In finale, Warriors set program record with 12th Little East victory
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. - The Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team capitalized on virtually every one of the University of Massachusetts Boston's ten turnovers on the way to a 74-44 Little East Conference victory on the final day of the regular season Saturday afternoon at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.
At right: In a season-high 23 minutes, Justin Nunez had four assists, three steals, three rebounds and three points in Saturday's win. (Photo by Jennifer Catone)
Eastern (18-7, 12-2 Little East) concludes the regular season on a five-game winning streak and with victories in 11 of its last 13 and with a program record for regular-season conference wins. Rhode Island College clinched the regular-season title outright and the tournament's No. 1 seed with an 86-64 road victory over Keene State College. A Rhode Island loss would have given the Warriors a share of the regular-season title and the No. 1 tournament seed for the second straight season.
As the No. 2 seed, Eastern will host No. 7 seed Western Connecticut State University Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in a first-round LEC tournament game. Guaranteed to be a No. 5 seed heading into the game, UMass Boston (12-12, 6-8 Little East) visits No. 4 seed University of Southern Maine in a first-round game Tuesday.
UMass gave the ball away only ten times in the game, but Eastern made the Beacons pay every time by responding with 19 points off those miscues - nine in the first half and ten in the second. The visitors totaled only eight points off the hosts' 11 turnovers.
Leading by 13 at halftime, Eastern secured its eighth straight win over UMass Boston when freshman guard Trachone Preston (Enfield) and junior guard Brian Salzillo (North Haven) connected on three-pointers in the first two minutes of the second half as the Warriors quickly built a 17-point lead. UMass never got closer than 15 the rest of the way.
Salzillo, senior forward Chris Robitaille (Canton) and Preston combined for 45 of Eastern's points (18-for-35 field goal shooting). Salzillo led all players with 16 - extending his three-point streak to 30 games with his first of four from long range with 8:32 left in the first half. Robitaille had his fourth double-double in six games with 15 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, with Preston amassing 14 points. Salzillo submitted one of his finest efforts in an Eastern uniform by adding a career-high seven assists and also six rebounds with just one turnover in 32 minutes.
The point total equaled the lowest of the season for UMass, matching its output Dec. 4 at MIT, the sixth-ranked team in the NCAA Northeast Region.
Robitaille and forward Tyler Hundley (Cheshire) were participating in the final regular-season home games of their careers, but fellow senior guard Joe Ives (Avon) had his career ended Jan. 30 when he sustained a knee injury against Wesleyan at Geissler Gym. Hundley chipped in seven points, eight rebounds and a blocked shot in 17 minutes in a starting role.
Sophomore guard Vinny DeLucia was UMass' only double-figure scorer, with 14 points. DeLucia had led the Beacons to a near-upset of Eastern Jan. 12 when he shared game-high scoring honors with 23 points in his team's three-point loss. Sophomore post player Brian Clarke contributed seven points and seven rebounds for UMass.
Western entered play Saturday in sixth place in the conference -- one game ahead of Plymouth State University -- but was beaten, 78-59, at Plymouth that forged a two-way tie for sixth. Western lost a tie-breaker that relegated the Colonials to the No. 7 seed.
The Warriors swept the Colonials for the first time every in 26 years of LEC play this year, winning 64-51 12 days ago at Geissler Gym.