Men's Basketball: After 15-Point Lead Dissolves, Warriors Have Enough to Hold Off Lions

Kendall Marquez shoots over Andy Niland of Penn State Behrend in the first half of Tuesday's 63-60 victory at Miami Shores, FL. Marquez connected on seven of 12 three-pointers in the game and scored a season-high 23 points as the Warriors improved to 7-0 away from home this year. (Photo courtesy of HoopMIA D3 Holiday Shootout)
Kendall Marquez shoots over Andy Niland of Penn State Behrend in the first half of Tuesday's 63-60 victory at Miami Shores, FL. Marquez connected on seven of 12 three-pointers in the game and scored a season-high 23 points as the Warriors improved to 7-0 away from home this year. (Photo courtesy of HoopMIA D3 Holiday Shootout)

MIAMI SHORES – Sophomore guard Carlos Gonzalez (Springfield, MA) contributed a key steal and rebound and sank four free throws down the stretch as the Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team held off Penn State Behrend, 63-60, Tuesday afternoon in a non-conference game played at Barry University.

A winner of its previous six, Penn State (8-2) trailed Eastern (9-1) by 15 three minutes into the second half but used a run of seven straight points to pull even, 54-54, with 3:34 left. At that point, senior guard Kendall Marquez (Willimantic) connected on his seventh three-point field goal and after Gonzalez corralled the rebound of a missed three-pointer by the Lions, freshman reserve forward Matt McKinnon (Newington) converted a spinning inside move to restore a five-point Eastern lead.

In the final 70 seconds, the Warriors survived a technical foul (PSU making only one of two free throws), two turnovers and Penn State's potential game-tying three-pointer at the horn to remain perfect (7-0) away from home this year.

Gonzalez helped Eastern cling to a three-point lead by stealing an inbounds pass with 1:11 left (after having the ball stolen seconds earlier), and sinking four of six free throws in the final 19 seconds.  Leading by three points and inbounding under its own defensive basket with 0.6 seconds left, Eastern gave the ball away on a violation, but 6-foot-6 junior forward Justin Gorny's corner three-point attempt at the final buzzer hit the side of the backboard.Leading by 15 point three minutes into the second half, Eastern lost top scorer Tarchee Brown (Rockville) for the remainder of the game with an ankle injury. Brown had four points and four rebounds in 16 minutes.

Marquez scored 21 of his season and game-high 23 points on three-point field goals, where he was 7-of-12 (his highest three-point total in his two-year Eastern career). His sixth basket from long range temporarily helped the Warriors re-gain momentum and a seven-point lead after the Lions had used a 17-6 run to cut their 15-point deficit to four midway through the second half.

At left: Matt McKinnon (50) defends  against Justin Gorny in the first half Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of HoopMIA D3 Holiday Shootout)

Gonzalez tied his season high with 17 points and grabbed a career-high seven rebounds. He was 4-of-6 from the floor -- sinking both of his three-point attempts – and 7-of-10 from the foul line with four assists and three steals.

McKinnon came off the bench to connect on four of five field goals for a career-high eight points with two rebounds in 16 minutes, improving his season shooting percentage to .684 (13-of-19). Three Eastern starters combined for only six points on 2-of-14 shooting from the field.

Marquez (14 points) and Gonzalez  (9) combined for 23 of the team's 38 points in sparking the Warriors to a 14-point halftime lead. Behind three three-pointers from Marquez, Eastern reeled off 12 points in a row to snap the fourth early tie and move out to a 28-26 lead with four minutes left before the break. In a 14-2 spurt, Eastern held the Lions without a field goal for six minutes in building its first-half lead.

Six Eastern players had a hand in the team's season-high nine blocked shots.

Penn State shot nearly 50 percent from the floor in the second half, sinking 12 of 18 two-point attempts (most of them easy layups off cuts to the basket). In the game, the Lions missed 15 of 20 three-pointers, however, including ten of 12 from distance in the second half.

Six-foot-6 inch junior forwards Dan Wanker and Gorny and junior guard Mike Fischer combined for all but three of Penn State's 36 second-half points (13 of 24 shooting from the floor), with 20 of the team's points in the half coming in the paint.

Wanker led the Lions with 18 points and eight rebounds, Gorny pouring in 17 points and Fischer 14, the trio accounting for all but 11 of the club's points. Junior guard Andy Niland handed out six assists.

At right: Carlos Gonzalez (1) drives against Malike Brinson in Tuesday's 63-60 victory over Penn State Behrend at Miami Shores.  (Photo courtesy of HoopMIA D3 Holiday Shootout)

The Lions are coming off a 21-8 season which included a two-point loss in the ECAC title game.

In a re-match of a 2012 NCAA Sweet 16 game, Eastern faces Cabrini University (6-2) Wednesday at noon at Miami Shores. Cabrini, which won that NCAA game by seven points, held off Chapman University, 81-79 Tuesday afternoon.