DANBURY, CT – Junior forward Tracy Cleckley Jr. (Rosedale, NY) poured in a game-high 19 points while classmate guard Ronald Jefferson (Brooklyn, NY) chipped in with 18 as the Western Connecticut State University men's basketball team outlasted visiting non-league foe New Paltz, 90-74, in their home opener on Tuesday night at the O'Neill Center/Feldman Arena. With the win, the Colonials improved to 1-1 overall while the Hawks fell to 0-1.
Two other WestConn players pierced double figures in scoring as senior guard Geary McLeod (New London, CT) and sophomore guard Legend Johnson (Waterbury, CT) came off the bench and finished with 17 and 14 points, respectively. Jefferson, McLeod and senior Rashard Rodriguez (Trumbull, CT) each recorded four steals defensively.
Senior reserve Nick Paquette (Smithtown, NY) led New Paltz with 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Junior Tristan Wissemann (Shelter Island, NY) added 14, while sophomore point guard Jake Passaretti (Holbrook, NY) notched 12 to go along with eight assists and three steals.
The majority of the contest was close. However, the Colonials pulled away late as they converted 22-of-29 second half free throws.
The first half featured a neck-and-neck race as the lead changed hands several times. The Colonials built their largest lead in the opening stanza, 43-36, when Cleckley Jr. connected on a pair from the charity stripe. The Hawks chipped away at the advantage and Passaretti buried the second of two free throw attempts to cut it to 45-43 at the break.
The hosts stretched the lead to seven once again early in the second half when Johnson buried a trifecta. After tying the count on a few occasions, the visitors regained a 70-69 advantage when rookie forward Isaiah Bien-Aise (Westbury, NY) scurried in for a layup off a Colonial turnover with 7:50 left to play.
WestConn responded with a 7-0 spurt capped with a pair of free throws from Rodriguez to seize a 77-70 lead. The Colonials added another scoring surge over the final three minutes of play to wrap things up at 90-74.
WestConn returns to action against visiting Worcester State on Friday at 5 p.m. in the opening game of the Colonial Classic.