PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Plymouth State College overcame a seven-point deficit in the final four minutes Tuesday evening at Foley Gymnasium and pulled out a 94-90 victory over Eastern Connecticut State University in the opening round of the Little East Conference men's basketball tournament.
The victory improves PSC to 14-11 overall and advances the fourth-seeded Panthers to an LEC semi-final contest Friday (Feb. 23) at top-seeded UMass Dartmouth (7:30 p.m.). Fifth-seeded ECSU completes its season at 12-13.
All five Panther starters scored in double figures, led by freshman Frankie Finklea (Dorchester, Mass.). The LEC Rookie of the Week the past two weeks, Finklea continued his outstanding play, hitting 9-of-13 field goal attempts and 4-of-7 from three-point range, for a season-high 26 points. Junior Jason Blackburn (Hudson, Mass.) scored 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, senior Tony Martinez (Barnstead, N.H.) added 13, and sophomore guards Dan Craig (Chelmsford, Mass.) and Kenny Stewart (Londonderry, N.H.) chipped in with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Junior Billy Rea (Winsted, Conn.) led the Warriors with 19 points, and classmate Rich Vega (Hartford, Conn) scored 18. Senior Ashon Avent (Hartford, Conn.) contributed 14 points, and sophomore Tony White (Hempstead, N.Y.) came off the bench to provide 13 points.
Both teams shot the ball very well. PSC hit 53 percent from the floor in the game, including 56 percent in the first half, while ECSU connected on 66 percent of its shots overall, including 76 percent (20-of-29) in the first 20 minutes. PSC had a 34-24 advantage on the boards.
Plymouth State led most of the first half, enjoying an eight-point bulge (30-22) with 9:37 on the clock. Eastern battled back to tie the game at 46-all with 2:27 to go, and PSC held a slim 53-52 margin at the break.
The Panthers maintained their lead though the first 10 minutes of the second half, leading by as much as eight points (63-55) before the Warriors mounted a comeback. ECSU took its first lead (78-77) since midway through the first half with 8:35 on the clock, and built an 88-81 advantage with 4:28 remaining.
The Warriors went ahead 90-87 with 2:25 to play, but did not score again. PSC got a couple of baskets inside from Blackburn, both set up nicely by Stewart for two of his 11 assists, and Finklea made free throws in the closing seconds to seal the victory.
PSC will be facing UMass Dartmouth Friday on its home court for the second time in less than a week. The Corsairs, 22-2 overall and ranked #2 nationally in Division III, upended the Panthers 87-68 in the regular season finale last Saturday.