WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – A last minute 8-0 run fell just short as men's basketball nearly took down the reigning Little East Conference tournament champions, but fell by the final of 61-55 at Eastern Connecticut State University Tuesday evening in the first round of the 2014 conference tournament.
With the loss UMass Boston's 2013-14 season came to an end as they Beacons posted a final record of 6-20. The Warriors (21-5) advance to the semi-final round of this year's tournament, which they will host on Friday. The reigning conference tournament champions will host the winner of Plymouth State University and Western Connecticut State University.
The Beacons, who entered the contest as the eighth seed, battled the top-seeded Warriors from start to finish and led by as much as 11 points in the first half. In the first meeting in the postseason since UMass Boston's historic run to their first-ever conference tournament title in 2006, the upset minded Beacons looked to bring down the top team in the LEC for the past five seasons.
UMass Boston came out firing in the opening minutes quickly taking advantage of every chance they were given. Eastern Connecticut struggled throughout the first half but did manage to keep things close and would eventually tie the Beacons at 21-21 going into the halftime break.
In the second half UMass jumped out to a quick four point lead following a pair of free throws from Luc Ulysse (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and lay-up from Carl Joseph (Brockton, Mass.) to start off the half. The two squads would battle back and forth throughout the second half, but with a quick 8-2 run Eastern Connecticut took a 48-41 lead with 5:39 left to play.
Joseph drained another lay-up to cut the Warriors lead to seven, but with a huge 3-pointer from Trachone Preston the Warriors took the biggest lead of the half with less than four to play. Eastern Connecticut maintained their double-figure lead for approximately one minute, before the Beacons came firing back.
Ulysse sparked the late rally first by scoring a lay-up to make it 56-45 ECSU. Eastern Connecticut turned the ball over on their next possession, which quickly turned into a Tyquan Ekejiuba (Randolph, Mass.) lay-up to make it an eight point game. Another turnover by the Warriors would result in an and-1 for the Beacons as Joseph completed the three point play to make it a two possession game with 1:23 left in regulation.
Eastern Connecticut did get a free throw from Mike Garrow to push their lead back to six. After a pair of timeouts, the Beacons fouled and sent Brian Salzillo to the free throw line. The senior nailed both to make it 59-51.
Salzillo would then foul senior Kadeem Coulter (Boston, Mass.), allowing the big-man to a perfect 2-for-2 at the charity strip. Eastern Connecticut's Justin Nunez would nail a pair of free throws before Ekejiuba drained the final basket of the game with three seconds left on the clock.
Salzillo led the Warriors with a game-high 19 points as he went 6-for-13 from the field and 3-for-8 from behind the arc. Preston led ECSU's starting five with 18 points, followed by Garrow who had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Beacons were led by freshman Sam Freeman's (Boston, Mass.) 11 points, all of which came off the bench. Joseph and Coulter finished second with nine points each, while Joseph grabbed a team-high seven rebounds along with Ulysse.
Tuesday's contest marked the final in the careers of Coulter and BJ Rosary III (Fontana, Calif.).