Five-Time Defending Champs Survive LEC Opener

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. --  Junior guard Carlos Gonzalez (Springfield, MA) keyed a 12-6 run over the final four minutes by going 7-for-8 from the foul line and senior forward Leonel Hyatt (Greenwich) and freshman forward Seth Thomas (Norwich) made key contributions in the final minutes as the five-time defending Little East Conference regular-season champion Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team survived its conference opener with a 77-70 win over Rhode Island College Wednesday evening at the Murray Center.

Eastern (4-1, 1-0 LEC) led by seven with 11 minutes left but had to erase one-point deficits twice in the final six minutes to win its fourth straight and hand Rhode Island (6-2, 0-1 LEC) its first home loss after three wins and snap the Anchormen's three-game winning streak.

After an exchange of turnovers, Eastern took the lead for good, 63-62 with 3:41 when junior guard Jake Collagan (Wethersfield) sank the back end of a two-shot foul. Gonzalez followed by sinking both ends of a one-and-one opportunity after consecutive rebounds by Hyatt, and a run of seven straight points soon after pushed the lead to eight, 72-64, with a minute left.

Thomas, who sank a free throw that gave Eastern a four-point, 68-64 lead with 1:39 left, scored of a pass from Gonzalez with a minute left that accounted for the eight-point lead.

Collagan (16 points) and Gonzalez (15) combined for 31 of Eastern's 41 second-half points, going 9-of-22 from the floor and 9-of-11 from the stripe. In the second half, the Warriors converted  13 of 16 free throws that offset 36.4 percent field goal shooting from the floor and ten turnovers.

Collagan led all players with 25 points, Gonzalez adding 20 points, eight assists, and four rebounds, and Thomas contributing seven points, six rebounds and two assists in 19 minutes. Hyatt equaled his career high with a season-high 15 rebounds, with sophomore guard Cory Muckle (Westbrook) adding 13 points and five rebounds.

Freshman guard Deyshawn Tengbeh led RIC with 22 points, connecting on eight of ten free throws. Sophomore guard Adham Floyd, the national leader in three-point attempts, was 3-for-13 from distance and finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.  First-year junior forward Benjamin Vezele – the national leader with an average of 5.0 blocks per game --  swatted eight shots and had ten rebounds. He scored all seven of his points in the final 14 minutes, tying the game for the final time, 62-62, with an inside hoop with four minutes left.

Eastern hosts Massachusetts Boston Saturday at 3 p.m. in a conference game at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.