KEENE, N.H. – Ty Nichols continued his record-breaking season with another masterful performance, and the Keene State College men's basketball team won the Little East Conference tournament for the third time in the last five years following a wild 72-69 victory over Eastern Connecticut State University at a raucous Spaulding Gymnasium on Saturday evening.
- Keene State: 20-7
- Eastern Connecticut: 20-7
How It Happened
Nichols, named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, poured in 37 points – 25 in the second half – as the Owls won their 12th straight after a stirring comeback in the final three minutes. He made 13-of-21 from the field, 3-of-8 from long range, and 8-of-12 from the free throw line while adding eight rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block. In the two LEC tournament games, Nichols scored 64 points on 22-of-35 shooting and grabbed 20 rebounds. The Owls also got contributions from Nyzair Rountree, who had nine points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block, and Sidi Diallo, who finished with seven points. Cory Muckle led Eastern Connecticut with 30 points and six rebounds. Carlos Gonzalez had 16 points.
It was a game of runs right away, as the Owls raced out to a 5-0 lead after an Edwin Ezedonmwen three and a Rountree dunk, but the Warriors roared back with the next 11 points and did not trail for the entire rest of the first half. Muckle was fouled taking a triple and made all three from the line as ECSU led 18-12 at the 10:20 mark. The Owls, as they did throughout, fought back with a 9-2 run over the next three minutes to tie the game at 21. A bucket from Diallo and a Nichols three capped the surge. The Warriors nudged their advantage back up to 30-23 with 3:44 left in the half after making a three and four free throws, but the Owls scored the final six points to trim the deficit to one at halftime.
It was still a one-point game (34-33) after Nichols made a layup just over two minutes into the second half, but Eastern Connecticut then rattled off eight consecutive points for a 42-33 edge at the 16:32 mark, which later widened to 11 (53-42) after Muckle was again fouled taking a trey and made all three from the line. The Owls made their push in the final 10 minutes. A trey from Diallo made it 57-50, and KSC made it a four-point game (60-56) after Miguel Prieto scored inside with 6:45 remaining. The visitors got a layup from Leonel Hyatt and a jumper from Gonzalez and appeared to be in control, up 66-58 at the four minute mark, but only scored three points the rest of the way as Keene State stormed back. A triple from Nichols sparked a run of six straight points from him, making it a two point game with 2:28 to go. After ECSU missed on the next possession, Nichols fed James Anozie for a 66-66 tie with less than two minutes on the clock. After a Warriors timeout, the Owls continued to put the clamps down, as they turned a turnover into a layup from Nichols at the 1:20 mark for their first lead (68-66) since 5-3 in the opening two minutes. The teams then exchanged unsuccessful possessions, forcing ECSU to foul, and Paul Mahon stepped up to make two key free throws with 16 seconds left, putting KSC up 70-66. The Warriors stayed alive through Muckle, who connected on a three with seven seconds to go, and still had a chance to tie even after Ezedonmwen made a pair from the line, but a last-second three missed as Keene State won the Little East title for the fourth time overall and third time in the last five seasons.
Inside the Paint
- KSC also won LEC titles in 2004 (79-67 over Plymouth State University at home), 2015 (75-57 over Rhode Island College at Willimantic, Conn.), and 2016 (86-81 over UMass Dartmouth at Willimantic, Conn.). It was also the Owls' fifth consecutive appearance in the finals and third straight against Eastern Connecticut.
- Keene State's 12-game winning streak ties for the second longest in school history, only behind the 2001-02 team who won 17 straight.
- The Owls clinched a 20 win season for the fourth time in the last five years.
- KSC receives the Little East Conference's automatic bid to the 2019 NCAA Division III Men's Basketball tournament. The Owls will find out when, where, and who they will play when the selections are announced on Monday, February 25 at 12:30 pm. The show can be viewed on ncaa.com. Stay tuned for more information.
- Eastern Connecticut, who was No. 8 in the most recent Northeast Regional Rankings, will wait to see if they receive an at-large berth to the tournament.
Final Little East Tournament Bracket (Website):