20210211-SPT-KeeneBB

Senior Christian Oxendine pushes the ball down the court during Wednesday’s matchup against Lebanon in Keene.

What started as a defensive showdown ended with a miscommunication on defense.

The Keene boys fell at the buzzer to Lebanon, after a defensive breakdown in the final seconds gave the Raiders an open look at the bucket and the 45-43 win on Wednesday in Keene.

Keene had an opportunity to take the last shot but turned the ball over with less than 15 seconds to play, giving the Raiders one more chance at a game-winner, which they took advantage of.

“We were just trying to run down the clock to about seven, eight seconds,” said Keene head coach Kevin Ritter about the Blackbirds’ final possession. “But as soon as they started picking us up, we had to get the ball moving, and we just had two guys execute a poor handoff, and, turnover, right there.”

To add insult to injury, the heartbreaker came on senior night.

“They all played hard tonight, and I’m so proud of them,” Ritter said about his seniors. “I wish we could’ve gotten a win for them.”

This is Keene’s second loss to Lebanon in less than a week, but they were two completely different games in terms of energy and effort.

“We came out a little bit flat at their place,” Ritter said. “Tonight, we played hard from start to finish. We didn’t play perfect, but we played hard.”

“The first time we played this team, we were sloppy, we were hesitant,” said senior Christian Oxendine, who finished with a game-high 16 points. “Last game we were operating at maybe 50 percent, and that’s maybe being generous. Tonight, we executed well, defensively and offensively. Competing like that, to not get the win, that’s tough.”

The Blackbirds (1-2) got out to a 6-1 lead in the first four minutes of the game thanks to stingy defense and pressure on both ends of the floor.

A low-scoring first quarter led to much of the same in the second, with the teams going back and forth, the lead changing hands.

Down two late in the half, Lebanon hit a three-pointer and took a 17-16 lead to the locker room.

The Blackbirds came out firing in the third quarter to take back the lead, outscoring the Raiders 7-2 in the opening two minutes of the second half.

But another late three for Lebanon gave them a 33-31 lead heading into the final frame.

Junior Nick Maiella hit a three in the opening possession of the fourth quarter to push Keene ahead, and that’s when Oxendine took over.

The senior hit a three a few minutes later to put the Blackbirds up 41-37. Then he extended Keene’s advantage with a putback layup with just over three minutes to play.

“Christian played well, had his best game of the year for us,” Ritter said. “He really carried us offensively. I’m really proud of him.”

A five-point run for the Raiders brought them back within one with 1:19 on the clock, and then Lebanon hit a free throw to tie the game.

On the next possession, Keene turned the ball over on what would be its final possession.

The Blackbirds continued to press Lebanon on the inbound play, forcing the Raiders to take a timeout, but coming out of the short break, Lebanon found the room to get the last shot off at the buzzer.

"That is a tough loss right there," Oxendine said. "Especially considering senior night, too. It's one of the things that hurts a little."

Keene has a chance to get back into the win column against Division 4 Hinsdale Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in what will be a varsity-JV mix for the Blackbirds.

Chris Detwiler can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1411, or cdetwiler@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Detwiler.