Arsenault, Preston and Nwokeji lead Panthers to victory
WATERVILLE, MAINE – Clutch free-throw shooting in the final minute helped Plymouth State University (1-0) hold off a pesky Thomas College (0-1) team 77-71 in the men's basketball season-opener for both teams Friday night.
The Panthers, who led by as many as ten points in the second half, saw the lead cut to just two, 71-69, after Thomas junior Tyheem Simon (Far Rockaway, N.Y.) buried a three-pointer with 55 seconds remaining. PSU connected on all six free throw attempts, two each by sophomore Brian Boulay (Keene, N.H.), junior Jack Preston (Nashua, N.H.) and senior Uche Nwokeji (Lynn, Mass.), to close out the game and stave off a Terriers rally.
Junior Curtis Arsenault (Berlin, N.H.) led the Panther attack, netting a game-high 19 points (8-of-15 shooting) while pulling down six rebounds. Preston added 18 points (7-of-12) and six boards, while Nwokeji was good for 15 points (6-of-11) and a game-high eight rebounds.
Simon led Thomas with 16 points, but struggled from the field connecting on just 4-of-11 shots. Senior Levi Barnes (Skowhegan, Maine) added 14 points, while classmate Mike Akanji added 10 points and six boards. Sophomore Carlos Gonzalez (Kennebunk, Maine) was the fourth Terrier in double-figures, netting 10 points while grabbing a team-high seven rebounds.
Thomas opened the scoring with a triple by Akanji, and the Terriers held the lead for most of the first half. A Preston three-pointer gave PSU its first lead of the season at 6-5 after 3:13, but Akanji hit another three to reclaim the lead. Thomas led by as many as four before an Arsenault layup tied the game at 15-15 with 12:46 remaining in the first half.
The Terriers used a 10-2 spurt to claim their biggest lead of the night 29-20 with just over 5:00 to play in the opening half, but the Panthers closed on an 11-3 run to trail 31-32 at the intermission. Arsenault, Preston and Nwokeji combined for eight of the 11 points, all in the paint, while junior Nathan Clarke (Reading, Mass.) added a three-pointer.
PSU seemed to take control in the second half, using a 12-0 spurt to turn a 41-39 deficit into a 51-41 lead with 12:23 left to play. Again it was the trifecta of Arsenault, Preston and Nwokeji doing the damage, as each had four points during the stretch. After a Thomas basket, Preston again pushed the lead to double-figures, 53-43, hitting a jumper with exactly 10:00 remaining.
The Terriers chipped away, cutting the Panther lead to two points on three separate occasions, but PSU was solid from the line to close out the victory.
PSU held slight edges in rebounds (35-32), assists (13-10) and turnovers (18-20), and the Panthers had advantages of in second chance points (19-13) and points in the paint (36-32), though the Terriers bench outscored their PSU counterparts 35-9.
Plymouth State returns to the hardwood on Tuesday when the Panthers square off with rival Rivier University in the Boys & Girls Club Classic held at NHTI in Concord (8:00 p.m.). Thomas College is also on the road Tuesday as the Terriers travel to Nichols College for a 7:00 p.m. tilt.
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