Owls feeling Sweet-16 again
KEENE, N.H. 3/5/07 - For the second time in
four years, the Keene State College men's basketball team is
feeling "Sweet-16." The Owls, who advanced to the "Sweet-16" of the
NCAA Division III tournament with a heart-stopping 76-75 win over
Salem State on Saturday, will face a familiar foe in the next round
- Rhode Island College. The two Little East rivals will hook up for
the fourth time this season on Friday in a 6 p.m. game at Amherst
The host Lords Jeffs (26-2) will face Stevens Institute of Technology (23-6) in the other sectional match on Friday (8 p.m.). The two winners will play in Saturday's regional championship game at 7 p.m.
KSC would like to take the next step and join the 2003-04 Owls, who reached the NCAA Elite-Eight. "Someone told me a long time ago that you'll never forget the first time you go to the NCAA tournament, and I definitely haven't," said KSC Coach Rob Colbert. "But in some ways, this has been its own unique trip."
Keene State (25-5), which received an at-large berth to the tournament, rattled Rivier College 81-47 in the first-round before hanging in the cliffhanger against Salem State. Rhode Island College (26-3), the LEC's tournament champions, held serve by winning a pair of close NCAA tournament home games against Coast Guard (64-60) and Brandeis University (70-67).
The Owls handed the Anchormen their only two LEC regular season losses this season, 82-78 in Providence and 92-81 back at Spaulding Gym. RIC came back to claim its first LEC title with an 87-75 victory over the Owls.
How much does it help playing a team for the fourth time? "You know what works and wasn't doesn't work," said a smiling Colbert. "But it's the same level of preparation; you watch tape and still have meetings. There's a little more comfort in the fact that you're well acquainted with a team."
Colbert said that RIC sophomore guard Bobby Bailey was the difference in the championship game. "Bailey exploded on us in the finals and has played at an unbelievable level since then," he said. "You also have to keep an eye on Kinsey Durgin. He's one of the top three players in the league." Bailey followed up his 17-point game against KSC with equally productive 16- and 14-point performances respectively against Coast Guard and Brandeis.
In addition to the steady play of sophomore forward Tyler Kathan, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds against Salem, Colbert applauded the efforts of Travon Little and David Sontag. "His numbers don't tell the story, but Travon has elevated all facets of his game, making key play after key play," said Colbert. "David is playing with a lot of confidence and maturity."
It will be Keene State's first visit to Amherst's LeFrak Gymnasium since the 1997-98 season when the Owls defeated the Lord Jeffs 88-81 in the second-round of the ECAC tournament.
One of three seniors on the Owls' team, Sontag understands what Friday's game means to him and his teammates. "It means everything in the world to us," he said. "For the seniors this is the last run and the underclassmen might not make it back."