floor by a wide margin, the Warriors led by one at halftime, but continued difficulties from the floor in the second half (25.9 per cent) allowed them only 23 second-half points.
Sophomore guard Kristina Forsman (Newington) led the Warriors with 17 points - her fourth game this season of at least ten points. Averaging four points and six rebounds this year, Ritrosky racked up her first double-double with a season-high 14 points and season-high 14 rebounds, while sophomore forward Shannon McCourt (New Fairfield) grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds (two shy of her career high) to help the Warriors to a 48-31 advantage on the boards, including a remarkable 18-4 margin on the offensive glass. Ritrosky and McCourt each pulled down five offensive rebounds.
Knight was 8-for-10 from the field for a game-high 19 points while Garland added 12 points. Knight grabbed seven rebounds and had three assists and three steals. Garland had four rebounds, three assists and a steal. Senior forward Jordan Grant added nine points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Despite starting the game in rhythm and holding a solid nine-point, 16-7, lead eight minutes into the game, Southern Maine nearly gave the game away on the offensive glass and trailed Eastern by a point at the break. Down by six with 2:20 remaining in the half , Eastern used a 7-0 run to grab the lead, helped by a pair of offensive rebounds and five points from Forsman.
In the second half, both teams battled back and forth before a three-pointer from junior forward Nash Biliew gave the Huskies the lead 37-35 four minutes into the second half. Biliew's three ignited a game-deciding 10-0 run for the Huskies. Biliew score the first five points of the run for USM while Knight added a traditional three-point play and a layup for the final five and a 44-35 lead with 13:15 to play.
The Huskies would not relinquish the lead the rest of the game but were unable to grab more than a nine-point lead over the pesky Warriors for the remainder of the game. The Warriors scored nearly a third of their 54 points off of second-chance buckets and clawed their way back to within two possessions three times in the final four minutes.
Eastern travels to Westfield State University Tuesday at 7 p.m. for a non-conference contest.