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A Sweetspot For The Nationally Ranked Owls: Home Is Where March Madness Begins Again

Story By:
Paul Miller | Director of Strategic Communications and Community Relations
Homecourt Advantage (3)
A sea of fans and Keene State players train their attention on the action on the court during a game at Spaulding Gym.

Can You Feel It? These Fans And Players Can!

Spaulding Gymnasium is a revved-up place on game day: music, dancers, student performers, a couch for a lucky fan or two, popcorn, and lots of chants, stomps, ovations and top-notch, high-octane collegiate basketball.

It’s a vibe the fans, players, and coaches love and feed off.

On Friday, the home venue of the nation’s No. 5 DIII team will be abuzz again for the 14th time this season when Keene State hosts one of 16 first-round NCAA Tournament pods for the second consecutive year.

A crowd of 1,300 settled into Spaulding last Saturday to watch the Owls become the first men’s basketball team in 29 years to win three straight Little East Conference (LEC) championships, methodically dismantling a stout Western Connecticut squad, 84-68.

The Owls tip at 6:15 p.m. Friday against Marymount University of Arlington, Virginia. In the first game, at 3:45 p.m., Eastern University of St. Davids, Pennsylvania, plays the College of New Jersey of Ewing Township in the Garden State.

Keene State is gunning for a second straight Sweet 16 appearance.

When I’m playing at home in front of our beloved crowd, I feel sanctioned, welcomed and eager to do great things with my teammates. I just feel like we can’t let our fans down and it makes us play even harder than we would’ve already.”

– Keene State point guard Nate Siow

The power of this Keene State intangible, home court advantage can’t be overstated. Students, staff, faculty, and a strong contingent of followers from the greater community come out in large numbers to create the unique, sometimes frenzied atmosphere. These fan factions need no acquainting.

“It’s everyone coming together as one, and there’s no environment like it,” Marty Mahoney, an alum, retired educator and longtime fan, said. “I’ve been to a lot of places to watch games, big and small, and nothing compares. We’re lucky.”

Said senior Emma Cahoon, who plays on the field hockey team: “I love being able to watch fellow student-athletes succeed at what they love in an environment like Spaulding Gym. Everyone is so close together and I love being able to be so involved in the game!”

Homecourt advantage (2)
Tenth at Nationals this year, the Keene State Dance Team is part of Spaulding Gym’s fun game-day vibe.

Game attendance figures are downright gaudy, as are so many team statistics. Consider:

  • Averaging 915 fans a game this season, the Owls rank 10th in the nation in that category. The next closest LEC team, R.I. College, ranks 133rd, at 329 fans per game. Keene State’s total attendance so far in 2023-24 is 11,895, a figure that will only swell as Friday’s contest is sold out.

  • The Owls finished last season with the fifth-best per-game attendance average (1,051) in the nation, a campaign in which they reached a program-best No. 4 national ranking.

  • The team is 28-3 at home the past two seasons, 41-6 over the last four seasons, and 101-24 since the start of the 2014-2015 season when the Owls secured the first of their seven NCAA appearances.

  • The Owls were 17-1 at home in the regular season last year, the lone blemish a loss to Middlebury. The Owls finished that regular season with 10 straight home wins.

  • Over the past three seasons, the team has outscored its opponents at home by 19.2 points per contest and shot 46.6 percent from the floor.

  • The Owls have been ranked in the Top 25 for 27 straight polls. It rose from No. 11 to its current spot in the poll released Monday.

“Fan and community support is second to none year in and out for the Little East Conference,” Keene State Coach David Hastings said. “The sounds and encouragement from the stands can provide us with a little extra something special to get our team going. We believe we have some of the best fans in Division III and challenge other institutions to prove us wrong.”

Ryan Hearn, who has covered the team as the College’s sports information assistant since 2019 and who pens passion-filled, breathless dispatches about their games and accolades, said “Spaulding Gym is just a cool place to watch a game. It can get very loud … and exciting.”

“I have been to all the venues in the conference at various times,” Ryan said, “and it could be my bias showing, but the community support here is striking comparatively. A game in 2012 when we upset No. 1 and unbeaten Middlebury absolutely stands out for me as perhaps the best atmosphere in the gym that I’ve experienced.”

Said Owl junior swingman Octavio Brito, the squad’s leading scorer going into Friday’s game: “Home court means everything to the team. Being able to play in front of the community and our peers is an indescribable feeling, especially during the NCAA Tournament.”

Before the start of this season, Spaulding Gym got a new hard-maple parquet surface and paint scheme, and more commemorative banners were hoisted.

It’s the little things combined that make playing at home different, said Owl point guard Nate Siow, who netted 22 points in Saturday’s title game.

“When I’m playing at home in front of our beloved crowd, I feel sanctioned, welcomed, and eager to do great things with my teammates. I just feel like we can’t let our fans down and it makes us play even harder than we would’ve already. We are so used to the rims and the atmosphere – it’s a real advantage.”

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