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Panther Men’s Hoop escapes with win over Southern Maine

PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Freshman Andreas Pope (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and senior Mike Loughlin (Manchester, N.H.) combined for 41 points Tuesday night to lead Plymouth State University past the University of Southern Maine, 75-70, in the opening round of the Little East Conference Men's Basketball Tournament at a packed Foley Gymnasium.

The Panthers, winners of seven in a row and nine of their last 10, improve to 22-4 overall. The Huskies, who came in as the tournament's seventh seed, ends their season at 9-17. Plymouth State's 22 victories so far matches the most in a season in school history. The 1998-99 team finished 22-8.

PSU advanced to play sixth-seeded UMass-Dartmouth Friday night at 6 p.m. at top-seeded Keene State College. The Corsairs upset the tournament's third seed Eastern Connecticut on Tuesday, 62-61, at Willimantic, Conn.

Plymouth State had three players score double figures on Tuesday night, with Pope and Loughlin scoring 21 and 20 points, respectively. The two combined to shoot 17-for-20 from the foul line. Junior Anthony Oglesby (Brooklyn, N.Y.) chipped in with 14 points and a team-high seven rebounds.

Southern Maine had a balanced attack with five players in double digits. Juniors Ryan Garland (Hermon, Maine) and Jay Casterella (Portland, Maine) led the way with 13 points apiece. Juniors Jason Levecque (Westbrook, Maine) and Derek Lovely (Oxford, Maine) added 11 points while Mike Francoeur (Somersworth, N.H.) had 10 points and five assists in the losing cause.

The Panthers struggled to 39-28 halftime lead on the strength of a 7-0 run in the final three minutes of the frame. Oglesby led that Panther run with five points and an assist. PSU took its biggest lead of the game, 41-28, after a basket to open the second half by J.J. Truman (Enfield, N.H.). The Huskies rallied all the way back to take the lead, 52-51, with 7:27 to go. The lead was short lived, however, as a Pope hit a lay-up and Loughlin added a three-pointer to give the Panthers the lead for good, 56-52.

PSU and UMass-Dartmouth split the season series with each winning at its home court. The Panthers beat the Corsairs, 87-70, on Dec. 13th in Plymouth, but lost 81-76 on Jan. 31st at Dartmouth, Mass.

Top-seeded Keene State will meet fourth-seeded Western Connecticut in the other semi-final Friday at 8 p.m. KSC will host the LEC final on Saturday at 3 p.m., with the winner receiving an automatic bid the NCAA Division III National Tournament.

(By Scott Miller)

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