Paint presence

MICHAEL M. M c MAHON / Sentinel Staff

Keene State center James Anozie is fouled while going up for a shot in the paint. The sophomore finished with 20 points as the Owls claimed their third straight victory, a 98-85 win over Rhode Island College Wednesday night.

Following an early-season signature win at Middlebury Saturday, the Keene State men’s basketball team knew the importance of keeping its foot on the gas pedal against a league opponent.

“A win is a win, right?” Coach Ryan Cain said. “So, you can’t get a big one and give the next one back.”

Rhode Island College entered Wednesday looking for a signature win of its own to catapult itself up with the Owls and Eastern Connecticut as contenders in the Little East. And, in fact, it gave Keene a run for its money.

The Owls rode a monster second half to a 98-85 win, outscoring RIC 54-35 in the second half to overcome a halftime deficit. Keene State (5-2, 2-0 LEC) has won its last three.

“I think RIC knew what this game could have been for them if they pulled it out,” Cain said. “I don’t think we matched that energy to start, but we stayed together and we stayed calm enough to make enough plays down the stretch.”

Ty Nichols continued to set the world on fire, finishing with 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. He scored 19 in the second half.

The senior from Springfield, Mass., has scored at least 25 points in the Owls’ last six games and is fourth in the country in scoring, averaging 28.1 points per game on 51-percent shooting from the field (47 percent from long range).

“This is the best I have ever felt in my time here,” Nichols said. “I’m playing really well right now and that’s credit to my teammates. They put me in spots to be successful and the coaches have trust in me.”

The Owls shot 70.4 percent from the floor in the second half. RIC, which went 7-for-12 on threes in the first half, faded, shooting just 28.1 percent from the floor in the second.

Keene State got 20 points from sophomore center James Anozie as the big man added six rebounds in 23 minutes. Miguel Prieto and DeVon Beasley each had 11 points.

Freshman Paul Mahon had his best game in the red and white. The Franklin, Mass., native was 4-for-4, including 3-for-3 from beyond the arc in a 13-point effort. He led all bench players with 22 minutes. The Owls’ bench outscored RIC 26-4.

Rhode Island College (8-3, 1-2) got 27 points from guard Adham Floyd and 24 from forward Justin Campbell.

“Every game in conference is important,” Cain said. “But they’re all just as important as the other. The Eastern game is just as important as the RIC game. ... Which is why we need to improve the way that we come out to give ourselves the best chance to win these games.”