It was a bittersweet Saturday afternoon at Spaulding Gymnasium for Keene State men’s basketball senior Ben Olson.
The 6-foot-6 center who came in shooting 63.9 percent from the field in 17.3 minutes per game at home this season was the lone senior player being recognized prior to the 58-55 loss the Owls suffered against conference-best Western Connecticut. In his typical workmanlike performance coming off the bench, Olson was perfect from the field and finished with four points while grabbing six rebounds in 24 minutes.
With the loss, the Owls finished with the sixth seed in the conference tournament and will travel to take on No. 3 Plymouth State in the quarterfinals Tuesday at 7 p.m. Coach Ryan Cain said he expects his club to be ready for the Panthers.
“I think the character of our guys when our backs are against the wall is pretty good,” said Cain. “I think we need to find a way to come out and play better for longer stretches.”
Keene State is 2-0 against the Panthers this season, winning both in Plymouth and Keene. Tuesday’s winner will travel to face No. 2 seed UMass Dartmouth, which received a first-round bye, Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the semifinals.
Keene State needed a spark in the second half to get back within striking distance after struggling in the first half and trailing 32-19 after 20 minutes. It came early as the Owls jolted out to a 11-5 run to begin the second half. With just under 14 minutes remaining in the game the Owls were within striking distance, with the score 37-30.
That offensive outburst stalled though, and the Colonials answered back with a 9-0 run including a pair of 3-pointers from Jordon Brown to extend their lead to 46-30. Neither team was efficient from deep in the game as both shot under 35 percent and the Owls shot 6-for-27 from beyond the arc.
Turnovers played a crucial role in the outcome of the game with Western Connecticut wreaking havoc on the defensive end of the floor while maintaining possession of the ball offensively. The Colonials forced the Owls into 19 turnovers and especially defended the guard position well. Keene State’s Jeric Cichon paced the Owls in scoring with 12 points but struggled with ball possession, turning the ball over a game-high six times.
With each team having scoring outbursts in the first 10 minutes of the second half, it was only a matter of time before the next would occur. Down double digits and facing its largest deficit of the game Keene State made another push. The Owls scored 12 consecutive points to cut the lead to six points with 2:42 remaining.
With the late push and the deficit at just six, Keene State was going to have to get stops on the defensive end while continuing to score. It wasn’t to be as Keene State went scoreless on its next two possessions despite a couple stops on defense.
The Colonials knocked down a pair of critical foul shots to extend the lead to eight points and eventually hang on to win.