WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – No. 10 and top seeded Eastern Connecticut State University used a big second half to overcome a halftime deficit, defeating the No. 2 seeded Keene State College men's basketball team 79-62 in the championship game of the Little East Conference tournament on Saturday evening at Geissler Gymnasium.
- Keene State: 19-9
- No. 10 Eastern Connecticut: 25-3
How It Happened
Dizel Wright had 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals to lead the Owls. James Anozie had 13 points and three rebounds, while Ty Nichols had 12 points, a game-high tying nine rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Tarchee Brown fell just short of a double-double for Eastern Connecticut, as he recorded 21 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three blocks and a steal. Carlos Gonzalez had 19 points, a game-high seven assists, three rebounds and three steals. Kendall Marquez (11) and Cory Muckle (10) also scored in double figures for the Warriors.
Keene State got off to a quick start, scoring the first four points and subsequently going up 7-2 on a three by Jordan Haywood with nearly four minutes gone in the first half. Eastern got a jumper from Brown on the next possession, but both offenses then dried up, as nobody scored again until another basket from Brown at the 12:16 mark that made it 7-6. Keene State was able to get going again, as baskets from Wright and Anozie put the Owls up 13-8 with 10:59 remaining in the half. The Warriors answered with an 8-2 surge over the next two-plus minutes to take their first lead of the game (16-15). They extended the lead to three quickly thereafter and still led 20-19 at the 5:23 mark, but triples in quick succession from Kyle Santoro and Nichols had the Owls back up 26-20 just over a minute later. Olson scored inside and was fouled, making the subsequent free throw, as KSC led 29-22 with 2:27 remaining in the half. Gonzalez and Wright exchanged threes with just over a minute remaining as the Owls stayed out in front 32-27, but a late Keene State turnover led to an easy transition basket for Eastern Connecticut as the Warriors drew within 32-29 at halftime.
ECSU quickly took control early in the second half, using a 15-3 run in less than four minutes to gain momentum and go up 44-35. Marquez's traditional three-point play tied it, and, on the next possession, his shot from behind the arc put Eastern up 35-32 with not even two minutes gone. The Owls temporarily tied it on Nichols' lay-in at the 17:58 mark, but Marquez hit a three and then Muckle was fouled while making a three, completing a four-point play that put Eastern up nine with 16:12 left. The Owls struggled to get any closer, as two layups from Leonel Hyatt sandwiched around one from Wright had ECSU up 50-39 a few minutes later. Trailing 52-39, the Owls got layups from Nichols and Anozie to get within 52-44 and, later, two free throws from Wright to get within 53-46 with 8:01 remaining, but Gonzalez made a three and a transition bucket after a KSC turnover that put Eastern back up 12 (58-46). Wright's three and two from the line by Sidi Diallo trimmed KSC's deficit to 58-51 with 6:50 remaining, but the Owls remained unable to string together stops and a triple from Gonzalez had the Warriors back up 11 (63-52) with just under six minutes left. Keene State drew within nine on Wright's layup on the very next possession, but Muckle answered with one of his own as Eastern continued to attack the basket and retook a double-digit lead at 65-54. The Owls closed to within 10 (67-57) on Nichols' three-point play with 4:55 to go, but managed to score just five points the rest of the way as Eastern Connecticut pulled away to their second straight tournament title.
In the Paint
- This marked Keene State's fourth straight and 11th appearance overall in the Little East championship game. They have won titles in 2004, 2015 and 2016, but have lost on Eastern Connecticut's home court in the title game in each of the last two years.
- The Owls shot 40% (22-of-55) in the contest, but just 32% (9-of-28) after halftime when they were outscored 50-30. KSC connected on 6-of-20 (30%) from three and 12-of-16 from the line. The Warriors shot 50% (31-of-62) from the floor, making 7-of-27 (26%) from long range and 10-of-15 (67%) from the charity stripe.
- Keene State won the rebounding battle 37-33 overall and 14-12 on the offensive glass, but Eastern Connecticut outscored the Owls 17-10 on second chances and 44-30 in the paint.
- KSC turned the ball over 20 times, leading to 20 ECSU points. The Owls scored just nine points off the Warriors' 15 turnovers.
- Nichols is currently fourth on Keene State's all-time scoring list, having scored 1,548 points in his career.
- Keene State will have to wait to see if they have done enough to earn an at-large bid into the 2018 NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Championship. The Owls have made the tournament each of the past three seasons, having advanced to the Sweet 16 two years ago and the Elite Eight last year. The selections will be announced on Monday (February 26) at 12:30 pm.
- Eastern Connecticut, having received the automatic bid from the Little East Conference, will find out when, where and who they will play at that same time.