|Hugh Lindo, who is eighth in Division III with 12.5 rebounds per game, has the Warriors fired up about their five game winning streak and undefeated record in the Little East Conference.|
Months after a heart-breaking and frustrating defeat to UMass Dartmouth in the Little East Conference (LEC) tournament, Eastern Connecticut State University men’s basketball was looking to turn the page.
Yet, the page was hard to turn.
- Middlebury rises, Hamilton getting votes in this week's men's Top 25
- Lindo grabs 1,000th rebound of career
The Warriors suffered a quartet of setbacks in their initial month of play, including a demoralizing two-point loss to Connecticut College in overtime. Eastern Connecticut was competitive in all six games – they were not getting dismantled by their opponents, but were getting tired of the same outcome.
“Honestly, we started off so rough that at one point everyone on the team was just sick of losing,” said senior Hugh Lindo, who recently eclipsed the 1,000-point mark.
Big wins for Little East
No Little East Conference teams are currently receiving votes in the Top 25. Keene State was ranked in the preseason, but has since dropped out. But LEC teams do have a handful of victories over ranked oppponents. Rankings reflect the opponents' position in the Top 25 when the game was played.
Dec. 6: Mass-Boston 76, #5 Tufts 74
Jan. 3: Eastern Conn 87, #3 Amherst 75
“We came to practice (prior to our game against Southern Maine), huddled up, myself and Tarchee (Brown) said a few words, and a couple of other guys chimed in and then we buckled down.”
The losing-ways came to a halt after the huddle broke as Eastern Connecticut would win seven of its next eights contests, including a trio of LEC clashes – their most recent conference victory occurred this past weekend against Plymouth State.
Their biggest win of their current turnaround came last week when they sent shockwaves across New England with an 87-75 win over Amherst College, which entered the contest ranked third in last week’s D3hoops.com poll.
Eastern Connecticut put together an impressive performance, forcing 17 turnovers that resulted in 24 points, while surrendering the ball just four times – their lowest team turnover total since being swiped eight times one month earlier against Rhode Island College.
Lindo highlighted his team’s effort, netting double-figures for the tenth time this season, while pulling down 14 rebounds. Eastern Connecticut also received contributions from first-year Carlos Gonzalez, who netted a career and season-high 22 points, while junior Tarchee Brown stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, six rebounds, two steals, one assist and one block.
Coach Bill Geitner, who was quite pleased with his team’s effort, told his squad after the game that this was just the ‘tip of the iceberg.’
“I think we played a really good game on both ends of the floor,” said Geitner. “I thought we defended pretty well and were able to create some turnovers … offensively, I thought we did a really good job of taking care of the ball in the sense that we only had four turnovers, so I thought from both sides of the basketball that we played really well.”
Whether it was the Warriors’ opponent that particular evening or their will to win, Brown admitted he and his teammates enter every contest with the mindset that the Warriors should win, no matter the opponent.
“We go into every game feeling like we should win,” said Brown, who was tabbed the conference’s player of the week at the beginning of the month. “We don’t really care who the opponent is in front of us, it just so happened that Amherst was number three (in the latest poll), so we wanted to prove a point, but we go into every game to try and prove a point.”
The point has been proven – do not overlook this group of Warriors.
At 9-5 overall and 3-0 in LEC play, Eastern Connecticut knows the conference crown has not been secured. In fact, the Warriors are one of two teams with perfect league ledgers.
Their next opponent, Mass-Dartmouth, also happens to be perfect in league play. The Corsairs are coming off an impressive win this past weekend over Western Connecticut.
The game against the Corsairs on Wednesday certainly has meaning to this group of Warriors, especially Lindo, who still believes his team’s campaign from a year ago ended too soon.
“I thought to myself (after the tournament loss) that we have to do a lot better next year,” said Lindo. “We have to work harder and win more games, and last year, we would beat teams like Trinity, but then lose the next game, so what good was that?
“I don’t want that to happen this year because I think everyone is on the same page and I think we’re much hungrier.”
Geitner echoed Lindo’s words, adding, “I think the nice thing about this group is every day they have come (into the gym), they have worked hard in practice and I think we have seen the results. We are continuing to get better as a group, so the challenges are to keep them hungry and keep them motivated, and know these conference games coming up are very, very important and will be a big challenge for us.”
The conference tilts will indeed be a challenge. Heck, the Little East Conference as been described by some as a ‘lunch pale’ league where every team competes its best every night, no matter their overall or league record. So, if the Warriors are going to continue their current success, they’ll need everyone on their roster, not just Lindo and Brown, but all players to step-up when needed.
Eastern Connecticut is clearly on its way to more success, but as Geitner admitted, the group still has more to do and work on en route to playing their best basketball of the season.
“It is continuing to push the envelope,” he said. “This is only the tip of the iceberg because we still have so many things we can do better as a group, but so far they have bought into that belief that we still can get better and how you get better is come every day and work extremely hard.”
You may know that San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich got his start as a Division III coach at Pomona-Pitzer. Popovich also has a connection to Williams through the Ephs' former head men's basketball coach Curtis Tong. After Tong went 103-92 in nine seasons with the Ephs, he moved to the west coast to become the athletic director for Pomona College and Pitzer College, inheriting Popovich as his head coach.
There's still a connection between Popovich and Williams College. Former Eph Will Hardy is an assistant coach on Popovich's San Antonio staff and he's doing quite well, according to three-time NBA Coach of the Year. Watch the Williams 2010 alum at work with Kawai Leonard in this video from the Spurs' Twitter account.