WILLIMANTIC, Conn. - Senior Jason O'Keefe (Everett, Mass.) sank two free throws with 3.3 seconds left to force overtime and junior Ryan Lambert (Derry, N.H./Pinkerton) hit a game-winning bucket from the top of the key with 0.5 seconds left in overtime Saturday afternoon to give Plymouth State University a 77-75 Little East Conference men's basketball victory over Eastern Connecticut State University at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.
Eastern (13-6, 5-4 little east) led by six points with one minute left in regulation in a game which featured 13 lead changes, but Plymouth State (12-7, 5-4 little east) outscored Eastern 9-3 the rest of the way to force overtime. Senior Bryan Tracy (Manchester, N.H./Central) scored five points in the run and Eric Hondal (Miami, Fla.) two and O'Keefe forced overtime when he swished two free throws with 3.3 seconds left.
Edwin Ortiz (Hartford, Conn.) had given Eastern a 68-66 lead with two free throws with 4.8 seconds left, but O'Keefe was fouled when trying to score in traffic on a long, well-placed in-bounds pass from Tracy with the clock winding down. Eastern's Nick Nedwick (Irvington, N.Y.) saved the game at that point by fouling O'Keefe in traffic on what appeared to be a certain basket, but O'Keefe converted both free throws. Nedwick's three-point field goal at the horn bounced off the rim.
In overtime, Hondal converted two free throws to tie the game for the 10th time with 1:19 left, but Eastern couldn't score on its final two possessions. With 27 seconds left, Lambert blocked a shot by Nedwick and O'Keefe grabbed the rebound to set up Lambert's game-winning shot with 0.5 left. With Eastern needing to go the length of the floor, Bill Roveto's (South Windsor, Conn.) long pass to Mike Garrow (Terryville, Conn.) was batted away by Tom Dowd as the horn sounded.
PSU connected on all 11 of its free throws after the break, with senior Bill Stowell (Stratham, N.H.) and O'Keefe each canning all four of their tries in the second half. Plymouth played the final five minutes of regulation and all of overtime without 6-foot-6 inch top scorer Mike Chergey (Bow, NH), who fouled out with 5:36 left in a tie game.
Lambert, who came off the bench, scored 12 of his 14 points after the break, but his game-winning field goal was his only points of overtime. Ortiz scored 22 of his game-high 27 points after the break, finishing with five three-pointers in ten tries and seven rebounds. He was 5-for-6 from the foul line in overtime.
Eastern and Plymouth State are two of three teams locked in third place in the conference. Rhode Island College's 62-61 victory at UMass Dartmouth snaps a two-way tie for the conference lead between those teams.
PSU, beaten by Eastern, 77-61 Dec. 12 at Plymouth, N.H., snapped a two-game losing streak. Eastern has lost three in a row and lost for the first time at home after four straight wins.
The Panthers play a non-conference game Tuesday at Bowdoin (7:00 p.m.), while the Warriors also play a non-conference game on Tuesday at Wesleyan (7:30 p.m.)
(Courtesy of Eastern Conn. Sports Information)