By Nicholas Aconfora/Sports Information
Wednesday: 12:30-1:30 p.m.
EASTERN ATHLETICS WEEKLY on www.littleeast.tv
Following a split doubleheader at home vs. Southern Maine Saturday, both Eastern teams head to New Hampshire Tuesday night to play one of their conference rivals, Keene State. It will be the first of this year's home-and-home set, with the clubs meeting at Geissler Gym in the 13th game of the 14-game regular-season conference schedule Feb. 12.
At left: Taylor McBride
Just like Eastern, it is a tale of two different teams as the Keene men's team is near the top of the conference at 5-2 (10-6 overall) and the women toward the bottom at 2-5 (7-9 overall). Like always, both of these games are sure to be nailbiters. I expect all four teams to come out ready to play as the season is quickly coming to a close.
The women's teams will kick off the night at 5:30. Shannon McCourt scored 22 against one of the best teams in the country on Saturday, but was held scoreless in the first ten minutes. Expect to see McCourt attack early in this one as Keene doesn't have anyone that can matchup with her mid-range and inside game. It seems like freshmen Jill Ritrosky and Brianna Leonard are becoming more consistent as the season moves on, so I believe they will keep their foot on the gas and both have another good game. Kristina Forsman is due for a big game scoring and I think this is the game for her to do so. I know I've said before that Forsman shouldn't be relied on to score often with her point guard skills, but with the improvement of Leonard and Ritrosky game by game, it's easy to see that Forsman is able to get off a few more shots.
On the other side, the Owls have Siobhan Carnell, this week's LEC Player-of-the-Week who averages just under16 points per game. Carnell scored nearly half of her team's points against UMass Dartmouth Saturday, finishing with 34 on 12-of-17 shooting from the floor and 10-of-10 marksmanship from the stripe. The 5-9 senior can play both the guard and forward position. I think this would be a good test for the freshman Leonard because Leonard has some size as a guard and could matchup with Carnell. The Owls also have Christan Wojtas who averages just under 13 points per game. The sophomore stands at 5-10 and can also play the guard and forward position. It looks as if this team has a large assortment of players who can move around the floor and play different positions. This game will be close as both teams are looking to stay in the conference picture.
Keene has won its last two conference games after a run of three straight losses against top-tier conference opponents. The Owls downed visiting UMass Dartmouth Saturday by 11 points at Spaulding Gymnasium.
Key for Keene - Even if McCourt scores her points, make sure the freshmen don't get hot. If the Owls shut down Leonard and Ritrosky, it will be a replay of a game from early in the season where McCourt and Forsman had to carry the load.
Key for Eastern - Let Taylor McBride get more opportunities to score. McBride is extremely quick off the dribble and can get to the basket. It is usually her size that is the disadvantage, but the Owls don't have anyone in the paint that is a game-changer.
The men's teams wrap up the doubleheader at 7:30. Does anybody remember the last time these teams played? It was one of the best games I have ever seen in my career of broadcasting. The Warriors defeated the Owls in 2OT in the LEC tournament semifinal at Geissler Gym. It was a Chris Robitaille putback off a Nick Nedwick shot that kept the game going. That game left a sour taste in the mouths of the Owls and I'm sure they'll look for revenge in this one.
Above: Trachone Preston
The Owls still have a very talented team with many of the players from last year, back this season. It all starts with Ryan Martin who averages 15 points per game - third-best in the conference. Anthony Mariano, this week's LEC Player-of-the-Week, follows with a 14.3 scoring average. Martin played a big role in Keene's semifinal game vs. Eastern last year and will be huge in this one. The pre-season favorite to win the LEC regular season, Keene has won seven of its last ten but is an uncharacteristic 3-4 at home this year. Eastern is 5-2 on its opponents' court.
At 5-2 in the conference, this would be a huge win for the Owls, but the Warriors feel the same way. After its huge win at home vs. Southern Maine Saturday, Eastern looks to improve its conference record to 7-1. Tyler Hundley stepped up with 16 points and knocked down three triples in the first half as he filled in for Brian Salzillo's early 0-2 start from three. Robitaille and Mike Garrow both had good games and will be tested Tuesday night. Robitaille has gone up against Rashad Wright for most of his career and he will again in this one. Wright averages nine rebounds per game along with eleven points. This LEC game could be one of the more exciting games of the year and I expect it to go down to the wire.
Key for Keene - Feed the ball into the post to Wright and let him try to establish a post game to open up shots for Martin throughout the whole game.
Key for Eastern - Try and get Salzillo hot in the first half and make sure to guard Martin closely. I believe sticking Trachone Preston - the LEC Rookie-of-the-Week two of the last three weeks -- on Martin could be an interesting matchup.