Top-seeded Warriors hold off pesky Panthers; Lawrence, Roche shine
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – For the second straight year Eastern Connecticut State University ended the Plymouth State University women's basketball season after the top-seeded Warriors outlasted the eighth-seeded Panthers, 68-58, in the quarterfinal round of the Little East Conference (LEC) Tournament at Geissler Gymnasium.
Plymouth State wraps up the 2015-16 campaign with a 6-20 overall mark, matching last season's final record. Eastern Connecticut improves to 20-6 (12-4 LEC) and will host the LEC Final Four this weekend. ECSU will face the five seed, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, who upended No. 4 University of Southern Maine 61-58 in other quarterfinal action.
The upset-minded Panthers played one of their best games of the season, never letting Eastern Connecticut pull away. ECSU won the two regular season meetings by an average of 28 points, but wasn't able to gain control of the game until the fourth quarter.
In an ominous start, the Warriors jumped out to an 8-2 early lead after back-to-back three-pointers from junior Jordyn Nappi (Southington, Conn.) and classmate Julia DePoi (Brookfield, Conn.). Plymouth State clawed back and a straight-on three-pointer from junior Ace Lawrence (Middletown, Conn.) pulled PSU within 12-10 after the opening 6:30.
Freshman Brittany Roche (Londonderry, N.H.) drained consecutive triples from the right wing a minute later to put the Panthers up 16-15, but a free throw by ECSU junior Lexis Foster (Groton, Conn.) knotted the score at 16-16 at the end of the first quarter.
The Warriors recaptured the lead, 19-18, after a three-pointer from well beyond the arc, but moments later senior Taylor Perry (Simsbury, Conn.) connected from long range to tie things at 23-23. Perry struck again moments later, this time hitting a tough layup in traffic while drawing a foul and connecting on the free throw, giving the Panthers a 26-23 lead. Roche came up with a block on the defensive side on the ensuing ECSU possession, leading to a long two-pointer from Lawrence. A Lawrence floater in the lane put the Panthers up 30-27 at halftime.
Perry connected twice from the charity stripe in the opening minute of the third quarter to give PSU its largest lead of the game, 32-27. Eastern Connecticut responded with a 15-3 run to go up 42-35 with 2:44 left in the period, but the Panthers countered with a flurry of offense in the final minute of the quarter. Roche drained a pair of free throws, then buried a triple from the right wing to trail 46-40. Lawrence followed with a steal and layup for a 46-42 deficit after the third quarter.
Nappi connected from long range behind a double-screen, and seconds later a jumper from Foster gave the Warriors their first double-digit lead of the game, 53-42, but Plymouth State responded again. Roche connected from long range for the fourth time, then Lawrence pulled down a defensive rebound and outran three Warrior defenders for a self-made fast break layup. She was fouled on the shot and connected from the line to cut the deficit to 55-50 with 6:44 remaining.
ECSU answered with six straight points in the paint to pull back ahead by double-figures, but an old-fashioned three-point play from Lawrence made it 63-55 with 3:41 to play. That was as close as the Panthers would get, however, as the Warriors held on for the 68-58 win.
Lawrence was impressive on the offensive side, matching her season-high of 26 points. Roche finished with 14 points, including the four three-pointers, in 21 minutes off the bench, while Perry added 10 points in her final collegiate game. Junior Savannah Miller (Smithtown, N.Y.) stuffed the stat sheet with team highs of five steals, five assists and four rebounds.
Eastern Connecticut was led by Nappi's 18 points. Senior Jill Ritrosky (Pittsfield, Mass.) added 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists, while DePoi finished with 13 points and 14 boards.
Perry ends her career with 722 points in 98 games for a 7.4 ppg career average. The 5'3" guard posted career bests in points (214) and rebounds (53) in her senior season.
Lawrence finishes as the top scorer for the second consecutive year netting 336 points, an average of 12.9 per game, which is good enough for 9th place in the LEC. Junior Kayla Wyland (Melrose, Mass.) pulled down a team-best 167 rebounds (6.4/game). A threat on the offensive side as well, her 9.1 points per game average put her in the top 20 in the LEC, and she led the team with three double-doubles.
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