'KEENE, N.H. 02/22/06 - It's on to the semifinals of the Little East Tournament for both Keene State College men's and women's basketball teams. Keene State is the only school to have both of its teams still alive in the tournament. Keene State will host the final rounds of the men's tournament, while Southern Maine is the site for the final two rounds of the women's championship.
After punching their ticket to the next round with a 79-59 quarterfinal victory over eighth seed Southern Maine on Tuesday, the top-seeded Owls (19-6) will now get set to host fifth seed UMass-Dartmouth (15-11) in the second of two semifinal games at Spaulding Gym on Friday night (8 p.m.). UMD advanced with a 98-69 upset win against fourth seed Plymouth State. Second seed UMass-Boston (16-10), which edged seventh seed Eastern Conn. 60-56, will take on third-seed R.I. College (17-8) in the first semifinal contest at 6 p.m. RIC defeated sixth seed Western Conn. 63-58 in its opening round game.
Strong free throw shooting down the stretch enabled the fourt-seeded Owl women (16-10) to get by fifth seed Plymouth State 75-64 on Tuesday. KSC moves on to face top-seeded and host Southern Maine (25-1) on Friday (8 p.m.). USM, the top ranked Division III team in the country, trounced eighth seed UMass-Dartmouth 92-29 in its quarterfinal game. Second seed Western Conn. (15-11) goes up against third seed Eastern Conn. (20-6) in the other semifinal match-up.
Semifinals winners will play for the championship and automatic NCAA tournament berths at their respective sites on Saturday at 3 p.m.
The KSC men, which defeated UMD twice during the regular season (83-82 and 80-67) will have their hands full getting by the Corsairs for a third time. "UMass-Dartmouth is red hot," said KSC Coach Rob Colbert. "To go in and do to Plymouth what they did in a playoff environment is amazing."
Colbert expects a physical game against the Corsairs. "They play a very hard-nosed style of play and we can't get intimidated by that," he said.
Colbert said the Owls must keep close tabs on UMD's Stephane Abelard and Devon Maiorano. Maiorano hit nine of 11 three-pointers to finish with 29 points against the Panthers on Tuesday.
In the absence of top-scorer David Sontag, who will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, Keene State has gotten solid contributions from guards Kevin Ritter and Matt Hickey and forwards Sean Sullivan, Tyler Kathan, and Ben Maynard. Kathan led a balanced Owl offense with 19 points against USM. "I'm happy for Kevin Ritter, he's done a tremendous job coming in and filling that spot and the other guys have stepped forward," Colbert said. "It's that time of year."
UMass-Dartmouth has never lost to the Keene State in tournament play. The Corsairs defeated the Owls in the 1998 (81-79), and 2001 (99-89, OT) finals, and knocked KSC out of the tournament last year (89-82) with a quarterfinal upset win.
The Keene State women's 'reward' for their quarterfinal victory is another date with national power Southern Maine. The Owls will be looking for a better performance after losing to the Huskies 88-29 in last Saturday's regular season finale. "As a team we have to realize that it's just another game," said KSC Coach Keith Boucher. "We have to go up there with the mentality that we have nothing to lose."
"I'm sure they're looking past us," he added. "They've waxed everybody in our conference, so I'm sure they're looking forward to the NCAA tournament."
Boucher is hoping that his team can get off to a good start. "I think you gain confidence against a strong team early in the game," he said. "Real good teams can smell blood and will turn it up against you. The key is how you respond. That 's what we will address in the next few days before we play them."
Keene State has yet to defeat Southern Maine since joining the LEC during the 1997-98 season. Making its first-ever appearance in the tournament finals last year, the Owls lost to the nine-time conference champion Huskies 68-29.