Marquist Parker Sports Editor
Here at Eastern, we are fortunate to get to watch two really good basketball teams at the same time. Our Men’s and Women’s teams come out every night and play hard, and most importantly, they win. Both teams are building off of solid seasons and are looking to improve, the strong start includes a combined 3-1 record in the friendly confines of Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium. The Warrior men and women played a double header on December first and it was a great showcase of Eastern dominance on the hardwood.The Men looked every bit as good as their pre-season ranking indicated, while the women had to sweat a bit, the theme of this day however is that both teams took the W.
Let’s take a look at the results, starting with the first game:
Junior guard Sabrina LeMere (North Branford) and freshman guard Julie Keckler (Trumbull) each sank two free throws six seconds apart in the final 16 seconds of the game. This allowed the Eastern women’s basketball team to hold off the defending Little East Conference tournament champion, University of Massachusetts Boston, 75- 70, Saturday at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.
Eastern (4-2, 2-0 LEC) led by ten points with seven minutes left and by eight after Keckler’s inside bucket made it 68-60 with 2:35 left. UMass (5-1, 1-1 LEC) scored seven in a row to cut the gap to one, 68-67, on a pair of free throws by sophomore guard Meg Dixon (Hanover, MA) with 48.5 seconds left. LeMere’s two free throws with 16.5 seconds left gave Eastern a five-point, 72-67 lead and appeared to guarantee the win, but junior guard Jamie Staples’ third three-pointer without a miss cut the margin to two, 72- 70, with 12 seconds left before Keckler swished a pair of free throws with 10.5 seconds left to make it 74-70. Staples missed her first three-pointer soon after that as Eastern hung on.
After senior forward Kelsey Santagata (Stamford) found junior forward Mya Villard (Cromwell) down low to give Eastern a 70-67 lead with 20 seconds left, UMass missed a golden opportunity to tie the game on its next possession coming out of a timeout, but committed an unforced turnover, and an ensuing foul set up LeMere’s two free throws with 16.5 seconds left.
Keckler obliterated her prior career-high of 11 points with a game-high total of 25 to pace four Eastern double-digit scorers. Keckler was 8-of-10 from the floor and 8-of-9 from the stripe and added three assists in 35 minutes. LeMere had 14 points (5-of-6 FT), Villard 12 points and a game-high ten rebounds, and 5-foot-4 inch junior guard Julie Jordan (Sterling) had 11 points, five assists, two blocks and two steals.
Sophomore guard Tahjai Mazyck led the Beacons with 20 points (10-of-18 FG) to go along with five assists, four rebounds, and two steals. Six-foot sophomore forward Joie Grassi, a first-team All-LEC pick as a freshman last year, had 13 points and three blocks, but was just 3-of-12 from the floor and 5-of-6 from the foul line. Sophomore guard Jalani Jackson added 13 points and six rebounds and Dixon 11 points. Staples was UMass’ only scorer off the bench, finishing with nine points in 16 minutes.
UMass fought its way back into contention by connecting on 12 of 15 free throws, 5-of-6 in the fourth quarter. UMass has reached the title game of the last three LEC tournaments, upsetting No. 1 seed UMass Dartmouth on the road last year to claim its first title after losing to the Warriors at Geissler Gym in the previous two Little East title games. The Beacons swept the Warriors a year ago by a total of 12 points to end a ten-game losing streak at the hands of Eastern.
While the women played a nail-bitter, the men were a little more dominant. The team scored 15 straight points after the University of Massachusetts Boston scored the game’s initial bucket and the Warriors went on to their 39th straight Little East Conference regular-season home win, a tougher-than-it looks 82-59 game. Five-time defending LEC regular-season champion Eastern (5-1, 2-0 LEC) moved out to a double-digit lead four minutes into the game and the advantage fell into single digits only twice thereafter, the last time with seven minutes left in the first half. The win was the 22nd in a row for Eastern over UMass in the series.
Leading by 15 at halftime, Eastern pushed the lead to 18 six minutes into the second half before UMass Boston (4-2, 0-2 LEC) continued to remain in contention, getting within 11 points twice. Poor free-throw shooting plagued UMass throughout, the Beacons never being able to cut deeper into the deficit in large part to missing 14 of 26 free throws in the game. The Warriors outscored the Beacons by 12 from the stripe, nailing 24 of 37 tries and limited UMB 25 points shy of its season average. The game was marred by 49 fouls which led to 63 free-throw attempts. After managing only five first-half points, junior guard Jake Collagan (Wethersfield) tossed in 12 in the second half, with senior guard Donny Craig (Waterford) scoring eight points.