The Keene State College men’s basketball team is heading back into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007. Keene State were able to get through the first two rounds on top on March 4 and March 5 against Stockton University and Middlebury College in Galloway, New Jersey.
In the opening round of the tournament, the Owls took down the host institution Stockton 72-71 in overtime. The Owls had a 37-26 lead at halftime in that contest. However, Stockton was able to regain the lead in the second half and the game came down to the wire.
Keene State was down 61-57 with almost one minute to go in the game. First-year player Ty Nichols took over and converted a three-point play to pull the Owls within one point. Keene State was able to take a 63-61 lead, but the Ospreys were able to tie the game to force overtime with a layup from Jaymere Hadden.
Keene State started out overtime hot as they opened with a 6-2 run to take a 69-65 lead. The Ospreys responded to take 71-69 lead over the Owls with over 1:30 remaining in overtime. Nichols was able to get to the foul line for the Owls and tie it at 71-71.
With five seconds left the Ospreys missed a jump shot to win the game. Junior Matt Ozzella came away with the rebound for the Owls and was fouled by Hadden with just three second remaining. Ozzella went to the line and missed the first free throw, but made the second one to give the Owls a 72-71 lead. A last second heave at the buzzer was no good and Keene State advanced to the next round with a 72-71 victory.
Ozzella led the Owls with 18 points and senior Nate Howard contributed nine points and grabbed a team high 14 rebounds.
Ozzella said the wins make him feel good.
“It’s an awesome feeling everyday you walk in the gym you see the banner in there with 06-07 Sweet 16. It is just awesome to get to that point and leave a mark in the gym like the 06-07 team did,” Ozzella said.
Junior Lucas Hamel just like Ozzella recognized the team’s accomplishments. “To be able to accomplish a goal of getting to the Sweet 16 is a really cool accomplishment,” Hamel said.
In second round action, KSC saw a familiar foe in Middlebury and the Owls defeated the Panthers 74-72. With the win the Owls went 1-1 against the Panthers.
Keene State and the Panthers went back and forth early on, but an 11-0 run gave the Owls some breathing room putting them up 24-11 with over ten minutes to go in the first half. At halftime, KSC led 41-29 over Middlebury.
Keene State was able to still have a sizable lead midway through the second half at 61-47. The Panthers would not go quietly as the lead was cut to 68-63 with less than two minutes remaining. The Panthers then pulled to within three points with less than one minute to go.
Keene State was able to escape after Howard’s two missed free throws as the Panthers had three cracks to tie the game, but could not score. The Panthers buzzer beater attempt was no good and Keene State was able to come away with a 74-72 victory.
KSC Interim Head Coach Ryan Cain said his team staying together has gotten them to this point.
“We believe in each other and I think that helps in tough situations get us through those situations and allows us to make good plays,” Cain said.
The Owls (20-10) will take on Christopher Newport University (30-1) in the Sweet 16 on Saturday, March 11. The Owls will travel to SUNY Oswego for the round of 16. The Owls and the Captains tip-off at 5:30 p.m.
Brian Clemmenson can be contacted at email@example.com