WILLIMANTIC, CT – Despite a team-high 25 points from junior guard Tyler Rowe (East Hartford, CT), the fourth-seeded Western Connecticut State University men's basketball rally came up short as they were downed, 92-82, at top-seeded and 10th ranked rival Eastern Connecticut in the Little East Conference Tournament semifinals on Friday night at Geissler Gymnasium.
With the loss, the Colonials concluded the slate at 14-13 overall while the Warriors improved to 24-3 and will host the tournament championship game on Saturday at 5 p.m. They will meet the winner of the other semifinal matchup between Keene State and UMass-Boston.
"Our guys fought to the end. We had a couple of looks in the last minute to make it a one possession game, but they just didn't fall," said WestConn head coach Jason Harlow following the season's final contest. "I'm proud of the way we battled. We're not going away anytime soon," he added.
WestConn junior guard Eli Rodriguez (Bristol, CT) added 18 points which included draining 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, while classmate Rashard Rodriguez (Trumbull, CT) chipped in with eight points, eight rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
Senior guard Tarchee Brown (Rockville, CT) paced Eastern with game-highs of 28 points and 15 boards. Classmates Jacob Collins (Bristol, CT) and Kendall Marquez (Willimantic, CT) chipped in with 19 and 12 points, respectively, while sophomore Carlos Gonzalez (Springfield, MA) contributed game-highs of 10 assists and three steals.
The Warriors finished with the edge in field goal percentage, 52.2% (36-of-69) to WestConn's 39.7% (29-of-73). The hosts also won the battle on the boards, 46-38, while dishing out 22 assists compared to the visitors' 11.
The Colonials came out swinging as Eli Rodriguez erupted for 10 points including a pair from beyond the arc as they jumped ahead, 16-11.
However, the Warriors stormed back with a 23-3 run to seize a 34-19 lead with 6:37 left before the break. Collins ignited the flurry with a layup before rounding out the barrage with an offensive rebound and powering put back attempt.
WestConn answered with a spurt, shrinking the margin to 36-26 when junior Aaron Samuel (Stratford, CT) stole the ball in the open court and raced in alone for a thunderous two-handed dunk. But the hosts countered with yet another run. Brown ended the outburst with a fast break layup to head into halftime with a 52-35 lead.
After notching 14 in the opening stanza, Rowe began the second half with a step-back three-pointer from the right corner. The Colonials continued to display their athleticism as sophomore Fenton Bradley Jr. (Mansfield, CT) rattled the rim with a double-clutch reverse slam before junior Jordan Grant (Norwich, CT) drove down the lane for a right-handed stuff. Rookie guard Shea Tracy (New Britain, CT) then launched the ball the length of the court to find a wide-open Eli Rodriguez for the easy layup to cut the count to 71-61 with 9:34 left.
Eastern would build the lead back up but the Colonials would not give up as they put together a late 17-3 surge. Rowe cut the deficit to 85-80 when he hit the back end of a pair of technical free throws with one minute remaining. After a pair of missed shots from downtown, the Colonials were forced to foul and the Warriors converted their shots from the charity stripe to seal the win and advance.