WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – Junior guard Lydia Vital sank a basket beyond the arc with 52 seconds to go before freshman forward Kenzie Bennett extended the lead with two free throws, as the No. 2 Keene State women's basketball program pulled away from No. 3 UMass Dartmouth for a 66-61 victory on Saturday evening in the semifinals of Little East Conference tournament at the Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium to capture their ninth straight win and will advance to the LEC championship title game for the first time since 2007.
- Keene State: 20-7
- UMass Dartmouth: 22-5
"It feels great considering that we fell short of this last season, and for me and Amanda, this is it for us. We're hoping to carry the momentum from tonight and from last week, and bring it all home tomorrow." – Senior forward Stephanie D'Annolfo
"I thought it was a great basketball game. They're a good and physical team, that caught up to us after our run. In these types of games, you have to make plays. Steph made a great pass and Lydia made the basket, then Kenzie made two huge free throws. We have to hope that we have enough intensity and adrenaline from tonight to bring to tomorrow. I'm happy for the athletes. They've worked hard. Survive and move on." – Head Coach Keith Boucher
How It Happened
Vital finished with 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the field, while senior forward Stephanie D'Annolfo tallied her seventh double double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Sandi Purcell finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Nakira Examond led the way for the Corsairs, finishing with 14 points with 12 rebounds, as Alicia Kutil added 14 points and six rebounds.
The Owls set the tone early, as freshman Bennett put Keene State on the board first with a three-pointer in the opening minute. D'Annolfo gave Keene State a slight 9-6 lead with a layup with 6:42 on the clock, before a free throw by Examond brought the score even at nine each. A finally tally by Kutil ended the stanza with UMass Dartmouth in front, 14-12.
The Corsairs extended their lead to five with 8:40 remaining, but McPadden responded with a three-pointer dished out from Purcell. Back and forth baskets followed, before a layup from D'Annolfo tied it up at 21 apiece, but five straight points gave UMass Dartmouth a 26-21 lead capped off by a pair of freebees. Emily McPadden fired back with a trey to cut the deficit to two and D'Annolfo drove into the lane for a basket to make it 26 all, but UMass Dartmouth finished off the quarter holding a two-point edge over Keene State, 31-29.
The Owls took off in the third quarter and scored 12 unanswered points, ignited by a three-pointer from Vital, to grab a 41-31 lead, before a converted free throw from Examond halted Keene State. The Owls did not relinquish their lead in the remaining minutes of the stanza, as Keene held a nine-point advantage going into the fourth quarter.
UMass Dartmouth sparked offensively with a 10-0 run for a one-point lead off a basket from Leah Douty with 5:54 on the clock. Purcell answered with a trey to regain the lead, but the Corsairs did not go away, as UMass Dartmouth tied it up at 57. With four minutes remaining, McPadden collected a defensive rebound and sent a pass down the court to a sprinting Vital, who converted a layup to take back a two-point lead, but a basket by Rachel McCarron locked the score in at 59 all with 1:58 to go. Notched at 59 across the board with under a minute remaining, D'Annolfo found an open Vital in the corner, who knocked down a three-pointer that put the Owls in front for good, 62-59, as two more free throws from Bennett sealed the victory.
Inside the Paint
- Keene State shot 38.7% (24-62) from the field, while UMass Dartmouth finished 37.1% (23-62) from the floor, and the Owls held a slight 40-39 edge on the glass over the Corsairs.
- With the win, the Owls advance to their first championship appearance since 2007 and only their third tournament final ever, making it previously in 2005 and 2007.
- Keene State is in search of their first LEC tournament title, while Eastern Connecticut State has been crowned champions five times.
- The Owls have now had two back to back seasons with at least 20 wins, a feat that was last achieved between the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons.
- No. 2 Keene State will face two-time defending tournament champion No. 1 Eastern Connecticut State on Sunday at 2 p.m., hosted by the Warriors. This will be the first meeting between the two teams.
- UMass Dartmouth will await their fate for an at-large bid during the NCAA selection show.