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M-Basketball: Warriors Denied, 56-52

Against No. 17 F&M, they threaten over final minutes in title game

robitaille_72_6802.jpgLANCASTER, Pa.  - The Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team held homestanding Franklin & Marshall College without a field goal over the final 4:35 but couldn't capitalize on an opportunity to tie the game in the final 30 seconds in a 56-52 loss to the Diplomats in the championship game of the Sponaugle New Year Tournament Thursday night at the Mayser Center.

At left: Chris Robitaille

Coming off a 20-point win over Salisbury University in Wednesday's first round, Eastern  (7-5) cut a 12-point deficit to three with 34 seconds left against No. 17 nationally-ranked Franklin & Marshall (10-1). Down by53-50, Eastern came up with a steal but gave the ball right back, and the hosts sank three free throws over the final 22 seconds to withstand Eastern's rally.

Senior forward Chris Robitaille (Canton) recorded his second double-double of the season for Eastern with 17 points (7-for-11 from the floor) and 11 rebounds, with freshman guard Trachone Preston (Enfield) adding ten points. After sinking 15 of 23 three-pointers in Wednesday's 75-55 victory, Eastern missed 15 of 19 against the Diplomats.

Franklin & Marshall 6-foot-7 senior Hayk Gyokchyan was limited to four points and nine rebounds after firing in a career-high 40 in his team's first-round win over SUNY Plattsburgh Wednesday night, but the balanced Dips had four players in double figures.

Eastern led only once in the game -- by two points in the opening minute -- and the hosts took the lead for good with 11 minutes left in the first half on a Brandon Beckford layup off an Eastern turnover.

Eastern junior guard Brian Salzillo (North Haven) represented Eastern on the all-tournament team. The three-point specialist was 9-for-18 from long range in the tournament,leading the club with 33 points. Salzillo also converted half of his two-point tries (3-for-6) and added five rebounds, two assists and two steals.  Salzillo, who has at least one three-pointer in his last 17 games dating back to last season, scored 23 first-half points and finished with a game-high 25 (7-for-10 from long range) against Salisbury.

In the tournament, junior guard Mike Garrow (Terrvyille) and Robitaille  each netted 21 points and senior forward Tyler Hundley (Cheshire) 20. All four players shot at least 50 percent from the floor. Robitaille grabbed a team-high 16 rebounds in two games and Hundley nine, with senior guard Joe Ives (Avon) chipping in six assists and canning all seven of his free throws.

Eastern, which lost four starters from last year's 20-game winner, has lost four of its five games this season by a total of 15 points, including two in overtime. A team which starts three seniors and two juniors, F&M is 5-0 this season in games decided by five or less points.

The contest was a matchup of program which went deep into last year's NCAA tournament before both lost to eventual national runnerup Cabrini College. The Warriors reached the Sweet 16 and the Dips advanced to the Elite Eight for the second time in three years in their 23rd NCAA tournament appearance.

Eastern returns to Little East Conference action Saturday, hosting Plymouth State University at 3 p.m. at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.


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