KEENE, N.H. - The Keene State College men's basketball team will hope the fresh start that comes with postseason play pays dividends in the 2020 Little East Conference tournament after an inconsistent regular season that saw the Owls finish with a 10-15 overall record and just the second losing mark at Spaulding Gymnasium since the 1997-98 season. KSC has won three of the past five league titles, but will be in unfamiliar territory this time around as the No. 6 seed and will play a quarterfinal game tonight (February 25) at third-seeded Plymouth State University's Foley Gymnasium.
Keene State had an up-and-down campaign and were 5-12 at one point before winning five of their past eight to finish the regular season at 10-15, 8-8 in the Little East Conference. The Owls clinched a playoff berth last Wednesday with a 74-60 win at Eastern Connecticut State University, but wound up finishing in sixth after a 58-55 home loss to regular season champion Western Connecticut State University on Saturday. KSC could have finished as high as third, but that spot was taken by Plymouth, who won their last two games, including a 61-54 triumph over UMass-Boston to sweep the season series in the regular season finale. The Panthers (15-10, 9-7 LEC) are 9-3 since January 15 and are enjoying their first winning season since 2015-16 (15-11).
Ryan Cain is in his fifth season with Keene State and has an overall record of 91-53 (.632), two Little East tournament titles, one NCAA Elite Eight appearance (2017), and one Sweet 16 trip (2016). Andrew Novick (101-131, .435) has been with Plymouth State since 2011.
A pair of big men are leading the Owls in scoring. Junior center James Anozie, who surpassed the 1,000 career point mark against Plymouth on February 5, is averaging 10.8 points per game on 51.7 percent shooting and 4.3 rebounds. Freshman Jeff Hunter has had a standout rookie season, averaging 10.2 points and a team-best 7.6 rebounds. His 54.4 percent shooting is second in the league. Hunter has averaged 13 points per game since January 27, including two efforts of more than 20 points. He scored a career-high 29 points on 12-of-15 shooting against Rhode Island College on February 15. Junior DeVon Beasley is chipping in 9.6 points per contest and classmate Jaylen Franklin 9.4 since he joined the Owls in the second semester. Beasley has scored 42 points on 12-of-24 three-point shooting in the two head-to-head meetings with Plymouth State this season. The Panthers are paced by the conference's fourth leading scorer Jaylen LeRoy (17.9 PPG), who is shooting 43 percent from the floor. The senior is also shooting 42 percent from long range and 88 percent at the charity stripe. Sophomores Dante Rivera (13.6 PPG) and Devin Cooper (11.5 PPG), the latter of which missed both regular season meetings, also average double-figures. Cooper grabs 9.1 boards per game, while classmate Manny Alisandro is second in the league in field goal percentage among qualified players (55.8%). Rivera paces the LEC in steals and steals per game (2.5).
The Earlier Matchups
The Owls swept the regular season series for the second straight year, posting an 89-70 win on the road on January 9 and an 83-77 overtime home win on February 5. In the first meeting at Foley Gym, KSC trailed 40-36 at halftime, but then outscored PSU 41-9 over the opening 13 minutes of the second half to roll to a win. The Owls had the upper hand for the opening 39 minutes of the return encounter, leading by as many as 17 in the second half, but needed a three by Beasley - one of his seven on 50 percent shooting - in the final seconds of regulation to tie the game before eventually prevailing in overtime.
The Rest of the Tournament
The other quarterfinal will see fourth-seeded UMass-Boston entertain No. 5 seed Rhode Island College this evening, with the winner advancing to face top-seeded Western Connecticut on Thursday night. Whoever emerges from this KSC/PSU matchup will head to Massachusetts to face UMass-Dartmouth on the same evening at 7:00 p.m. The two semifinal winners will meet for the Little East championship and NCAA tournament automatic bid on Saturday at a time to be determined. All games will take place at the site of the higher seed, a substantial change from the previous Little East "Final Four" format.