WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – After shooting 22 percent from three-point range in its three opening losses, the Eastern Connecticut State University men's basketball team converted 56 percent of its 16 attempts from distance in a 50-point first half and rolled to an 83-60 non-conference victory over Wesleyan University Tuesday evening at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.
In its home-opener, Eastern (1-3) led from start to finish, with its active defense figuring in Wesleyan's (3-2) 2-of-20 shooting from three-point range as the Warriors defeated the Cardinals by 20-plus points for the second straight season after losing five in a row (four of those losses decided by 11 total points) in the series.
Both teams shot close to 50 percent from the floor in the first half, but Eastern outscored the Cards by 19 (49-30) from the floor in building a 13-point, 50-37 lead at the break. In the first half that set the tone, Eastern was 7-of-10 from the foul line and 9-of-16 from three-point range (20-of-40 overall) and committed only three turnovers while Wesleyan went scoreless on seven three-point field goal tries and gave Eastern 11 points off its seven turnovers.
Although the visitors started four players at 6-foot-5 or taller and Eastern started only one at that height, Eastern battled Wesleyan even on the boards in the first half.
Behind a dominant effort from 6-foot-7 inch junior Jordan James, Wesleyan scored 40 of its 46 points from the floor in the paint in the game. With a handful of dunks on alley-oop passes, James was 13-of-17 from the floor en route to a game-high 28 points, and also grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds (eight offensive) and blocked three shots.
Wesleyan netted 14 points off offensive rebounds but gave the ball away 19 times that led to Eastern's decisive 24-10 point differential off turnovers.
At right: Thomas Close defends in the first half of Tuesday's 83-60 home-opening win over Wesleyan. Close had eight points, five rebounds and five steals in 28 minutes. (Photo by Jake Verboven)
Junior guard Cory Muckle (Westbrook), first-year sophomore transfer guard Tyreice Woods (Hartford) and sophomore forward Seth Thomas (Norwich) combined for 16 of the team's season-high 23 assists. Off the bench, Woods had six points, six assists and two rebounds in his most productive game to date.
Senior guard Jake Collagan (Wethersfield), who struggled on the road this year by averaging only ten points on 27 percent from three-point range, responded on his home floor with 9-of-21 shooting (6-of-12 from distance) and sharing game-high scoring honors with James. Ranked among the all-time leaders in free throw percentage, Collagan was 4-for-4 from the line, grabbed six rebounds and handed out three assists.
Thomas was 5-of-6 from the floor for 13 points and also led Eastern with seven rebounds and five blocks and also handed out five assists. He did not commit a turnover in 32 minutes. Muckle added 16 points, six rebounds and four steals to along with his six assists. Sophomore point guard Thomas Close (East Hampton) chipped in eight points, five rebounds, five steals and two assists and committed only two turnovers in 28 minutes.
Eastern visits Connecticut College Sunday at 3 p.m. in a non-conference game.