DARTMOUTH, Mass. -- Junior Jake Collagen (Wethersfield, Conn.) scored 18 points to lead four players in double figures as Eastern Connecticut won the battle for first place in the Little East Conference men's basketball standings with a 74-68 league victory over UMass Dartmouth Wednesday evening at the Tripp Athletic Center.
The visiting Warriors (13-3, 7-1 LEC) led for all but 23 seconds of the contest, as Eastern Connecticut turned an early three-point edge into a 13-point cushion (31-18) on freshman Seth Thomas's (Norwich, Conn.) conventional three-point play with 3:15 remaining in the first half. The host Corsairs (12-5, 6-2 LEC) cut that margin to eight at the break after seniors Arinze Obiora (Hyde Park, Mass.) and Atakan Akcam (Ankara, Turkey) combined to score the final five points of the frame, but the Warriors increased their advantage back to 11 points on a pair of occasions in the opening 5:25 after intermission.
After UMass Dartmouth crept back to within two (53-51) on Akcam's lay-in with 7:55 to play, Eastern Connecticut pushed that margin back to four on a pair of Collagen free throws to set up a personal six-point run by sophomore Jake Ashworth (Fairhaven, Mass.) in just 58 seconds that gave the Corsairs their only lead of the night (60-57) with just under six minutes remaining. Senior Jaysen Nunez (Hartford, Conn.) evened matters for the visitors with an ensuing triple, and sophomore Cory Muckle's (Westbrook, Conn.) gave the Warriors the lead for a good with another three-pointer that came with 4:43 to play. Eastern Connecticut pushed that margin to seven in the closing minutes, as five free throws from junior Carlos Gonzalez (Springfield, Mass.) iced its triumph and ended UMass Dartmouth's eight-game winning streak that dated back to December 6th.
Gonzalez finished with 14 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals in the win for the Warriors, who received 12 points and six boards from Thomas along with 12 points, five caroms and four assists from Muckle. Senior Donny Craig (Waterford, Conn.) chipped in with nine points for Eastern Connecticut, which shot 45 percent (26-58) and canned 10 from behind the arc while holding a 12-7 scoring advantage at the charity stripe.
Akcam finished with a double-double effort of 21 point, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals in the setback for the Corsairs, who also received a double-double performance of 11 points, 11 boards and four steals from Obiora. Ashworth added 14 points and eight caroms for the hosts, who also collected 14 points and five rebounds from freshman Marcus Azor (Brockton, Mass.). Freshman Adam Seablom (Lakeville, Mass.) chipped in with six points for UMass Dartmouth, which shot 44 percent (30-68) from the field overall but made just one of 15 from behind the arc. The Corsairs held a 47-27 rebounding advantage for the contest, as the hosts converted 16 offensive boards into 16 second chance points.
UMass Dartmouth will be idle until next Wednesday, January 23rd when the Corsairs travel to Gorham, Maine to square off with Southern Maine in a Little East Conference clash that tips-off at 7:30 pm, while Eastern Connecticut hosts Rhode Island College in a Little East outing on Saturday afternoon in Willimantic, Conn. that tips-off at 3:00 pm.