KEENE, N.H. 2/22/12 - Keene State men’s and women’s basketball teams will head in different directions for their semifinal Little East Conference basketball tournament games on Friday.
The fourth-seeded Keene State men (19-7) will travel down to Willimantic, Conn., where they will face top-seed Eastern Conn. State (20-5) in a 5:30 p.m. game. Second-seed Western Conn. (20-5) will take on third-seed Rhode Island College (21-5) in the second game at the Geissler Gymnasium (7:30 p.m.).
Meanwhile, the Keene State women (17-8) will head to Providence, where they will face second-seed Southern Maine (20-5) at Rhode Island College’s Murray Center in a 7:30 p.m. game. The top-seed Anchorwomen (22-3) will battle fourth-seed Western Conn. (17-9) in the early game at 5:30 p.m.
Semifinal winners in both tournaments will play in the championship games on Sunday. The women’s final will be at 4 p.m., while the men’s title game will start at 5 p.m. It’s the first time that Eastern Conn. and Rhode Island College have won regular season titles and hosted the men’s and women’s tournaments, respectively, in the 26-year history of the LEC tournament.
Both Keene State teams are no strangers to the semifinals. Since joining the Little East in 1997-98, the KSC men have reached the semifinals 11 times, and the Owl women have advanced to the second round on nine different occasions. The Keene State men have made it to the finals six times, winning their lone title in 2004. The KSC women have made two appearances in the championship game and have yet to win a LEC crown.
The Keene State women, who advanced with a 54-31 quarterfinal win over UMass-Boston, have never beaten Southern Maine in six previous play-off meetings. The Owls dropped semifinal games to the Huskies in 2002 (63-51), 2003 (53-48), 2006 (65-40), and 2008 (55-34), and championship games in 2005 (68-29) and 2007 (68-57). Southern Maine once reigned over the LEC, winning 19 league championships.
It will be the first time the two teams will meet on a neutral court. “I don’t think it will have a bearing, but it’s better than playing them in Maine (KSC is 0-21 against USM in Gorham),” said KSC women’s coach Keith Boucher. “We both have played at Rhode Island College, so we’re used to the facility.”
“I think playing on a neutral court levels the playing field,” said senior Meghan Farrell. “”But it’s still the LEC tournament and you’re playing on someone else’s court in a hostile environment.”
The two teams split their regular season meetings with the Huskies winning 65-58 in Gorham and the Owls pulling out a 49-46 victory at Spaulding Gym. “They’re well coached and have a talented team,” said Boucher. “We have to understand that it’s a 40-minute game. When you get into the semifinals, you can’t let down for a few minutes, because that could be the game. It’s a possession-to-possession game when you get to this point in the tournament.”
“The main focus is getting stops,” said Farrell. “We played great defense against them at home, and we have to bring that same intensity with us down to Rhode Island College.”
The Keene State men will be facing Eastern Conn. for the first-time in the semifinal round. The two teams split their four previous quarterfinal meetings. The Owls won in 2003 (62-61) and 2009 (100-75), while the Warriors, who lost in last year’s final (62-49) to RIC, prevailed in 2000 (80-79) and 2010 (99-75).
After losing its last three conference games of the season, the Owls got a confidence-boosting 75-64 quarterfinal win over UMass-Dartmouth on Tuesday. “Last night could have been the best thing for us; we got a little bit of confidence and got a little of our swagger back,” said senior Ollie Hunter. “It’s a team we beat down there, so I think we’re up to the challenge.”
The Owls and the Warriors each won on the other team’s court during the regular season. Keene State knocked off the Warriors 64-56 in Willimantic and ECSU returned the favor with a 65-62 win at Spaulding Gym.
KSC men’s coach Rob Colbert would like to see bigger numbers on the scoreboard. “We have to play with great intensity and tempo. We don’t want to get stuck in a 65-62 game,” he said. “We want the game to be many possessions. We want to get our big guys quick, easy touches and we need to guard.”
“When you play Eastern Conn., they want you to play their tempo,” said junior Anthony Mariano. “They like to slow it down and run their sets, and that’s pretty much the opposite of what we try to do. We try to run the floor and transition, so it’s important that we try to make them play our style of game and speed it up a little bit.”
“We can’t look past anyone,” he added. “We know we’re one of the best teams in the league, but that’s on paper. We have to come to play and get it done on the court.”