PROVIDENCE, R.I. - If nothing else, Eastern Connecticut State University's 79-73 loss to Keene State College in the semifinals of the 2013 Little East Conference men's basketball tournament Friday night illustrated one undeniable fact: the Warriors will badly miss 6-foot-5 inch senior forward Chris Robitaille (Canton) next season.
At left: Chris Robitaille works inside against Keene State Friday night.
The lone Eastern senior left standing after recent injuries put point guard Joe Ives (Avon) and guard/forward Tyler Hundley (Cheshire) out of action, Robitaille totaled a career-high 26 points with eight rebounds and three blocks in 38 minutes as the undermanned Warriors were eliminated in the second of two semifinal games at the Murray Center on the Rhode Island College campus.
Third-seeded Keene (17-10) avenged two regular-season losses at the hands of second-seeded Eastern (19-8) to advance to the final for the seventh time, first since 2007. The Owls are 1-5 in title games.
On Saturday at 5 p.m., Keene will face top-seeded Rhode Island College (24-3), which eliminated fourth-seeded University of Southern Maine (15-12), 61-47, earlier Friday. Eastern had ended RIC's run of two straight LEC tournament titles a year ago by first upending Keene in double overtime in the semifinals, then routing the Anchormen in the title game. Rhode Island, whose only LEC loss this season has come at the hands of Eastern, is making its seventh straight title game showing, with four championships to its credit.
The Warriors trailed by 12 at halftime after Keene sank seven of ten three-pointers over the first 20 minutes and by 13 with 11 minutes left before cutting the gap to four, 70-66, with 3:27 left. At that point, Eric Fazio hit an inside bucket, Tom Doyle sank his only basket of the game on a transition layup off a steal by Jesse LaCroix, and LaCroix stuck a jumper to make it 76-66 with 1:50 left.
Robitaille, the team's only senior to see action, had a game-high point total on 10-of-16 field goal shooting and 6-of-9 free-throw shooting, with junior guard Brian Salzillo (North Haven) adding 15 (13 in the second half) and junior forward Mike Garrow (Terryville) 13 (10 in the second half). Robitaille recorded the 600th rebound of his career in the game, and pulled to within 57 points of 1,000 in his career.
By necessity and for the first time this year, Eastern had each of its starters play more than 30 minutes.
At right: Mike Garrow drives against Keene's Tom Doyle in the first half of Friday's LEC semifinal.
Salzillo, the top three-point shooter in the conference, extended his streak to 32 straight games but was held in check by Keene's Ryan Martin. Salzillo managed only four three-point tries against Martin's hounding defense, with his only successful attempt coming with 3:27 left and pulled the Warriors to within four, 70-66.
The LEC scoring leader, Martin was 5-for-6 from three-point range en route to a team-high 23 points, with 6-foot-10 inch Rashad Wright hitting five of six field goals and collecting 13 points. Keene's Jim Hepple, who did not score in Eastern's two regular-season triumphs and saw only ten minutes of court time, came off the bench for nine points in the first half on 3-for-3 three-point shooting.
In contrast to Eastern, nine Keene players saw double-digit minutes, with only Martin playing more than 30. Led by Fazio - who had sustained a concussion in Eastern's 93-84 overtime victory over the Owls nine days ago, Keene's bench outscored the bench of Eastern, 34-6. Fazio totaled 13 points, nine in the first half.
If Eastern does not receive an at-large selection to the NCAA tournament, the Warriors are expected to receive one of the top four seeds when the ECAC Tournament field is revealed Monday afternoon.
M-Basketball: KSC Has Too Much
Undermanned Warriors battle Keene in 79-73 LEC semi loss