KEENE, N.H. - Five weeks ago, the Keene State College men's basketball team fell to 8-7 overall following a 79-66 road loss at Eastern Connecticut State University. 35 days and 10 straight wins later, the Owls clinched a share of the Little East Conference regular season title and the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament semifinals and finals after a thrilling 81-76 victory over the very same Warriors Saturday afternoon at Spaulding Gymnasium.
- Keene State: 18-7, 13-3 LEC
- Eastern Connecticut: 19-6, 13-3 LEC
How It Happened
On Senior Day, Ty Nichols once again stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 34 points on 14-of-28 shooting, seven rebounds, five assists and four steals before fouling out with three minutes remaining. Miguel Prieto chipped in 16 points, three rebounds, three steals and two assists, while James Anozie finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and one steal. The Warriors were led by 25 points from Carlos Gonzalez, who made 12-of-13 from the free throw line while adding four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
In a game that was close throughout, both offenses struggled early, but it was Eastern Connecticut who moved out to a 6-2 lead a little more than four minutes in. The Owls came alive, tying the game on consecutive layups from Nichols and Anozie before going up 10-6 at the 13:29 mark after back-to-back buckets from Prieto. The Warriors nudged back in front after Gonzalez converted both versions of a three-point play, but Nichols answered with a trey of his own before feeding Nyzair Rountree for a flush and a 15-12 lead with 10:25 left in the half. KSC never trailed in the rest of the period despite ECSU tying the game four different times. Leading 19-18, the Owls got a pair of free throws from Anozie and a triple from Prieto for a 24-20 edge at the 6:05 mark. KSC had an answer every time the half wound down, as Nichols and Ezedonmwen layups countered four points from Gonzalez. The home team took a 32-30 lead into the break after Anozie scored twice down low in the final two minutes.
Eastern Connecticut stormed out of the locker room to start the second half, as a 10-2 opening run gave the visitors their largest lead of the game (40-34) with 17:19 remaining. The Warriors stayed out in front 43-37 after a triple from Cory Muckle two minutes later, but the Owls came flying back, as an 11-0 surge in just over two minutes put the home team up 50-45 at the 12:03 mark. The surge was highlighted by Prieto's jumper and Nichols' steal and swished three in a 10 second span that put KSC back on top. ECSU hung around, drawing within one (54-53) with 9:28 to go, but Keene State gained separation with a key 7-0 run over the next two minutes, finishing with Nichols' hoop and harm for a 61-53 edge with just over seven minutes left. Seth Thomas' triple kept the Warriors within reach, but Nichols hit back with four consecutive points before Prieto's layup at the 4:16 mark made it a 67-57 KSC lead. The Owls were still ahead 72-62 with just under three minutes to go after Edwin Ezedonmwen canned a huge three, but Eastern Connecticut had a final surge. Gonzalez's layup with 1:45 on the clock made it a six-point game and, later, four straight free throws from him made it 74-70 with just under a minute to go. KSC got two free throws from Jordan Haywood on the next trip, but Muckle converted a four-point play to bring ECSU within one possession at 76-74 with 40 seconds left. Haywood sank two more critical free throws before Gonzalez did the same, but the Owls held on, breaking the press on the ensuing inbound, which led to two freebies from Paul Mahon for an 80-76 lead with nine seconds to go. A last second three for ECSU was off the mark, and KSC sealed their tenth straight win and the top seed in the conference tournament.
Inside the Paint
- Nichols can add another accolade to his career, as he broke the single-season KSC points record. He currently has 674 points this season, which surpassed Al Hicks, who recorded 656 in the 1974-75 season.
- Keene State's last winning streak of 10 games came in the 2001-02 season. The Owls went 23-5 that season.
- It was the Owls' first win over Eastern Connecticut since January 25, 2017, when they defeated the Warriors 99-92.
- Prior to the game, KSC honored Nichols, Kyle Santoro, Charles McClain and Josh DeGrenier for their contributions to the program.
- Keene State will host the Little East Conference tournament for the first time since 2006. The Owls receive a first round bye and will take on the winner of the Western Connecticut State University vs. UMass Boston quarterfinal matchup in the semifinals on Friday, February 22 at Spaulding Gymnasium.
- Eastern Connecticut will be the No. 2 seed in the tournament and take on either Plymouth State University or UMass Dartmouth in Friday's second semifinal.