KEENE, N.H. -- Junior Jake Collagan (Wethersfield, Conn.) scored 21 points to lead four players in double figures, as second-seeded Eastern Connecticut advanced to the title game of the 2019 Little East Conference Men’s Basketball Championships with a 79-74 victory over third-seeded UMass Dartmouth in league semifinal round action played Friday evening at Keene State’s Spaulding Gymnasium.
The Warriors (20-6) will take on host Keene State (19-7) in Saturday’s conference championship clash at 5:00 pm, as the Owls topped fourth-seeded Western Connecticut (17-10) by a 107-80 final in the first semifinal of the day. The Corsairs close out their 2019 slate at 19-8 in Head Coach Brian Baptiste’s 36th campaign.
Eastern Connecticut jumped out to an early six-point lead (16-10) before UMass Dartmouth used a 14-7 run in five plus minutes of play to take a 34-32 cushion on freshman Adam Seablom’s (Lakeville, Mass.) lay-in with 3:36 remaining in the first half. A pair of free throws by senior Leonel Hyatt (Greenwich, Conn.) evened matters in the closing minute, and Collagen followed with a conventional three-point play that came with 41 seconds remaining in the half to give the Warriors a 37-34 advantage at the break.
Eastern Connecticut would never trail in the final 20 minutes of play, as Collagen’s lay-in 4:43 after intermission extended the lead to seven (49-42). The Corsairs came back with an 8-2 run of their own to creep back to within one on sophomore Harry Alexander’s (Washington, D.C.) jumper with 11 minutes remaining in the game, but the Warriors pushed their edge back to five on a pair of occasions over the next four minutes of action. A Collagen lay-up with 3:36 to play staked Eastern Connecticut to a four-point lead (71-67), but UMass Dartmouth pulled back to within a point for the final time on senior Arinze Obiora’s (Hyde Park, Mass.) three-pointer on the ensuing possession. The Corsairs had a pair of changes to even matters in the closing two minutes of action, but four free throws by senior Carlos Gonzalez (Springfield, Mass.) in the final 35 seconds of play iced the Warriors’ triumph.
Gonzalez finished with 20 points and five rebounds in the win for Eastern Connecticut, which received 13 points and eight boards from freshman Seth Thomas (Norwich, Conn.). Sophomore Cory Muckle (Westbrook, Conn.) also netted 13 points and five caroms on the night for the Warriors, who shot 47 percent (26-55) from the field and held a 20-8 scoring advantage at the foul line to advance to the championship contest.
Freshman Marcus Azor (Brockton, Mass.) posted a double-double effort of 16 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and four steals in the setback for UMass Dartmouth, which received 14 points, seven boards and three steals from Obiora. Senior Atakan Akcam (Ankara, Turkey) chipped in with 13 points and five caroms for the Corsairs, who collected 10 points from Seablom. UMass Dartmouth shot 42 percent (31-74) from the floor but made just four of 16 attempts from behind the arc on the night, as the Corsairs held a 38-30 rebounding advantage while forcing 16 turnovers.
UMass Dartmouth finishes the year with its highest single-season win total in a decade under Baptiste, who has recorded 645 career victories in his 36-year tenure.
(Photo Credit: Rainier Almonte '19)