DARTMOUTH, Mass. – If you throw strength of schedule out the window, the Eastern Connecticut State University women's basketball team could be considered to be among the worst three-point shooting teams in the Little East Conference this year.
Excepting when it faces the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
Saturday, the Warriors clinched the No. 1 seed in the LEC tournament and at least a share of their third straight LEC regular-season title by sinking eight of ten three-pointers in the first half on the way to an 80-62 victory at the Francis Trip Athletic Center.
The game featured the two-time defending LEC regular-season and tournament champions against this year's pre-season favorite in UMass Dartmouth (which lost two-time LEC Player-of-the-Year Megan Ronaghan for the year with a pre-season injury).
A winner of its last 11 LEC games this year, Eastern (17-6, 11-1 LEC) ended the eight-game winning streak of UMass (19-4, 9-3 LEC), which entered play needing a win to pull even in the standing with Eastern with two LEC regular-season games remaining.
Seeding third in the NCAA Division III Northeast Region behind the 1-2 nationally-ranked teams, UMass lost for only the second time in 12 home games this year. Eastern, ranked eighth in the region, has not lost an LEC game since opening the season with a 66-59 road loss to the University of Southern Maine.
UMass falls into a two-way tie for second place with Keene State College, who are two games behind Eastern with two games remaining. The Warriors hold the tie-breakers over both opponents, thus being assured of the No. 1 seed for the third straight year. Eastern and UMass Dartmouth shared the regular-season crown two years ago after the Corsairs defeated Eastern late in the year, but the Warriors went on to the tournament title while UMD was eliminated in the semifinals.
Ranked next-to-last in the LEC this year with an overall three-point percentage of 25.1, Eastern was 8-of-10 from long range in amassing a ten-point halftime lead, finishing the day 11-of-17 from three-point range – two shy of the program game record. Five different players contributed at least one. The Corsairs missed 11 if 12 from behind the arc, connecting on their only one with 2:42 left.
In a 74-68 win over UMD at Geissler Gym Jan. 11, Eastern was 8-of-24 from three-point range.
While it has struggled from long range this year, Eastern has been money from the free throw line, where it shoots a conference-leading 68.5 Saturday, they were 21-of-23, 16-of-18 in the second half and 13-of-14 over the final five minutes.
Senior guard Jordyn Nappi (Southington) reached 20 points for the fifth time this year, leading all players with 24 points, with freshman forward adding 12 points and sophomore forward Kelsey Santagata (Stamford) and senior center Lexis Foster (Groton) adding ten points each. Santagata was playing her first game after missing three in a row. Junior guard Kelly Reardon (Holyoke, MA) had seven points, five rebounds and four assists.
Ranked second nationally in blocked shots, Foster reached 100 for the season with her third of the game with 53.3 seconds left.
UMD sophomore forward Nakira Examond, an LEC Player-of-the-Year candidate, was limited to 15 points and eight rebounds after burning Eastern for 24 points and 22 rebounds the first time around.
Eastern hosts Keene State College Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. and closes out the regular season Saturday when it hosts Massachusetts Boston at 1 p.m.