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M-Basketball ThisClose to ECAC Title

Behind Robitaille in semis, Warriors win first ECAC game ever on road


At right: Chris Robitaille               (Cris Yarborough photo).

WESTFIELD, Mass. - Senior forward Chris Robitaille (Canton) had 22 points and a career-high 17 rebounds to lead the third-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team to a 77-65 victory over second-seeded Anna Maria College Saturday at the Woodward Center that moved the Warriors into the championship game of the ECAC New England Division III Tournament for the third time in four years.

A winner of eight of its last nine, Eastern (21-8) faces No. 1 seed Westfield State University in Sunday's 1 p.m. championship game. Westfield (23-5) won for the 11th time in its last 12 games with an 88-72 triumph over fourth-seeded Castleton State in the first of Saturday's two semifinals.

In search of its first ECAC Tournament championship, Eastern won its first road game ever in the tournament in defeating Anna Maria (21-9) for the sixth time in seven meetings in this series. It was the first contest between the clubs in 17 years.

Coming off a career-high 31-point effort in Wednesday's  85-64 quarterfinal-round win over sixth-seed Johnson & Wales University, Robitaille move to within four points of 1,000 in his career with his game-high point total Saturday.  Robitaille and junior forward Mike Garrow (Terryville) each netted 13 points in the second half to spark the Warriors from a two-point halftime lead.

Robitaille has scored at least ten points in his last 14 games and has eight double-doubles in that span. In two tournament games, Robitaille has canned 24 of 34 tries from the floor and has commited only two turnovers.

Garrow followed Robitaille with 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting and junior guard Brian Salzillo (North Haven) contributed his eighth straight double-figure game with 17 points. Salzillo has drained five three-point field goals in as many tournament games, extending his program season record to 90. Salzillo, who averages 3.3 three-point field goals per game this season, has had at least basket from long range in his last 34 games dating back to the final weeks of last year.

Eastern shot 53.8 percent from the floor in the first half as compared to just 39.4 percent by the Amcats, and allowed only two points off turnovers, but led by only two points at the break. The Warriors were finally to break from a 49-49 tie and build a nine-point lead in the second half, thanks to an 11-2 run over five minutes. Robitaille contributed five points in the run and senior guard Tyler Hundley (Cheshire) sank two free throws. After missing the last two games with a concussion, Hundley came off the bench to hit his only field goal - a three-pointer - convert both of his free throws, grabbed two rebounds, hand out two assists and make two steals in 17 minutes.

Now in its seventh ECAC Tournament appearance since 1981,  Eastern climbed over the .500 mark to 7-6 with this year's two victories. As the top seed, the Warriors reached the title game in both 2010 and 2011 but lost to Elms, 94-71, and Brandeis University, 65-50, respectively, at home. Until Saturday, the Warriors were 0-3 on the road in the tournament, losing first-round road games in 1981 and 1990 and a second-round tilt in 1986.
Eastern has won eight of ten games this year on its opponents' court and brings a three-game winning streak against Westfield into Sunday's title game. The Warriors have decisioned the Owls four of the last five times the clubs have met but have dropped the last two against Westfield on its court.


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