WILLIMANTIC, Conn. –The Salem State University women's basketball team came back from nine points back with seven minutes left, but junior forward Kelsey Santagata (Stamford) hit an inbounds tie-breaking jumper with 4.1 seconds left to lift Eastern Connecticut State University to a 68-66 non-conference victory Monday evening at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.
Trailing by nine points with seven minutes left and by seven with 3:45 remaining, Salem (6-10) chipped away, tying the game twice in the final 1:35 on buckets by Brianna Rodriguez.
After Rodriguez forced the final tie with 28 seconds left, Santagata missed a jumper, but 5-foot-3 inch sophomore guard Julie Jordan (Sterling) returned possession to the Warriors on a tie-up for her career-high 13th rebound of the game. Following a timeout, Eastern (4-10) senior guard Kelly Reardon (Holyoke, MA) inbounded under the basket to Santagata, who initially set a down screen before curling across the lane to take Reardon's in-bounds bounce pass. The 5-foot-10 inch Santagata took two dribbles down the right side of the lane, beat one defender, and swished a jump shot with 4.1 seconds left.
Rodriguez inbounded in front of the Salem bench with 4.1 seconds left after a timeout but the Vikings never got off a shot, losing possession and sophomore forward Mya Villard (Cromwell) grabbing the loose ball as time expired.
Eastern halted a five-game skid – three of the losses coming by eight points or less – with its second home win in seven tries. The Vikings, who had won six of nine following an 0-5 start, dropped their second game in three days.
Santagata tied her season high with 17 points, sophomore guard Sabrina LeMere (North Branford) adding 16, Villard 15 and Reardon ten. Jordan improved her team-leading rebounding average to 6.9 with her game-high total. Reardon handed out a season-high seven assists and contributed five rebounds and three steals. Santagata picked up her third foul with 1:41 left in the third quarter and played the final 2:56 with four. She had only one turnover in 33 minutes.
The team's top scorer this year, Villard muscled in 13 of her points in the second half, going 4-of-5 from the floor and 5-of-6 from the foul line over the final 20 minutes.
Salem never led by more than a point and for only 68 seconds in the game, but used a 9-2 run over two minutes to climb out of a seven-point hole with 3:45 left. In that stretch, Tyra Scott sank a pair of jumpers – the second coming off a steal by Rodriguez. Salem tied the game for the final time, 66-66, when Rodriguez swiped the ball near midcourt and went the distance for a layup with 28 seconds left. Santagata then failed on a jumper, but Jordan was there to gain a piece of the rebound as the Warriors maintained possession.
Rodriguez had 12 of her game-tying 17 points in the second half, with Norma Waggett and 6-foot-1 inch Kia Fernandes adding 12 points apiece. Courtney Paschal chipped in five assists and Fernandes a team-high seven rebounds and four blocks. Six-foot-one inch Katie McDonnell came off the bench to added eight points and four rebounds in 13 minutes
Salem outrebounded Eastern, 10-2, on the offensive glass in the first half, outscoring the Warriors, 9-0, on those first-half chances and by 17-7 in the game.
Eastern returns to Little East Conference play Wednesday, visiting Keene State College at 5:30 p.m.