WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – 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 as the Eastern Connecticut State University women's basketball team held off 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 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 seal 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.
At right: Julie Jordan, at 5-foot-4, drives past six-foot Joie Grassi in the second half of Saturday's Little East Conference win. Jordan outrebounded Grassi, a first-team All-LEC post-player last year, 5-2. (Photo by Sara Pisanelli)
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 the three blocks but was just 3-of-12 from the floor as she was 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.
Eastern visits Western Connecticut Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in a conference game.