KEENE, N.H. - Top-seeded Keene State College overcame an eight-point halftime deficit Saturday afternoon to defeat second-seeded and archrival Plymouth State University, 79-67, and claim its first-ever Little East Conference Men's Basketball Tournament Championship before 2,200 at Spaulding Gymnasium.
The Owls, the tournament runner-up in 1998, 2001, and 2002, improved to 23-5 overall and earned the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament. Keene State will find out on Sunday evening its first-round NCAA opponent and site.
PSU, which fell in the LEC title game for the second straight season, is also 23-5 after having its eight-game winning streak stopped. PSU, which set a program record for wins this year, awaits a possible berth to the ECAC New England Tournament.
Senior Alphonse Michalski (Northampton, Mass.), who scored 18 points in the title game, was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament. Sean Sullivan (Athol, Mass.) also scored 19 points for the Owls, and Matt Wheeler (Shrub Oak, N.Y.) finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Chris Timson rounded out KSC's double-figure scorers with 16 points.
Freshman Andreas Pope (Brooklyn, N.Y.) led the Panther effort with 21 points and nine rebounds. Guards Nick Pelotte (Bingham, Maine) and Mike Loughlin (Manchester, N.H.) contributed 14 points apiece for the visitors, and junior Anthony Oglesby (Brooklyn, N.Y.) chipped in with 11 points and eight boards.
Despite scoring the first 11 points of the game, Keene State found itself down by nine (24-15) following a 24-4 run by the Panthers at the 8:26 mark. PSU, which led by as many as 11 points, settled for an eight-point cushion (37-29) at the break.
KSC pulled back ahead in the second half, and it was a four-point lead (57-53) when the Owls went on an 11-4 run to push their advantage back up to 11 points (68-57). Keene State hit 20-of-24 free throws in the second half, keeping the Panthers at bay the rest of the game.
After meeting three times in LEC semifinal games (1998, 2002, and 2003), KSC and PSU were meeting for the first time in a conference championship contest. Both teams were looking for their first championship. The Owls defeated the Panthers for the third time in four outings this season.
The Panthers are hoping for their third straight ECAC berth, and sixth in the last eight years, when the tournament field is announced on Monday.