Warriors 74, Westfield State 60
Tournament MVP: Mike Garrow
WESTFIELD, Mass. -- Following a slow start, the third-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team rode a 22-6 scoring run over the final nine minutes of the first half on the way to a 74-60 victory over top-seeded Westfield State University Sunday afternoon in the championship game of the 2013 ECAC New England Division III Tournament at the Woodward Center.
At left: Mike Garrow dribbles through Westfield's fullcourt press in the second half Sunday.
The ECAC title is the first in men's basketball for Eastern (22-8), which was making its seventh appearance since 1981. The Warriors had beaten Johnson & Wales University, 85-64, in a first-round home contest Wednesday and moved into the championship game for the third in its last three tournament appearances with a 77-65 win over second-seeded Anna Maria College Saturday at the Woodward Center.
Junior forward Mike Garrow (Terryville) was named tournament MVP after scoring 25 points and pulling down a career-high 14 rebounds (only the second time that he has had at least ten rebounds this year) in playing virtually all 40 minutes. Garrow was 10-of-15 from the floor, including 4-of-5 from three-point range as one of five Eastern players to contribute at least one three-pointer.
Westfield (23-6) sank two three-point field goals and completed a conventional three-point play to take a quick 9-1 lead four minutes into play, and led by six before the Warriors scored 22 of the final 28 points of the half to take a ten-point lead into the break. During that scoring stretch, five different Eastern players nailed three-point field goals, with Garrow contributing two, senior guard Tyler Hundley (Cheshire), junior guard Brian Salzillo (North Haven) and junior guard Justin Nunez (Hartford) and freshman guard Trachone Preston (Enfield) one each.
"It was definitely a battle," admitted 11th-year Eastern head coach Bill Geitner afterward. "It was 40 minutes of very, very intense basketball, but I think that our guys knew that that was going to be the case. We had the utmost respect for Westfield. We knew that it was going to be a very physical game, and our guys persevered."
Westfield started three seniors, among them 6-foot-7 inch Matt Devine and 6-foot-6 inch Ryan White, and guard Lee Vazquez. Devine and White combined for 19 points and 15 rebounds (Devine also blocking four shots), with the 5-foot- 6 inch Vazquez commiting mayhem with 15 points, six steals, four assists and three rebounds in 38 minutes. Vazquez was his conference's unanimous selection as Player-of-the-Year and was joined on the all-conference first team by Devine for a team which captured its first outright regular-season conference championship this winter.
At right: Westfield's Ryan White (at left in photo) is unable to prevent Chris Robitaille's 1,000th career point midway through the first half Sunday.
Eastern, which won nine of its last ten this season en route to its fourth straight 20-win season, pushed the lead to 13 when Salzillo fed Garrow for a driving transition basketball four minutes into the second half. After the Owls pulled to within five with six minutes left, Garrow took over by scoring seven straight Eastern points with a bucket in the paint, a corner three-pointer on a pass from Preston and a baseline drive to restore a nine-point lead with less than two minutes left. The Warriors kept the hosts at bay by sinking all ten of their free throws over the final 69 seconds, four of the freebies coming on one-and-one situations. Preston was 6-for-6 from the stripe in those final second, with Salzillo adding two and sophomore guard Brandon Yarborough (Stamford) two.
Salzillo, who wrapped up the season with a program-record 94 three-pointers, teammed with Garrow in the first half to keep the Owls from running away with the game. Both had 12 points in the half, with Salzillo adding three assists and three steals. After misfiring on five of their first six shots and turning the ball over three times on their first ten possessions against Westfield's pressing defense, the Warriors rallied to shoot 51.9 percent in the first half (Westfield just 30.3) .
Behind Garrow, Salzillo fired in 20 points, matching Garrow with four three-point field goals and adding five steals and five assists, and Preston added 12 points.
At left: Seniors Tyler Hundley and Chris Robitaille embrace following their final collegiate game Sunday. The team's third senior, Joe Ives, sat out the team's final ten games with a knee injury.
Six-foot-five inch senior forward Chris Robitaille (Canton) - who joined Garrow this year as a first-team All-Little East Conference selection -- completed a late run to 1,000 career points, reaching the milestone in his final collegiate game with a turnaround jump shot in the paint on his fifth attempt of the contest with 11:13 left in the first half - his third and fourth points of the game. Robitaille, the 27th player to reach that plateau in program history and the fifth under Geitner, finished the game with just seven points and three rebounds, but was instrumental in the team's surge to the final. Robitaille had a career-high 31 points with 11 rebounds in the first-round win and followed with 22 points and a career-high 17 rebounds (fifth double-double in six games) in Saturday's semifinal.
Robitaille led the Warriors in the tournament by averaging 20 points and 10.2 rebounds and shooting .614 from the floor. Garrow averaged 19 points and 7.3 rebounds and totaled ten assists and sank .676 percent of his field goals. Salzillo averaged 18.7 points and 3.7 rebounds, collecting a team-high 12 assists and shooting .519 from three-point range (14-of-27). The Warriors were 30-of-38 from the stripe in the tourney, shot .543 from the floor and .500 from three-point range (28-of-56).
Eastern completed the season by winning nine of 11 games on its opponents' home court. Westfield had won 11 of 12 overall entering Sunday's title game.
It is the sixth ECAC championship for Eastern - first since the women's lacrosse program defeated Plymouth State in 2002. Other ECAC titles came by the women's volleyball team in 1985 and 1988, men's soccer in 1974 and women's basketball in 1988-89.