On road, defending champs beaten in OT by Southern Maine, 69-63
GORHAM, Maine - Following the loss of four key seniors, winning a second straight Little East Conference championship was sure to be a difficult task for the Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team in 2012/13.
At right: Brian Salzillo
The uphill struggle which lies ahead came into focus immediately Saturday afternoon on the opening weekend of the conference season when a University of Southern Maine team which has struggled in conference competition the last several years, slayed the defending champs in overtime, 69-63, at the Hill Gymnasium.
Picked for eighth (last) in the LEC pre-season coaches' poll, Southern Maine (4-2, 1-0 Little East) ended four years of futility (eight straight losses) at the hands of Eastern (3-2, 0-1 Little East) when junior Conor Sullivan and senior Sean Bergeron combined to score 11 of the Huskies 13 points in overtime as the Huskies won their first home game of the season after an opening loss. Eastern, picked for third in the LEC pre-season poll, was coming off consecutive victories over New England Small College Athletic Conference opponents and lost its first road contest after an opening triumph.
In overtime, USM outscored the Warriors 13-7. Sullivan gave the Huskies the lead sinking one of two free throws to start the scoring and the Huskies never trailed. The Warriors pulled to within two, 63-61, following a three-pointer from freshman guard Trachone Preston (Enfield), but Sullivan and Bergeron sealed the win. Following Preston's three, Sullivan converted a fast-break layup for a 65-61 lead with 52 seconds to play, before Bergeron cleared the defensive glass and sank two free throws followed by another Sullivan layup for a 69-61 lead with 16 seconds to play.
Ives had given Eastern a six-point lead with five minutes to play with two free throws before USM closed out regulation on a 9-3 run to force overtime, Sullivan, Bergeron and junor Brandon Tomah each scoring three-points for the Huskies in the run.
Junior guard Brian Salzillo's (North Haven) three-pointer pushed Eastern into a 56-55 lead with a minute left in regulation and after the Huskies tied the game by sinking the back end of a two-shot foul, the Warriors couldn't end the game in regulation when they missed a buzzer-beater.
Eastern canned 13 of 15 free throws in the game, but didn't attempt one in the five-minute extra session. The hosts scored seven of their 13 overtime points from the stripe.
Eastern junior forward Mike Garrow (Terryville) led the Warriors with 19 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. Salzillo - the Warriors' leading scorer - reached his season scoring average with 15 points on five three-pointers, the Warriors sinking ten of 30 from behind the arc in the game. Senior guard Joe Ives (Avon) chipped in with 11 points and seven rebounds, nailing eight of nine free throws.
Sullivan led all-scorers with a career-high 23 points, while Bergeron tallied a double-double off of the bench with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Tomah added 12 points, 10 rebounds and four steals for USM, and senior guard Mike Poulin added 10 points.
Eastern visits SUNY-New Paltz on Tuesday at 7 p.m.