The second-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University women's basketball team wiped out a ten-point fourth-quarter deficit and trailed only once in overtime in downing top-seeded University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 77-72, Saturday afternoon in the championship game of the Little East Conference tournament at the Tripp Athletic Center.
The title is the third in five years and sixth overall for Eastern (19-8), which qualifies automatically for the NCAA Division III tournament. Eastern and UMass Dartmouth (22-5) were meeting for the eighth time in the tournament but for the first time in the final. Eastern has won seven of those games.
Although Eastern leads the all-time series, 68-17, the Corsairs had won the last five. UMD had knocked Eastern out of the tournament in last year's semifinals and had swept it in the regular season the last two years, including a 73-55 win at Eastern in the most recent meeting three weeks ago.
Saturday, Eastern couldn't convert the potential game-winning field goal as time expired in regulation, but after allowing the opening bucket of overtime, took control by scoring the next six points to go up 69-65, with 3:20 left in overtime, Junior forward Mya Villard (Cromwell, Conn.), the tournament MVP, was 4-of-4 from the foul line in the last 55.4 seconds. When she was fouled on the left side on a pass from senior forward Kelsey Santagata (Stamford, Conn.), Villard's two free throws with 25.7 seconds left gave the Warriors the lead for good, 74-72. After a potential go-ahead three-pointer from the top of the key by UMD freshman Jordan Moretti was short off the front rim, freshman forward Anna Barry (Andover, Conn.) converted an inside basket off freshman guard Jenna Serrantino's (Cromwell, Conn.) inbound pass while being fouled and completed the three-point play with 9.4 second remaining to secure the victory.
Villard, who had fouled out in Eastern's 64-60 loss at the Tripp Center Jan. 16 and played overtime with four personals Saturday, was 11-of-12 from the foul line and 8-of-15 from the floor en route to game-highs of 27 points and 17 rebounds. Barry had a career-high 18 points and added ten rebounds, four blocked shots and three steals. She was 7-of-16 from the floor. In 35 minutes off the bench, Santagata had eight points, six rebounds and three assists.
Junior guard Ashley Brown (New Bedford, Mass.) led UMD with 20 points but was 7-of-22 from the floor, and Moretti added 19 points and seven rebounds in a game where all three of UMass' frontcourt players – including former Little East Player-of-the-Year Nakira Examond (New Bedofrd, Mass.) – fouled out. Examond had ten points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes.
UMass, which lost last year's final to No. 2 UMass Boston at the Tripp Center, was seeking its first LEC tournament title in the 33-year history of the championship.