KEENE, N.H. 2/23/11 – The Keene State men's basketball team won't have much time to savor Tuesday's thrilling 96-88 Little East Conference tournament quarterfinal overtime win over UMass-Dartmouth.
Standing on the Spaulding Gym court moments after the Owls' comeback victory, junior guard Steve Boudreau aptly noted it was time for the team to move on to its next opponent. "We now got to turn the page and get ready for Rhode Island College," he said.
While the fourth-seeded Owls (17-9) were battling to stay alive in the tournament, the top-seeded Anchormen (17-7), courtesy of a first-round bye, were back home in Providence waiting to begin defense of their LEC championship. Keene State will face RIC in the first of two semifinal games at the Murray Center on Friday at 6 p.m. In the second game, second-seed Western Conn. (21-4) will go up against third-seed Eastern Conn. (18-8) at 8 p.m. The two semifinal winners will square off in Saturday's championship game at 5 p.m.
As was the case with UMass-Dartmouth, Keene State will be taking on a team they lost to twice during the regular season. The Anchormen handled the Owls at home 96-82 on Jan. 8 and at Spaulding Gym 78-69 on Feb. 5.
"I don't think we played a good game at Rhode Island College and they beat us pretty easily," said sophomore guard Ryan Martin, one of the many KSC stars in the team's win over UMass-Dartmouth. "We're playing better and definitely looking forward to the challenge of facing them again."
"It will be a fun game and will be interesting to see how both teams adjust," said KSC Coach Rob Colbert. "But I like the match-up. Despite the outcomes, I like the way we've played against them this year."
Like the Corsairs, the Anchormen, who have captured three LEC crowns (2007, 2009, and 2010), are an athletic team that can not only put the ball in the basket but also play tough defense, leading the LEC with a stingy 63.5 defensive scoring average. "They have great athleticism and great size and depth at so many positions," said Colbert, reading the RIC scouting report. "We're going to have to be really efficient with the ball both offensively and defensively and look to keep them off the glass."
Both teams can put points on the board. Martin led KSC in scoring with a 14.7 average followed by juniors Derek D'Amours (13.1 ppg.) and Anthony Mariano (10.1 ppg.). Sophomore Rashad Wright (8.1 ppg., 6.6 rpg.), who scored a season-high 20 points (including a couple of key slams in overtime) to go along with 10 rebounds against UMD on Tuesday, has come into his own of late. "The last five or six games, Rashad is really starting to get comfortable and understand what we expect him to do," said Colbert. "We won't go into overtime without his three-point play at the end of regulation."
RIC counters with four players averaging in double figures: junior Mike Akinrola (14.0 ppg.), junior Antone Gray (12.3 ppg.), junior Mason Choice (12.0 ppg.) and senior Carl Lee (10.5). The Anchormen have been a thorn in the side of the Owls in tournament play, winning all three meetings. RIC defeated KSC in the 2007 finals (87-75) and in a pair of semifinal games in 2008 (68-63) and 2009 (78-50).
The LEC tournament has allowed the Owls to clean the slate and make a successful run at the LEC championship. "I think we all knew that we didn't really play up to our potential during the regular season," said Martin. "We were always saying that we wanted to be playing our best basketball by tournament time. And with Tuesday's win, I think we're headed in the right direction."