WORCESTER — The 15th ranked Worcester 78’s (11-5) had their seven-game winning streak snapped on Saturday night at Worcester State, as the Western Mass. Zombies used a barrage of three-pointers to outslug the 78’s, 156-148.
Worcester led 137-136 with just over three minutes remaining, after Avery King (18 points) finished off a layup in transition from a pass from Dimitri Floras (10 points).
From there Western Mass. went on a 20-5 run, in the final three minutes of the game, to close out with an eight-point win.
“We competed, you can’t take anything away from (Western Mass.),” said guard Tony Gallo. “We gave them too many easy ones, and I think me getting hurt was a factor.”
Gallo, who led Worcester with 37 points on the night, was forced out of the game due to a calf injury he suffered with just over five minutes left in the game.
“I really don’t know [about the injury],” Gallo said. “I went to the lane for a layup, took a free-throw and ran back and (my calf) didn’t feel right. I felt at that point I couldn’t help the team, so I stepped aside.”
Gallo had just finished off a finger roll in the lane, earning the plus-one after the hard foul. Gallo knocked down the free-throw to put Worcester up 131-126, with 6:40 left in the game.
“Man was (Gallo) good before he got hurt, honestly he brought us up by five there,” said assistant coach Josh Wells. “I think if (Gallo) was in the there at the end, we win that game.”
Western Mass. opened the game with a quick 7-0 lead, before Gallo knocked down his first jumper of the game.
Worcester took the lead in the first quarter when Gallo gathered an offensive rebound, and found Mo Horton (19 points, 12 rebounds) underneath, who made it 21-20 for the 78’s with 5:21 left in the first quarter.
“(Horton) was phenomenal, he played through a lot of contact, and a lot of [tough calls by the officials,]” said Worcester head coach Anthony Leonelli.
Kwame Thompson (15 points) added a floater in the lane just before the first quarter ended, yet Western Mass. held a 42-36 lead.
The Zombies’ lead was up to eleven at 69-58 with 3:45 left in the first half, when Worcester would make a run.
Floras finished off a drive, and Jose Cruz Jr. added a reverse layup to cut the lead to 69-62.
Thompson added another floater in the lane, and Gallo added four free-throws down the stretch to cut the Western Mass. lead to two at the half, with a 72-70 score.
Worcester’s 12-3 run to close the half, continued at the start of the third quarter, as King knocked down a pair of three-pointers from the wing to knot the score at 76-76.
King would add another floater, and Horton would finish off a King pass, underneath, to give Worcester an 80-76 advantage.
Western Mass. would go on a 19-9 run, but Worcester’s Kamahl Walker (10 points) would go coast-to-coast after a Sean McCarthy rebound, and add a three-pointer from the wing to cut the lead to 98-94.
Gallo would put Worcester up 102-98 with 3:50 left in the third quarter, on a three-pointer from the wing. Yet Worcester trailed after the third, 110-108, as Western Mass finished the third quarter on a 7-0 spurt.
“We played hard in spurts, but we let them get away with too many second-chance points and three-point shots and that’s why we lost,” said Worcester forward Horton.
Despite the setback, and Worcester missing one of their best outside shooters in Sam Longwell for undisclosed reasons, the 78’s had eight players score in double-digits; including Scott Tavarez-Taylor, who had 15 points.
I was really happy with our effort tonight,” said Leonelli. “We fought at every turn and through a lot of adversity.”
“We had a seven-game winning streak —and to lose one, we have to bounce back, and finish the season strong,” Gallo said.