After a season in which the Keene State men’s basketball team went 20-10 and won the Little East Conference Title, four Owls’ efforts for their team earned them individual honors.
Seniors Nate Stitchell and Nate Howard, junior Matt Ozzella, and rookie Ty Nichols earned LEC team honors for their performances this season.
“It’s nice getting recognition,” Ozzella said.
Ozzella, who made the LEC first team, has averaged nearly 13 points a game, scoring at least 15 in 12 games this season. He also had as many as 18 rebounds in a game, which came against UMass Dartmouth. Ozzella has also accumulated six double-doubles over the course of the season. Interim Head Coach Ryan Cain said that the Massachusetts native is a special kind of player, noting his physical strength and overall versatility.
“I don’t know that you can describe him as a player because he does so many different things on the basketball court,” Cain said.
Next, the seven-foot-tall Howard made the LEC second team. Howard nearly averaged a double-double over the course of the season, with 10.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, including the Dec. 30 game against Loras College, where the center snagged 19 rebounds and 22 points. Even after missing two games with a separated shoulder in late Jan., Howard has managed to come back and score at least fourteen points on five different occasions.
Cain touched on Howard’s all-out type of play as being an asset to the team.
“Nate Howard has played so hard game in and game out. He dives on every loose ball, he makes so many little hustle plays and he’s definitely a guy that we want to give a lot of touches to,” Cain said.
Stitchell defended well enough to steal him a spot on the All-Defensive team. The point guard stepped into the starting lineup this year, has averaged over 15 points a game and more than two steals a game. According to both Stitchell and Cain, Stitchell’s high energy and determination is what has made him difficult to score against, and it rubs off on his teammates, even when some players are too hurt to play.
“Nate Stitchell has been our heart and soul, basically throughout our entire season. We had some injuries and he was the guy that maintained that confidence level and really pushed our team to keep playing at a high level,” Cain said.
Finally, Nichols, who is in his first year with the team, got named to the All-Rookie Team. The first-year forward won two state championships while in high school and came out firing in his first game as an Owl, scoring eighteen points against Green Mountain College.
From then on, Nichols has averaged just under thirteen points a game, including a 20-point performance in the LEC Finals against UMass Dartmouth. Cain said Nichols’ experience in important games is what makes him play like a veteran collegiate player.
“He’s anything but a freshmen at this point. He’s playing like a senior. He’s just so confident in big moments,” Cain said.
With four players on the Owls making the cut for LEC recognition, Stitchell said that there were other players who could have made it on the list of awardees and said that the prominence of KSC ballers on these hypothetical best-of-the best LEC teams shows that no one on the team is focused on individual success, but instead on what’s best for their team.
“It shows exactly how we are on the court,” Stitchell said.
Now the Owls are in the Sweet 16 after winning the LEC championship for the second year in a row. Stitchell and his teammates said that they are good enough and earned the right to play against some of the best teams in the country, with some of the best players in the LEC.
“This year, we’re happy to be here, we understand that we’re supposed to be here,” Stitchell said.
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