GORHAM, Maine - Miranda Nicely (Farmington, Maine/Mt. Blue) scored the first five points of the game and ended with a game-high 15 points to lead the third-seed University of Southern Maine Huskies to a 54-45 win over sixth-seed Keene State College Owls in one of four Little East Conference tournament championship quarterfinal games Tuesday night at Hill Gymnasium.
With the win, Southern Maine advances to the semifinals of the 2018 Little East Conference championship and will face second-seeded UMass Boston on Friday (7:30 p.m.). The game will be hosted by UMass Dartmouth. The Corsairs on the top seed in the tournament and will face fourth-seeded Eastern Connecticut on Friday (5:00 p.m.). Advancing teams will play for the 2018 Little East Conference Championship and the conference's automatic berth into the NCAA Division III National Championship tournament on Saturday (tba). The Huskies are 14-12 overall. Keene State concludes its season at 6-20.
Nicely was a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line en route to her game-high 15, addingfour rebounds. Senior Emily Nicholson (Quispamisis, New Brunswick/Kennebecasis Valley) added 13 points, four rebounds and five assists, while freshman Kristen Curley (Gorham, Maine) chipped in with 10 points, four rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot. Sophomore Chantel Eells (Turner, Maine/Leavitt) helped Southern Maine to a 47-33 advantage on the glass, snagging a game-high 13 rebounds to go along with seven points, four assists, four steals and two blocked shots. Freshman Morgan Eliasen (Lewiston, Maine) had quality minutes, coming off the bench to score five points and grab six boards.
Senior Sandi Purcell (Hudson, N.H./Alvirne) led the Owls with 13 points, six rebounds and two assists. Sophomore Hien Thach (Burlington, Vt./Burlington) went 4-for-7 from the field for 10 points. Junior Emily McPadden (Tyngsborough, Mass.) had seven points, four rebounds and three steals off off of the bench.
Leading by five, 10-5, after a steal and a layup from Curley, USM saw its lead evaporate as KSC rattled off eight straight points, including a pair of threes from freshman Lilly Shlimon (Pelham, N.H.) and Purcell, to take a 13-10 lead with just over a minute to go. USM tied the score up on its next possession on a three from junior Alexa Srolovitz (Montreal, Quebec/New Hampton School (NH)) before Eliasen gave USM a slim two-point lead sinking a pair of free throws after being fouled on an offensive rebound and put back attempt as time expired in the quarter.
The Huskies turned up the defensive pressure in the third, holding the Owls to a single point on a free throw and an 0-13 mark (0-for-8 from three) from the field to snag a 26-14 lead at the half. Eliasen and Curley each hit for threes to open the quarter, while Nicholson closed the second with a three of her own. Both teams scored 14 points in the third, with a majority of coming from the free throw line. Purcell cut the KSC deficit to eight, 36-28, with 1:51 to play in the quarter, but Nicholson went 3-for-4 from the line, and junior Kim Howrigan (Fairfield, Vt./Bellows Free Academy) made 1-of-2 for a 40-28 Husky lead heading into the fourth.
A jumper from freshman Abby Thut (North Ferrisburg, Vt./Champlain Valley Regional) and a three from McPadden gave the Owls a 5-0 run to start the fourth, cutting USM's lead to 40-33 with 9:05 to play, but the Huskies countered with a 9-0 run over the next four minutes to grab their largest lead of the game, 49-33, with 4:19 to play.
After McPadden's three, USM received contributions from Nicley, Nicholson and Eells for the run capped by a pair of free throws from Nicely. The Owls pushed back, rattling off seven points and trailed 49-40 with 1:15 to play on a McPadden jumper. Following a Husky timeout, Eells scored on a baseline drive to put her team up 51-40 with 52 seconds left. Thach made it a seven point, 52-45, game with 15 on the clock with a traditional three-point play, but Nicely closed the game out on the line with two more free throws for the 54-45 final.