A comeback attempt by Middlebury in the final minutes came up just short, falling to Keene State by a 74-72 score during the second round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament in a contest played Saturday at Stockton (N.J.). The game was the eighth meeting between the two programs and the first in the NCAA Tournament, as both teams have recorded four victories. Middlebury ends its season at 18-11, while the Owls improve to 20-10 and advance to play Christopher Newport in next weekend's "Sweet Sixteen."
The teams exchanged baskets and free throws over the opening 3:54 of play, as a pair of charity tosses by Jake Brown gave the Panthers a 9-7 edge. The Owls reeled off an 11-0 run over the next 3:15, capped off on a three-point field goal by Jaqeul Edwards for an 18-9 lead. After a pair of free throws by Brown, the Owls put together six quick points for a 13-point lead at 24-11 on back-to-back jumpers from Ty Nichols with 10:22 left.
Keene State continued to maintain its double-digit lead during the next eight minutes, pushing it to 14 (39-25) on a Nichols' jumper with 1:55 left before halftime. Middlebury's Matt Daley knocked down a jumper with 45 seconds left, the final basket of his 10 first-half point output, pulling the Panthers to within 12 (41-29) headed to the intermission.
After the break, Keene State had an answer for each run that Middlebury tried to muster. The Panthers whittled the deficit down to eight at 55-47 on a three-pointer from Connor Huff with 10:12 remaining, but the Owls scored on their next three trips down the floor and increased the lead back to 14 on a layup by Tre Tipton with 9:01 left.
Middlebury battled all the way back, scoring 12 of the game's next 15 points over a stretch of 4:34, and pulled to within five (64-59) on a layup by Jack Daly with 4:37 on the clock. Keene State kept between a five and seven-point advantage until a three by Brown and a fast break layup from Matt St. Amour pulled Middlebury to within one at 72-71 with 45 seconds left.
The Panthers opted to foul and extend the game, as Lucas Hammel knocked down two free throws for the Owls with 40 ticks left for a 74-71 edge. Down by three, Daly missed a shot from beyond the arc on Middlebury's ensuing possession, but Daley grabbed the offensive rebound with 32 seconds left. St. Amour was fouled 10 seconds later on a drive to the basket, connecting on 1-2 attempts for the Panthers. Middlebury once again fouled, but Keene State's Nate Howard missed both charity tosses.
In the final three seconds, the Panthers had a trio of attempts for a game-tying basket, but were unable to find the bottom of the net as the Owls came away with the win.
St. Amour finished with a game-high 18 points, 14 of which came in the second half, to go along with five rebounds. He finishes his junior season with 566 points, the second-highest total for a campaign in the program's history. Brown had 17 points along with three assists, while Daley had a double-double of 13 points and a game-best 13 rebounds. Daly also put together a double-double of 12 points and 11 boards along with three assists, as the Panthers held a 48-36 advantage on the glass.
Nichols, Howard and Edwards each had 14 points apiece for Keene State, while Matt Ozzella chipped in with 11 points. Howard led the Owls with nine rebounds and four blocked shots, while Nichols yanked down seven boards. Nate Stitchell ended his night with three steals and also had three assists.