Panthers suffer LEC overtime loss despite Nwokeji's big game
KEENE, N.H. – Junior Matt Ozzella (Medway, Mass.) hit a dagger three-pointer with 58 seconds left in overtime to help lead Keene State College to a 78-71 win over Plymouth State University in Little East Conference (LEC) men's basketball Wednesday night.
The Panthers had two chances to tie the score on the next possession but were unable to connect from long range, and a pair of free throws from freshman Ty Nichols (Springfield, Mass.) secured the Keene State victory.
Plymouth State falls to 12-5 (3-3 LEC), losing two-straight for just the second time this season. The Owls improve to 10-6 overall and 3-3 in the LEC.
The teams traded free throws to open the overtime session, before an interior basket from junior Ernie Johnson (Springfield, Mass.) put the Panthers up 69-67 with just over three minutes to play. The Owls got inside baskets from junior Jeff Lunn (Nashua, N.H.) and classmate Jaquel Edwards (Manchester, Conn.) to go up 71-69 with 1:46 left. Plymouth State junior Curtis Arsenault (Berlin, N.H.) retied the game with a fadeaway jumper on the baseline with 1:18 left in the extra frame, setting up Ozzella's game-winning triple.
Senior Nate Stitchell (Coventry, R.I.) and Ozzella combined for eight early points to give the hosts a 10-5 lead in the opening 2:45. Johnson and junior Nick MacGregor (Rochester, N.H.) connected from deep on three straight PSU possessions, and triple from Arsenault put Plymouth State in front 25-14 with 9:27 remaining in the first half. The Owls responded with a 14-2 run before Johnson connected twice from inside to put the Panthers back in the lead 31-28. Edwards connected for the Owls, but a reverse layup from Plymouth State senior Uche Nwokeji (Lynn, Mass.) gave PSU a slight 33-30 advantage at the break.
Ozzella hit a three-pointer from the left wing to put the Owls in front 40-35 after 3:20 in the second half. Nwokeji found sophomore Kieran Beck (Danvers, Mass.) with a behind-the-back pass and Beck finished from inside for a 40-37 deficit moments later. Sophomore Brian Boulay (Keene, N.H.) drained a pair of deep three-pointers, then an Arsenault jumper put PSU up 53-46 with 7:54 left to play.
Keene State chipped away, retaking the lead, 55-54, after a layup from Edwards with just over five minutes remaining. Nwokeji finished after a pretty feed from junior Nathan Clarke (Reading, Mass.) to tie the game 62-62 with two minutes left. Another Nwokeji bucket knotted the score at 65-65 with 18 seconds to play. Keene State had a chance at a game-winner, but the jumper at the buzzer clanged off the back rim.
Nwokeji was unstoppable down low for the Panthers. The senior finished with team-highs of 21 points (9-of-14) and 14 rebounds, posting his fourth double-double of the season. Johnson was solid off the bench, finishing with 12 points (5-of-10), three rebounds and two assists, while Boulay had 11 points, including a trifecta of three-pointers, in his homecoming. Clarke dished out a game-high seven assists to go with three steals, and juniors Jack Preston (Nashua, N.H.) and Arsenault combined for 17 points.
Keene State got 22 points and five assists from Stitchell, and Edwards added 18 points (8-of-10) and four boards. Ozzella posted a double-double with 13 points, including three-of-four shooting from beyond the arc, and 15 rebounds, while Nichols ended with 10 points with a spotless performance from the charity stripe (8-of-8).
The Panthers outshot KSC from the field and long-range. PSU finished at 42% (28-of-67) from the floor and 47% (7-of-15) from deep, while the Owls were 41% (24-of-59) overall and 37% (7-of-19) from downtown. Keene State took 18 more free throws than PSU, though, leading to a 23-8 scoring advantage from the line.
Plymouth State will look to regroup Saturday at Rhode Island College (3:00 p.m.). The Panthers defeated the Anchormen 75-63 at home on Dec. 5. Keene State will square off with LEC foe University of Massachusetts Dartmouth at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday.
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