Panthers' strong interior play not enough in LEC loss
GORHAM, Maine – Senior Jose Nouchanthavong (Westbrook, Maine) was on fire Wednesday night, celebrating Senior Day with a season-high 34 points, including eight three-pointers, while leading the University of Southern Maine to an 89-76 win over Plymouth State University in Little East Conference (LEC) men's basketball action.
The victory guarantees Southern Maine at least the number two seed in next week's LEC Tournament, as the Huskies improve to 15-9 (9-4 LEC). Plymouth State drops to 15-9 overall, and 6-7 in conference play.
Junior Curtis Arsenault (Berlin, N.H.) got the Panthers off to a good start, scoring nine points in the opening six minutes to help PSU to an early 13-9 lead. Nouchanthavong connected on his first three-pointer on the next Huskies' possession and moments later USM took a 16-15 lead on a layup from junior Atencio Martin (Kittery, Maine).
The Panthers' inside game took control, with senior Uche Nwokeji (Lynn, Mass.) and junior Jack Preston (Nashua, N.H.) combining for 12 of Plymouth's 16 points over an eight minute stretch in the opening half. A Nwokeji layup gave PSU a 23-20 lead with 8:22 to play in the first half, but Nouchanthavong put USM back up 25-23 a minute later with another long ball.
Freshman Liam Densmore (Portland, Maine) connected from downtown to give Plymouth State a 31-30 lead with 4:28 left in the half, but Nouchanthavong and junior Omar Haji-Hersi (Auburn, Maine) combined for five straight points for Southern Maine to go up 35-31. Nwokeji was good from inside on consecutive PSU possessions to knot the score at 35-35, but the Huskies scored four straight points to close the half with a 39-35 lead.
Nwokeji finished the half with 12 points on six-of-eight shooting. Nouchanthavong had 10 points at the break to lead USM, but saved his best offense for the second half.
The Panthers stayed within striking distance through the first nine minutes of the second half until USM got hot from long range. A triple for Martin put the Huskies up 57-47 and Nouchanthavong hit from deep on the next USM possession. PSU junior Ernie Johnson (Springfield, Mass.) got into the shootout connecting from deep after another Martin triple, but Nouchanthavong drained another from distance to increase the lead to 70-57 with just over eight minutes remaining.
PSU made multiple attempts to cut into the lead, but every Panther run was seemingly stopped by another momentum killing three-pointer. Arsenault buried a three from the right wing to make it 72-61, but Nouchanthavong answered at the other end. Preston, freshman Mike Osgood (Nashua, N.H.) and junior Nick MacGregor (Rochester, N.H.) scored five straight to cut the deficit to 86-74 with just under two minutes to play, but Nouchanthavong sank a step-back, straight away three to halt the comeback bid.
Nwokeji finished with his eighth double-double of the season totaling team highs of 23 points (11-of-15 shooting) and 11 rebounds. Preston finished with 17 points (7-of-11) and six boards, and Arsenault added 16 points and three assists.
Nouchanthavong torched the PSU defense for the second time this season. He finished with 34 points (11-of-17), and drained 8-of-10 from beyond the arc. He dropped 31 points in a narrow 75-73 win at Plymouth State exactly three weeks ago. Martin finished with 20 points and nine boards, and junior Zach Leal (York, Maine) added 13 points.
Plymouth State closes out the regular season with a huge conference game Saturday (3:00 p.m.). The Panthers still have a chance at a home playoff game for the first time since the 2008-09 season, but will need some help. Southern Maine will travel to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, also on Saturday, with tip-off set for 3:00 p.m.
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