KEENE, N.H. 2/20/12 – A new moon will hopefully signify a new start for Keene State men’s and women’s basketball teams, who hope to put late-season loses behind them and begin successful runs in the six-team Little East Conference tournament. Both teams begin tournament play by hosting quarterfinal games on Tuesday night.
Seeded third in the tournament, the Keene State women (16-8) will host sixth seed UMass-Boston (8-17) at 5:30 p.m. The fourth seeded Keene State men’s basketball team (18-7) will tip-off against fifth seed UMass-Dartmouth (13-12) at 7:30 p.m. The winner of the women’s game will face second seed Southern Maine in a semifinal game at top seed Rhode Island College on Friday (7:30 p.m.). The winner of the men’s game will go up against top seed Eastern Conn. on Friday (5:30 p.m.) in Willimantic, Conn.
While tomorrow night’s forecast of cloudy skies will prevent people from seeing the new moon, Owl fans hope that premature predictions based on the teams’ tough finish to the regular season will have no bearing. Both teams finished their respective seasons by dropping their last three conference games.
“A lot of people want to point to the last couple of games and understandably so, but I’m more concern with Keene State playing like Keene State and if we do that than things should take care of themselves,” said KSC Men’s Basketball Coach Rob Colbert.
“We can’t dwell on any loses,” said junior Siobhan Carnell. “If we play to our potential, we’re a good team.”
Keene State Women’s Basketball Coach Keith Boucher was encouraged by his team’s play in the second half against Rhode Island College on Saturday, holding the Anchorwomen to just 18 second half points in a 62-54 loss. “They didn’t quit. They competed and came back,” said Boucher. “Hopefully that bodes well for the tournament because you have to compete like that for a full 40 minutes or your season is over.”
The Owls, who have relied heavily on senior Courtney Cirillo (15.4 ppg., 8.9 rpg.) all season, must get contributions from more players if they hope to advance in the tournament. “In big games you need difference makers and we’ve had one all year long in Courtney, but we need other people to step up,” said Boucher.
The Owls will be facing an UMass-Boston team that will be making its first tournament appearance since 2009 when the LEC had an eight-team tournament. The Beacons gained the sixth and final seed with a 75-53 win over Eastern Conn. on Saturday. Junior Teresa Pina had a career high 32 points in the game. Freshman Kristen Morrison (17.0 ppg., 10.0 rpg.), who was named the LEC’s rookie of the week, leads UMB in scoring and rebounding.
“They have very athletic guards and want to push the ball,” said Boucher. “We have to play very good defense and make a few shots.”
Keene State, which defeated UMass-Boston twice during the regular season (65-51 at UMB and 75-33 in Keene) have never lost to the Beacons in two tournament games. The Owls beat the Beacons in first-round games in 2002 (65-52) and 2003 (94-82, OT).
Entering the tournament, Colbert is more concern how his team is playing as much as who they’re playing. “I don’t know if it’s so much about winning, but rather our approach and how we’re playing that I’m more concerned about,” said Colbert. “We’ve struggled to score and consequently we’ve gotten on our heels and had to manufacture points which are a much more deliberate brand of basketball than we want to play. So our concern is getting out of the gate with some energy and intensity- getting some easy baskets and getting a flow going.”
Junior Ryan Martin, who is averaging a team high 16.9 ppg., agrees with his coach. “I’m going to have to be a lot more aggressive,” he said. “I haven’t been looking to score as much as I have earlier in the season.”
Colbert says the Corsair team they will be facing on Tuesday is a little bit different than the one they defeated twice (92-55 in Keene and 70-68 at UMD) earlier in the season. “They’re coming off some big wins and starting to roll a little bit,” he said. “They’re playing a lot faster, so we want to control them and locate their shooters early in transition.”
The Owls must keep close tabs on senior forward Lance Greene, who scored 29 points and pulled down 11 rebound the last time the two teams met.
Keene State will be facing UMass-Dartmouth for sixth time in the tournament. The Owls lost in the LEC finals to the Corsairs in 1998 (81-79) and 2001 (99-89, OT). After being upset in the first-round in 2005 by UMD (89-82), KSC has won the last two tournament meetings, defeating the Corsairs in the 2006 semifinals (86-77) and last season in the first-round (96-88, OT).
Despite the Owls’ recent downslide, Colbert and Martin remain positive. “I think our team is still really confident. We know how well we can play,” said Martin. “We beat the top team in the conference and beat the top team in the country, so there’s no reason why we won’t be confident. We definitely feel we can win the game and win the tournament.”
“We can beat everybody, but the only one that matters right now is beating UMass-Dartmouth,” said Colbert.