KEENE, N.H. - After clinching a share of the LEC regular season title and the top seed in the conference tournament for the first time since 2006, the Keene State College men's basketball team is getting ready for the semifinal round of the Little East Conference tournament on Friday night at Spaulding Gymnasium, where they will host Western Connecticut State University at 5:30 p.m. The evening's second semifinal will feature third-seeded UMass Dartmouth and second-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University.
Keene State has won 10 games in a row and finished the regular season at 18-7, 13-3 in the Little East Conference. The Owls earned a bye to the semifinals and clinched the No. 1 seed with an 81-76 win over Eastern Connecticut on February 16. Western Connecticut, the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament, enters with a 17-9 overall record after going 10-6 in league play. The Colonials advanced to the semifinals with a 97-77 win over fifth-seeded UMass Boston on Tuesday night.
KSC head coach Ryan Cain is in his fourth season with the Owls and has an overall record of 79-37 (.681). His team advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament in 2015-16 and followed it up with an Elite Eight appearance in the next season. Keene State picked up a Little East Conference tournament championship in Cain's first season (2015-16) after beating UMass Dartmouth 86-81 at Willimantic, Conn. Western Connecticut is led by Guy Rancourt, who is in his first season at his alma mater after coaching at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa. for the previous 10 years.
The Owls are spearheaded by senior Ty Nichols (Springfield, Mass.), whose 27 points per game rank second nationally behind Aston Francis (32.4 PPG) of Wheaton College (Ill.). KSC's all-time leading scorer is shooting 49% from the floor on the season and 39% from three-point range while adding team-bests of seven rebounds per game, five assists per game, and 2.7 steals per game. He also recently broke the college's men's basketball single-season points record. Sophomore James Anozie (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) is averaging 15 points per game on 59% shooting while grabbing 6.5 rebounds per contest. Sophomore Miguel Prieto (Providence, R.I.) is also averaging double-figures (11 PPG) and is handing out four assists per game. WCSU is paced by senior Aaron Samuel's (Stratford, Conn.) 15 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He is shooting 54% from the floor. Senior Geary McLeod (New London, Conn.) chips in 10.1 points per game, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and a team-best 2.7 steals.
The Earlier Matchups
Keene State took both regular season meetings, beating WestConn 79-70 in Danbury, Conn. on January 16 before holding off the Colonials 78-77 at Spaulding Gymnasium on February 6. In the first meeting, the Owls got 28 points, nine rebounds and four assists from Nichols as they raced out to a 24-8 lead before holding off several second half rallies by the home team. The most recent matchup saw Nichols record 21 points and seven assists as KSC shot 53% and made a season-high 15 threes (15-of-30). The Owls led 40-30 at halftime and stretched the advantage to 54-38 with 12:46 remaining, but had to hold off WestConn with the three ball after the visitors drew within two with six minutes to go.
The Rest of the Tournament
Tuesday's other quarterfinal saw host and third-seeded UMass Dartmouth lead from start to finish in an 83-65 win over No. 6 seeded Plymouth State University. The Corsairs will take on Eastern Connecticut in Friday's second semifinal at approximately 7:30 p.m. Those two teams split the regular season series, with each winning on the road. ECSU held off UMD down the stretch for a 74-68 win on January 16, but the Corsairs returned the favor and got a late three from Jake Ashworth to knock off the Warriors 69-68 on February 2. The two semifinal winners will meet on Saturday, February 23 at 5:00 p.m. in the LEC tournament championship, with the winner receiving the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Owls are looking for their fourth conference tournament title, having previously won in 2004, 2015 and 2016.