KEENE, N.H. - Freshman Andreas Pope (Brooklyn, N.Y.) came off the bench to score 21 points and grab 11 rebounds Friday evening, leading second-seeded Plymouth State University past sixth-seeded University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 78-70, in the first semifinal of the Little East Conference Men's Basketball Tournament at Keene State College's Spaulding Gymnasium.
The Panthers won their ninth straight contest and improved to 23-4 overall. More importantly, PSU moves on to Saturday's 3:00 p.m. championship against top-seeded Keene State. The Owls eliminated defending champion and fourth-seeded Western Connecticut State University, 94-66, in Friday's second semifinal.
Plymouth State continued with the kind of play that has been successful all season. The Panthers, who are ranked fourth in the nation in field goal percentage defense and 14th in rebounding margin, held UMD to a 38.6 shooting percentage while owning a 45-34 advantage on the boards.
Plymouth State's 23 victories establishes a new school record for wins in a season. The previous standard was set by the 1998-99 squad, which finished 22-8.
In addition to Pope, junior Anthony Oglesby (Brooklyn, N.Y.) contributed his 11th double-double of the season for the Panthers with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and junior leading scorer Nick Pelotte (Bingham, Maine), who had missed three games with an injury, returned to the line-up and scored 18 points. Senior Mike Loughlin (Manchester, N.H.) also chipped in with 11 points and six assists for the winners.
The outcome spoiled strong performances by UMD juniors Joseph Britto (Fairhaven, Mass.) and Chris Lapriore (Grafton, Mass.). Britto scored 21 points and added five steals off the Corsairs bench, and Lapriore contributed 20 points and a game-high 15 rebounds. Freshman Paul Pawlowski (Taunton, Mass.) chipped in with 12 points.
UMD had the Panthers on the run throughout the first half. The Corsairs surged to a 10-point advantage (32-22) with four minutes to play, but didn't score again in the half and PSU responded with the last six points to head into the locker room down by four, 32-28.
There were eight lead changes in the first 10 minutes of the second half, with neither team leading by more than four points. UMD pulled ahead by six points (64-58) with six minutes to play, but PSU would not go away, going on an 8-1 run to take the lead for good (66-65) with 3:11 on the clock.
Oglesby scored five straight points to give the Panthers a six-point margin (71-65) with 2:09 to play. Britto hit a pair of buckets in the final 90 seconds, including a three-pointer that got the Corsairs to within three (73-70) with 23 seconds to play, but the Panthers converted 7-of-10 free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
Saturday's PSU match-up against Keene State will be the fourth meeting this season between the two rivals. They split the two LEC games this winter, but KSC took two out of three overall. The Owls won the first meeting, 86-70, a non-conference game in the N.H. Hoops Classic in Manchester, N.H., on Dec. 14. Keene State then went into Foley Gymnasium on Jan. 20 and handed the Panthers an 83-61 setback, but PSU rebounded with a 98-67 victory in Keene on Feb. 10.
PSU will make its second straight LEC Championship game appearance, losing to Western Connecticut in the closing seconds last season, 65-63. The LEC Champion receives an automatic bid the NCAA Division III National Tournament.
(Courtesy of Keene State Sports Information)
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