PLYMOUTH, N.H. - After stunning second-seeded Keene State College 95-78 in Friday night's semi-final, the third-seeded Western Connecticut State University men's basketball team shocked top-seeded Plymouth State College 92-60 Saturday at Foley Gymnasium to capture the championship of the Little East Conference Tournament.
The Warriors, 16-10 overall, capture the tournament for the first time since 1996, and earn the automatic bid to the Division III NCAA Tournament. It will be WCSU's first post-season appearance since making the trip to the NCAAs in '96.
Senior Juma Jones (Hartford, CT) scored 12 points and grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds for the Colonials and was selected Tournament MVP. He was joined on the All-Tournament Team by teammates Joshua Reese (New Britain, CT) and Jason Engram (Hartford, CT), Plymouth State's Adam DeChristopher (Brockton, MA), Eastern Connecticut's Rich Martin (Bridgeport, CT) and Keene State's Jamie Smith (Colchester, VT).
"We came in known as a defensive team," said WCSU head coach Bob Campbell, who picked up career win No. 301 Saturday, "but this weekend we showed that we're a good offensive team as well. I was shocked by our margin of victory, I expected a much closer game."
The Panthers, 20-7, were never really in it. PSC shot just 26 percent overall and from three-point range, and converted just 60 percent from the free throw line. The Panthers were outrebounded, 55-35, and a team that averaged 85 points for the season scored just 60 points Saturday.
"We came out flat," said PSC head coach Jim Ferry. "We didn't have any energy. I think we used up all of our gas in (Friday) night's emotional game, and we ran into a buzz saw today."
It was a solid team effort for the Warriors, as Jones was one of five Colonials to score in double figures. Freshman Kevin Matthews (Ossining, NY) and sophomore Kejuan McCall (Hartford, CT) shared team-high honors with 13 points, and Jones, Engram and freshman Leonard Rinas (Bristol, CT) scored 12 points apiece.
"We shot the ball better, and that was the difference today," said Campbell, who improved his career record to 301-104. "We made our free throws, and did the things we had to do to win this weekend."
Plymouth State trailed by double digits most of the first half, and was down 38-18 at the break. PSC cut the lead to 12 points (47-35) with 12 minutes to play, but Western scored the next 11 points and never looked back.
DeChristopher added a team-high eight rebounds to his 20 points, and scored his 2,000th career point early in the first half, becoming only the 12th men's college basketball player in New Hampshire history to reach the milestone. But he connected on only 6-of-21 from the floor, 4-of-11 from long-range, and 4-of-10 from the line, and was the only Panther to score in double figures.
"They came out and jumped all over us in the first five or six minutes of the game," said Ferry, "and that was the difference. They (WCSU) are definitely a team that got better and better as the year went on."
Plymouth State will likely play at least one more game this season. If the Panthers do not receive an NCAA Tournament At-Large bid, they have a strong chance at receiving an ECAC New England Tournament berth, the team's fourth straight post-season appearance.
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