BOSTON, Mass.—The University of Massachusetts Boston bench outscored Eastern Connecticut State University by 20 points as the new-look Beacons ended a ten-game losing streak at the hands of the Warriors with their tenth straight win, 79-72, in a Little East Conference women's basketball game between early-season unbeaten Saturday afternoon at the Clark Athletic Center.
Eastern (3-8, 2-1 LEC), which dressed only 11 players and played only seven, was outscored 22-2 off the bench by UMass (11-1, 3-0 LEC), which got important contributions from first-year senior transfer guard Lydia Vital, as well as from four of its 11 freshmen.
The Warriors trailed by as many as 14 early in the second half but cut the gap to three, 72-69, on two free throws from sophomore guard Julie Jordan (Sterling) with 1:06 remaining. Vitale, a member of Keene State College's LEC title-game victory over Eastern last year in her third and final season at Keene, sank five of six free throws in the final 61 seconds, however, to keep the Beacons in front.
Sophomore post player Mya Villard (Cromwell) of Eastern led all players with 25 points and shared game-high rebounding honors with nine. Sophomore guard Sabrina LeMere (North Branford) had a career-high point total (19) for the second straight game, sinking four of five three-pointers. Jordan had a career-high14 points and tied her all-time best with eight rebounds. Senior guard Kelly Reardon (Holyoke, MA) collected five assists and four rebounds to go along with six points (4-of-4 FTs.).
Freshman Joie Grassi and senior Raven Kelsey led UMB with 17 points each, Kelsey grabbing a team-high nine rebounds. Vitale had 15 points and seven assists in 32 minutes.
UMass led by seven points and had the ball with two minutes left, but missed twice on its next trip down the floor – the 5-foot-3 inch Jordan blocking the first try by 5-foot-9 inch Kelsey – and LeMere responded with a driving layup to make it 72-67 with 1:30 left. Johnson then forced a Vitale turnover, and connected on her two free throws seconds later to make it a one-possession game (72-69) with 1:06 left. The Warriors' pressure defense then nearly caused a turnover, but Eastern was whistled for a foul and Vitale hit one free throw to make it 73-69 – still a one-possession game. A bad pass gave the ball back to UMB with 46.4 seconds left, and Jordan was called for a critical, albeit questionable, foul attempting to gain possession, and Vitale's two freebies all but put the game away, 77-69, with 38 seconds left.
At right: Julie Jordan had a career-high 14 points in Saturday's 79-72 Little East Conference loss to UMass Boston at the Clark Athletic Center. Jordan was 4-of-6 from the floor and 6-of-8 from the foul line, with three assists, two blocks, two steals, and added a career-tying eight rebounds. She turned the ball over only once in 40 minutes.
With depth a concern for Eastern, junior forward Kelsey Santagata (Stamford) saw only nine minutes of action in the first half after picking up her second personal foul in the final minute of the first quarter.
A nine-point second quarter – where Eastern shot under 30 percent – created a ten-point halftime deficit, and the Warriors faced their largest deficit (14 points) in the early minutes of the third quarter. Despite battling fresh UMB subs throughout, Eastern's starters played the entire third quarter and shot nearly 60 percent to chop six points off the UMass lead and trailed by eight heading into the fourth. In that third quarter, Villard's inside muscle accounted for nine of the team's 23 points, with LeMere chipping in four points by sinking both of her shots. While Eastern was guilty of 17 turnovers in the game that led to 24 UMB points, none came in that third quarter.
Santagata was tagged with her third foul midway through the third quarter with the Warriors trailing by ten, and her fourth foul 29 seconds into the fourth quarter set up a conventional three-point play by the six-foot Grassi that restored a UMB ten-point lead. Santagata was lifted at that point in favor of senior forward Emily Menendez (Shelton) but returned while Villard was canning both ends of a two-shot foul that made it 66-59 with seven minutes left. Moments later, Villard layed in a bucket off a drop-step set up by Santagata's entry pass, and Villard hit one of two free throws off a UMB unforced turnover that made it 66-62 with 5:48 left. Santagata fouled out with 4:26 left, allowiing Grassi to convert another conventional three-point play that extended the hosts' lead to seven, 69-62.
In addition to Grassi, additional freshmen making significant contributions for UMB off the bench were six-foot forward Niyera Mitchell and guard Tahjai Mazyck. Mitchell had seven points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 17 minutes and Mazyck five points, four assists and three rebounds in 21 minutes.
At left: Senior Emily Menendez played a career-high 17 minutes off the bench Saturday.
Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., Eastern hosts Little East Conference pre-season favorite UMass Dartmouth (11-3, 3-0 LEC), which won three NCAA Division III tournament games a year ago after losing to Keene State in the LEC semifinals. The Corsairs erased a 16-point deficit Saturday in a 64-56 home win over the University of Southern Maine – their fifth straight win. The Warriors swept UMD last year, winning 74-68 at Geissler Gym.