Men's Basketball: Warriors Withstand Semifinal Scare to Set Up Title Game with Keene

Jacob Collins goes up against Legend Johnson in the first half of Friday's 92-82 victory over Western Connecticut in the semifinals of the Little East Conference basketball tournament at Geissler Gymnasium. Collins came off the bench for career-highs of 19 points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes to spark the Warriors into Saturday's 5 p.m. title game with Keene State College at Geissler Gymnasium. Collins was 8-of-10 from the floor, including 3-of-4 from distance to improve his season percentages to 60.8 from the floor and 54.8 percent from three-point range. (Photo by Nick McAneny)
Jacob Collins goes up against Legend Johnson in the first half of Friday's 92-82 victory over Western Connecticut in the semifinals of the Little East Conference basketball tournament at Geissler Gymnasium. Collins came off the bench for career-highs of 19 points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes to spark the Warriors into Saturday's 5 p.m. title game with Keene State College at Geissler Gymnasium. Collins was 8-of-10 from the floor, including 3-of-4 from distance to improve his season percentages to 60.8 from the floor and 54.8 percent from three-point range. (Photo by Nick McAneny)

Little East Conference
Men's Basketball Tournament

Semifinals

Eastern Conn. 92, Western Conn. 82
Keene State College 95, UMass Boston 84

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – For the second straight season, the top two seeds in the Little East Conference men's basketball tournament – No. 1 Eastern Connecticut State University and No. 2 Keene State College – will meet in the conference tournament finals at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium. It wasn't easy for the tournament's top seeds in Friday night's semifinals, and the patterns were similar in the Warriors' and Owls' double-digit victories that were not secured until the final minutes.

Defending champion Eastern (24-3) and Keene State (19-8) will face off Saturday at 5 p.m. following first-round wins over No. 4 seed Western Connecticut (92-82) and No. 3 seed UMass Boston (95-84), respectively, Friday evening at Geissler Gymnasium. Saturday's champion gains an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.

Ranked tenth in Division III and third in the NCAA Northeast Region, Eastern looks for its fifth LEC title while Keene, ranked No. 8 in the Northeast chases its fourth.  In the first finals meeting between the teams last year, Eastern rallied for a 72-70 victory.

Both winning teams Friday defeated their opponent for the third time this season.

Eastern Conn. 92, Western Conn. 82

Western (14-13) nearly came back from 19 points down three minutes into the second half, outscoring the Warriors 17-5 over three minutes late in the game. Evan Curtin, Rashard Rodriguez and Tyler Rowe all sank three-pointers in a span of 1:30 to spark the comeback, with a free throw by Rowe cutting the Eastern gap to five, 85-80 with 61 seconds left.  Rowe then missed a pair of three-pointers that would have made it a one-possession game, and Eastern's Carlos Gonzalez grabbed the rebound of the second one and sank two free throws with 43.5 seconds left to make it 87-80 Gonzalez and Jake Collagan each swished free throws in the final 21.5 as Eastern held on.

Eastern's Tarchee Brown led all players with 28 points and 15 rebounds, Jacob Collins coming off the bench for 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting (3-of-4 from distance) and eight rebounds. Gonzalez did not score in the first half but finished the game with six points, eight rebounds, ten assists and three steals.

Rowe led Western with 25 points but was just 8-of-24 from the floor, with Eli Rodriguez tossing in 18 points, helping key the comeback by sinking four of six from distance and grabbing seven rebounds. Rodriguez totaled eight points and eight rebounds.

Keene State College 95, UMass Boston 84

Looking for its third first berth in the title and first since defeating top seed Keene by 14 in the 2006 title game UMass (16-11) whittled a 17-point deficit to five, 84-79, with two minutes left on a jumper by Dasan Cinelli, but the Owls responded with a modest to decisive 9-3 run to re-build the lead to 11, 93-82, with 41 seconds left.

After UMB pulled to within five, post player James Anozie scored seven straight Keene points with inside muscle in a one-minute span, and Ty Nichols sank two free throws with 41 seconds left to make it 93-82 with 41 seconds left. Dizel Wright contributed two assists in that decisive straight, and Anozie scored one of his hoops off an offensive rebound.

Both teams shot over 55 percent in a run-and-gun first half, with Keene settling for a three-point halftime lead. Keene outscored UMB 12-2 over two-plus minutes early in the second half to move out to its 17-point, 60-43 lead five minutes into the half.  Anozie (four points) and Nichols (six points) fueled the run, with Nichols nailing a three-point field and converting a conventional three-point play in that stretch.

Three players fouled out in a game where 49 fouls were called, and Keene sank 25-of-34 free throws. UMass starters Iser Barnes (2:29 left) and Dan Powers (38.8) were ejected on fouls, while Keene starter Jordan Haywood was assessed his fifth personal foul with 7:48 left. Starter Miguel Prieto left the game with 8:44 left when he was injured on a drive to the basket and did not return.

Nichols (28), Anozie (22) and Wright (20) combined for 70 of their team's point total, going a combined 23-of-33 from the floor,  and Nichols (12), Anozie (10) and Wright (9) helped the Owls to a 38-19 advantage on the boards.  Wright also had nine assists.

Charlie Mitchell led UMass with 21 points and four steals off the bench, Michael Boyd adding 16 points and five assists, Powers 14 points and six rebounds and Cinelli 11 points.