Panthers and Owls to meet Tuesday in Keene
by Stuart Kaufman, Keene State SID
The sports world is always loaded with questions. There's the old standard: Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? To the ongoing: Who's better the Yankees or the Red Sox? To the more current: Is Tim Tebo a legitimate NFL quarterback?
With the Keene State and Plymouth State University men's and women's basketball teams set to renew their long, but interrupted court confrontation at Spaulding Gym on Tuesday night, the status of the once-thriving rivalry comes into question: Is the rivalry still alive or on life-support?
For the record, the Keene State men's basketball rivalry dates back to the 1934-35 season, when Keene Normal School trounced its up-state rival Plymouth Normal 63-19. That turned out to be the highest-point total in game by the Owls that season, playing a schedule that included the YMCA Seniors and the Keene City Club.
The KSC-PSU women's rivalry goes back even further to the 20s when the top Keene Normal players would battle their counterparts at Plymouth Normal. A story in the 1922 Keene State Chronicle, the College's yearbook, recalls the first meeting on March 11 that year. The back-and-forth contest ended with Plymouth edging Keene 18-16. "The players were well matched and the teamwork on both sides was excellent," the story read.
Tuesday's night game will be the 107th meeting between the two men's teams with Plymouth holding a slim 54-52 lead in the series. The women's records, which date back to the 1980-81 season, show the Owls holding a 28-11 series advantage.
The two teams didn't meet from 1986-97 when Keene State was playing Division II ball in the old New England Collegiate Conference.
The rivalry got a much-needed shot in the arm when Keene State moved back to Division III and joined the Panthers in the Little East Conference for the 1997-98 season. In LEC play, the Owl men have a slight 17-15 series lead. The Owl women hold a commanding 23-10 lead, winning 19 of the last 21 games played between the two teams.
Both teams have hooked up in several memorable games since the reunion. In 2001-02 the men's teams played four times, twice during the regular season, once in the LEC tournament and again in the semifinals of the ECAC tournament. In 2002, the Owls and the Panthers played a Super Bowl matinee before a packed Spaulding Gym crowd that was broadcast on WMUR-TV. The following year, they took the show on the road, playing the first of a state tripleheader at the Verizon Center in Manchester that included a Division II game between St. Anselm and New Hampshire College and a Division I nightcap featuring Dartmouth and UNH. Keene State won its lone LEC title against Plymouth in 2004 by the score of 79-67.
The Keene State women have faced the Panthers in the LEC tournament five times, but their most memorable post-season meeting might have come in 2010. In an epic battle, the Owls bested PSU 69-68 in overtime to win the ECAC championship.
The KSC men (10-4, 4-1 LEC) head into Tuesday games tied for second in the LEC standings. The Owls are coming off their biggest win of the season, a 92-91 come-from-behind upset over #20 Rhode Island College on Saturday.
The Plymouth men (5-8, 1-4 LEC), who find themselves in sixth place, got their first conference victory of the season on Saturday, knocking off #23 Western Conn. 82-72.
Both KSC and PSU women teams will be looking for much-needed conference wins when they take the floor on Tuesday. Struggling to find their scoring touch, the Owls (8-5, 3-2 LEC) were held to just 12 first half points, losing to RIC 77-46 on Saturday. The Panthers (2-11, 0-5 LEC) are still searching for their first LEC win of the season after falling to Western Conn. 67-60 on Saturday.
KSC Coach Rob Colbert says the rivalry has lost a little of its luster due to the make-up of his roster. Only three Owls, senior Ollie Hunter (Bedford), junior Nicco DeMasco (Richmond) and sophomore John Boyatsis (Dover) grew up in the Granite State. "We don't have many kids on a roster from New Hampshire," Colbert said. "In years' past we had guys who knew each other from high school and AAU ball. That's not the case this season."
The lone freshman on the Owl roster, Tom Doyle will be playing in his first KSC-PSU game.
"I really don't know too much about it because I'm not from New Hampshire," said Doyle from Wallingford, Conn. "But the guys on the team tell me it's a big game."
KSC Women's Coach Keith Boucher, whose roster includes just two players from the White Mountain State; sophomore Brianne McCain (Hampton) and freshman Jamie Boyatsis (Dover), says the rivalry is still alive. "I think it's still strong because there's a lot of familiarity among players," he said. "They competed against each other in high school, so they know each other very well and might have been on the same team".
Boucher feels the close proximity and the fact that that Keene and Plymouth are state schools are also factors that sustain the rivalry.
Unlike Keene State, the Plymouth rosters are full of home grown talent. All 15 members of the Panther men's team hail from New Hampshire while 12 out of the 15 women players on Coach Lauren Lavigne's squad are local.
Plymouth State first-year men's coach Andrew Novick will be experiencing the rivalry for the first time. "While I would like to think this is just another game on the schedule, I understand the significance of this great rivalry. Both programs have strong basketball traditions and this rivalry has gone on for many years. A lot of our kids are from this state…they understand the significance of the game and they will put in a lot of extra effort this week I'm sure."
With Keene State students back for the game, Spaulding Gym should be buzzing with plenty of Plymouth Green and Keene State red in the crowd. Is the rivalry alive? Come by the gym and see for yourself.