By David Spiegel
NEWBURGH – In the closest game to take place at the Kaplan Center this season, the Mount Saint Mary College men’s basketball team, (21-7) fell to Kean University (15-13) in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Metro Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament quarterfinals, 73-67, Wednesday evening, eliminating the third-seeded Knights from the tournament and ending their season.
The Kaplan Center was yet to see a single-digit deficit at the final buzzer of any men’s or women’s basketball game this season up until Wednesday night’s matchup. The game came down to the final two minutes. Senior guard Donte Howell drained a deep three with 2:08 to go to give the Knights a 67-66 lead after fighting back throughout the second half. Unfortunately, those were the final points for the Knights, as Kean went on to score the final seven points of Wednesday’s contest to grab the quarterfinal win and advance to Saturday’s semifinal matchup against Rutgers-Newark.
24 total three-pointers fell through the iron Wednesday evening, with each team draining 12 apiece. Kean’s Michael Burton made seven of Kean’s 12 en route to a game-high 28 points. Howell made 5-of-6 treys for the Knights, as he finished with 20 points.
Kean got off to a hot start, opening the game on a 10-0 run that included threes by Ali Mix and Burton. The Knights came storming back, tying the game at the 11:35 mark on a three by senior guard Joe Stabach. The Knights finished off their 12-0 run on a layup by senior forward Joe Henain to take an 18-14 lead with 10:16 until halftime.
Kean turned the momentum right back in its favor, taking a 25-20 lead just 90 seconds later. Freshman forward Alex Smith drained a long jumper on the next possession, and then Howell sank another three to tie the game at 25. Kean then took another five-point lead, but the Knights once again eliminated the deficit to tie at 30-30. Mix nailed a jumper to put Kean up 36-33 with 30 seconds until the break, but Stabach sank long trey before the buzzer to send the game into halftime with a tie score.
The Knights opened the second half with three three-pointers on their first three possessions to take a 45-41 lead. The Cougars then went on a 14-0 run to take the largest lead of the game at 10 points. The Knights scored eight straight to get within two, but Burton hit a three to keep the visitors up by five. They held that five-point lead at 66-61 with 5:21 to play.
Henain hit a layup at the 3:55 mark to cut the deficit to three. He was fouled on the play and completed the three-point play to get the Knights within two. Howell then drained his big three to put the Knights up, 67-66. Kyle Latorre followed with a pair of free throws to put Kean back up by one. The Knights turned the ball over, and then Xavier Fuller put one in from under the rim to increase the Kean lead to three. The Knights were unable to score on their final three possessions, and the Cougars made three more free throws, taking a 73-67 lead through the final buzzer.
Burton’s 28 led the Cougars, while Mix scored 19. Fuller picked up a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Latorre grabbed a game-high 12 boards. Tommy Soulias led Kean with six assists.
Howell added a team-high five assists to his 20-point night. Henain scored 14 and pulled down eight rebounds, while Stabach hit four threes for 12 points.
Both teams were nearly even from the field, as the Cougars shot 47.3 percent (26-of-55) and the Knights made 47.1 percent (24-of-51) of their field goals. The Knights were good on 48 percent (12-of-25) of their threes, while their guests went 12-of-33 (36.4 percent). Kean held a slight 33-29 edge in rebounding.
The Knights conclude their season with a 21-7 overall record. They fell two wins shy of the program record, but matched a high mark with 16 Skyline Conference victories. They also matched the program low with seven losses in a season.