KEENE, N.H. - Freshman Jeff Hunter poured in a career-high 29 points on 12-of-15 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds as the Keene State College men's basketball team outscored Rhode Island College 27-7 over the final 8:10 to erase a 16-point deficit and snag a crucial 84-80 Little East Conference victory Saturday afternoon at Spaulding Gymnasium.
- Keene State: 9-14, 7-7 LEC
- Rhode Island College: 16-8, 9-6 LEC
How It Happened
The Owls fell behind 8-0 in less than two minutes to open the game and never led until there were 10 seconds left in regulation, erasing three different 16-point second half deficits with a stirring comeback. KSC trailed 73-57 at the 8:10 mark and did not get within single-digits until there were a little over three minutes to go, but was able to rally thanks to a sizzling 66 percent (21-of-32) shooting performance from the floor overall in the final 20 minutes. The home team also went from minus-10 on the glass at the break to plus-five overall after dominating the Anchormen 24-9 in second half rebounds. Hunter shined throughout, but particularly down the stretch, as he recorded 21 of his 29 points while making 9-of-10 shots following halftime. Keene State also got 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting, six rebounds, four assists and two steals from Sidi Diallo, who made two key free throws with 10 seconds to go that put KSC up by two. DeVon Beasley, who had earlier tied the game, finished with 11 and made 3-of-7 from long range. Jaylen Franklin added 12 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal as the Owls won at home for the third straight time and moved up to fifth in the tightly-packed Little East standings with two games to go. Rhode Island College was led by Benjamin Vezele's 29-point, five-rebound effort. Shion Darby had 16 points, but was limited to 5-for-18 shooting and Keyshaun Jacobs chipped in 15 for the Anchormen, who were outscored 42-24 in the paint and 21-8 in transition.
The game did not have the makings of an exciting finish for much of it, as RIC got triples from Jacobs and Tim Deng to lead by eight just 1:44 into the game and eventually 19-8 at the 12:40 mark after Vezele's dunk. KSC later scored five quick points to get back within six and hang around, but Darby's three with a little over eight minutes left in the opening half gave the Anchormen a 27-17 advantage. The Owls hit back with an 8-2 burst in a little over two minutes, making it 29-25 after two Franklin free throws, but once again could not get any closer and eventually found themselves down by 13 (42-29) following a trey and two free throws from Jacobs in the final 1:22. Franklin's buzzer-beating three brought Keene State's deficit to 10 heading into the intermission.
The second half did not paint a prettier picture for the Owls in the early going, as Jonatan Batista canned a three 50 seconds in to make it 48-34 RIC, and the Anchormen still were up 54-42 after a triple from Darby three minutes later. A layup by Beasley got KSC's deficit back under double-figures at 56-47 with 13:39 to go, and Diallo's layup two minutes after that made it an eight-point game (59-51), but the Anchormen immediately scored the next six and eventually pushed the lead to a game-high 16 (69-53) after two free throws from Jacobs and Vezele's layup at the 9:09 mark. KSC still found themselves down by the same margin a minute later, but kept hope alive with a quick 6-0 burst that featured four points by Hunter, including a flush, and a bucket by Diallo, making it 73-63. However, Deng, who struggled from three all day, connected on one with just under five minutes remaining that seemingly was a dagger and put RIC up 13. Keene State had other ideas, as Nick Redden and Beasley answered with triples of their own to bring the Owls within 78-71 at the 3:28 mark. KSC clamped down on defense from there, as they drew a charge and blocked a three on the next two RIC trips while making it a one-possession game (78-75) following a bucket by Redden, who had come up with the block seconds earlier.
Two free throws by Vezele after a KSC foul in the backcourt gave the Anchormen an 80-75 lead with 2:05 left, but the star of the day, Hunter, answered on the other end to keep the Owls right there. RIC misfired from three again on their next trip, giving the Owls the ball with a chance to tie, and Beasley did just that, connecting from distance to make it 80-80 with 1:04 remaining. After forcing another empty possession for the Anchormen, the Owls had the ball with just over 30 seconds to go and, after missing a three of their own, saw Diallo get fouled in the rebounding action with 10 ticks left. He sunk the ensuing two free throws, putting KSC ahead for the first time. RIC had one more chance, but Darby missed a two and Hunter grabbed the board and was fouled with 3.4 on the clock. The Owl big man punctuated his day by making two from the line to polish off Keene State's comeback.
Inside the Paint
- Hunter's strong showing moved his scoring average from 9.5 per game to 10.3, and his shooting performance vaulted him back up to second in the conference (56.1) among qualified players, trailing only Manny Alisandro of Plymouth State University (56.4).
- Keene State finished 31-of-57 (54%) from the floor on the game and RIC 25-of-62 (40%), including just 12-of-33 (36%) in the second half. The Owls' shooting percentage was their highest since November 16 when they shot 56.3 percent in a win at Salem State University. Both teams took advantage of their free throws, as the Anchormen made 20-of-21 (95%) and the Owls 15-of-18 (83%), including all four in the final 10 seconds.
- KSC has won seven of the last nine head-to-head meetings.
- Keene State has a critical conference matchup at nemesis Eastern Connecticut State University (10-13, 6-8 LEC) on Wednesday, February 19. Tip-off is at 7:30 pm. The Owls could clinch a tournament spot with a victory over the Warriors that evening. The one through six spots in the league are still separated by just two and a half games.
- Rhode Island College hosts now first-place Western Connecticut State University (15-7, 9-4 LEC) on the same evening.