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Owls to Host First-Round LEC Hoop Tournament Games

Owl fans are ready for LEC tournament action!
Owl fans are ready for LEC tournament action!

KEENE, N.H. 2/25/08 - “It’s better to be playing them at home than on the road,” said Keene State women’s basketball coach Keith Boucher about his team’s first-round Little East Conference tournament opponent Rhode Island College.

Both Keene State men’s and women’s basketball teams hope home court advantage will work in their favor as they get set for LEC quarterfinals games at Spaulding Gym on Tuesday. The fourth-seeded KSC women (15-10) go up against fifth seed RIC (12-12) at 5:30 p.m. and the Keene State men (15-10), seeded third, face sixth seed Western Conn. State University (14-10) at 7:30 p.m.

With victories, the Owls will advance to semifinals games at the highest remaining seed on Friday.

Keene State, which will be playing RIC for the first time in tournament play, has had a couple of interesting games against the Anchorwomen already this season. The Owls fought back from a 20-11 halftime deficit to defeat RIC 65-51 at Spaulding Gym. The Anchorwomen returned the favor in Providence, coming back from a 10-point halftime hole to edge the Owls in overtime 66-64.

“This time of year it’s all about playing with intensity and focus,” said Boucher. “If we do that for 40 minutes, we’re capable of playing well in the tournament.”

The Owls will be led the sophomore duo of Nicole Simmler (12.2 ppg., 6.8 rpg.) and Kristin Degou (10.4 ppg.) and junior point guard Michele Boudreau (9.2 ppg., 2.5 apg.).

RIC relies heavily on senior point guard Sarah Coughlin (9.0 ppg., 6.2 apg.) to get the ball into the hands of its top scorers, guard Alice Mullen (10.1 ppg.) and forward Sherri Heard (10.3 ppg., 6.4 rpg.).

Keene State women have reached the LEC finals twice, losing to Southern Maine last year (68-57) and in 2005 (68-29). The Owls advanced to the second round four other times.

Rhode Island College has never advanced to the LEC finals. It reached the semifinal round 11 times, most recently in 2005 when the Anchorwomen fell to Southern Maine 81-47.

The Keene State men expected to be hosting Eastern Connecticut State, a team they have beaten by an average of 29.5 points, in its opening round game. But the Warriors put a monkey wrench into the pairings with their 79-77 upset win over R.I. College on Saturday. That victory gave UMass-Dartmouth the top seed and pushed Western Conn. down to the sixth spot, giving the Colonials a first- round date with the Owls.

“It’s been that type of year from top to bottom in the conference,” said KSC men’s coach Rob Colbert. “In my nine years, I’ve never seen so many upsets. It’s a great thing. Players will go into the tournament feeling like they can do it too.”

Like the KSC women, the Owl men have also played a couple of unusual games against their first-round opponent with each team winning by lopsided scores on the road. After beating the Colonials handily (80-68) in Danbury, the Owls were handed a tough 107-91 loss at Spaulding Gym.

Both teams have their strengths. While KSC generates most of its points in the frontcourt, WCSU possesses a quick and dangerous group of backcourt players that can get to the hoop or knock down the three-ball.

The Owls’ “Big-Three” of forwards Tyler Kathan (18.0 ppg., 8.2 rpg.), Travon Little (13.2 ppg., 6.7 rpg.), and Nick Drouin (11.4 ppg., 5.7 rpg.) will try to get the upper-hand over a Colonial line-up that includes forward Jaime Procino (13.7 ppg., 8.0 rpg.) and guards Dashon Jennings (12.4 ppg.), Michael Jensen (10.2 ppg.), and Tyshawn Gillespie (9.5 ppg.). Jennings torched the Owls for 30 points, including five three-pointers, in their win at Keene - the most points by any LEC opponent all season.

“They have two guys [Jennings and Jensen], who shoot threes at about 40 percent,” said Colbert. “One is enough; two is a little bit troublesome.”

With a 16 point loss still fresh in their mind, KSC players won’t be lacking for incentive when they take the floor Tuesday night. “I think there’s some added motivation for not only our kids, but our staff to find out what happened in that game,” Colbert said.

As far as tournament history is concerned, the Colonials have the advantage. Western Conn. has won five LEC tournament championships, including 2002 when it edged the Owls (86-83). Keene State won its lone LEC title in 2004 defeating Plymouth State 79-67. The Owls reached the finals five other times.

“Everyone knows the consequences. We’ll be playing golf soon, if we don’t come out ready to play,” Colbert said. “I’m hopeful that through the up and down season we had that the team has learned what its going to take to win. “Things like effort, energy, and enthusiasm are clearly non-negotiable.”

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