LEC leaders hold off upset-minded Panthers
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – Senior guard Mike Garrow (Terryville, Conn.) scored an inside basket on a lob pass from junior forward Brandon Yarborough (Stamford, Conn.) to wipe out Plymouth State University's only lead of the game with 65 seconds left as the Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team withstood the Panthers' challenge for a 59-56 victory in a Little East Conference men's basketball game Saturday afternoon at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.
With its seventh straight win, league-leading Eastern (15-4, 9-0 Little East) remains two games ahead of Rhode Island College in the conference standings. The upset-minded Panthers (10-9, 4-5 LEC) were coming off a big win over Keene State on Tuesday and looking to cap off the week but were denied.
Trailing by 14 points late in the first half and by 11 at the break, Plymouth State committed only three second-half turnovers and shot just under 50 percent from the floor to get back into contention. Held to just three first-half points, senior guard Petey Skevas (Wethersfield, Conn.) scored 11 second-half points for the Panthers – mostly on free throws and drives to the basket – as the Panthers rallied.
Trailing by five with just over three minutes left, Plymouth State scored six points in a row – two on free throws by Skevas and consecutive buckets off steals by junior guard Alex Burt (Dover, N.H.) and junior guard Shomari Morgan (Manchester, N.H.) – to take its only lead of the game, 56-55, with 1:23 left.
On Eastern's next possession, Yarborough lobbed an inside pass to Garrow, who grabbed the ball in traffic and layed it in with 1:05 left. After a timeout, Plymouth committed only its third turnover of the half but it was a costly one, and Garrow followed by scoring on a drive from the left side with three seconds left on the shot clock to make it 59-56 with 16.4 seconds left.
Following a timeout, the Panthers drove the length of the floor and missed consecutive game-tying three-point field goals in the final seconds – their only three-point field goal tries of the second half.
Led by sophomore Trachone Preston (Enfield, Conn.), Eastern used a 12-2 run in the first half to break a tie and move out to a 10-point, 16-6 lead with 8:34 left. Plymouth shot just 20.0 percent from the floor in the half and Preston sparked the run with nine points on two field goals and four free throws.
Garrow led both teams with 25 points on 9-of-15 field goals and 7-of-8 free throws, with Preston adding 13 points – 11 in the first half to help the Warriors move out to their double-digit lead.
In foul trouble most of the game, freshman forward Hugh Lindo (Enfield, Conn.) came off the bench for eight rebounds and five points in 15 minutes. Making his first career start in place of senior guard Brian Salzillo (North Haven, Conn.), sophomore guard Kevin Leumene (Stamford, Conn.) had eight points and four rebounds in a career-high 33 minutes. Salzillo, the conference's leading scorer and second-ranked three-point shooter in Division III, missed his first game of the year due to illness.
Ranked third in the LEC in free throw shooting, Eastern was 20-of-25 from the stripe, while Plymouth converted 18-of-21 freebies despite entering play ranked sixth that department among eight teams.
Skevas and sophomore forward Uche Nwokeji (Lynn, Mass.) each scored 14 points for PSU, while Morgan added 10 points and Nwokeji grabbed a team-high six rebounds. The teams are ranked 1-2 in the conference in rebounding margin, and Plymouth came away with a +2 edge over the LEC leaders.
Both teams play non-conference games in their next outings as PSU travels to Bowdoin College on Tuesday and Eastern visits Wesleyan University on Wednesday.
(Courtesy of Eastern Connecticut Sports Information)
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