2018-19 In Review: A 12-Game Run to a Little East Title for Men’s Basketball

2018-19 In Review: A 12-Game Run to a Little East Title for Men’s Basketball

KEENE, N.H.--During the summer of 2019, the Keene State College Department of Athletics and Recreation will review some of the top moments of the recently ended school year, celebrating the achievements of our student-athletes and teams.

At No. 1, a third Little East Conference tournament title for men's basketball in the last five years.

Sitting at just 8-7 overall and 4-3 in the conference after a tough 79-66 loss at Eastern Connecticut on January 12, it was not shaping up to be a memorable season for Keene State, as they were just 3-5 in their previous eight games and found themselves in fourth place in the league standings nearly halfway through the conference schedule.  However, what followed came a stretch where the Owls did not lose for nearly seven weeks, tying for the second longest winning streak in school history.  The 12-game run began with a 79-70 road win at Western Connecticut on January 16 and continued through February 23, culminating with a thrilling come-from-behind 72-69 home victory over Eastern Connecticut at Spaulding Gymnasium in the Little East title game.  KSC had previously earned the top seed in the conference tournament with an 81-76 home win over the same Warriors a week prior, and then routed Western Connecticut 107-80 in the semifinals.

In the title game, standout senior Ty Nichols (Springfield, Mass.) continued his record-breaking season in front of a raucous home crowd.  Nichols, named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, poured in 37 points – 25 in the second half – as the Owls completed 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 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.

After a back-and-forth, tightly contested first half that saw Eastern Connecticut take a one-point lead into the break, the visitors began pulling away, going up 42-33 at the 16:32 mark, which later widened to 53-42 after Cory 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 Warriors appeared to regain control by scoring six of the next eight points, 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 under two minutes to go.  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 after Muckle's three with seven seconds to go, and still had a chance to tie even after Edwin Ezedonmwen made a pair from the line, but a last-second three missed, kicking off a Keene State celebration.

KSC's 12-game streak ended with a loss to Moravian College in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Nichols concluded his stellar career with 2,316 points on 50% shooting (36% from three), 660 rebounds, 509 assists, 267 steals and 32 blocks.  He is Keene State's all-time leader in career points, single-season points (768 in 2019), steals, games played (118), and free throws made (561) and attempted (725), while also being in the top 10 in assists (509).  He was named a First Team All-American and the Northeast Region Player of the Year by d3hoops.com and a Second Team All-American/First Team All-Northeast Region by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC).