By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
SWARTHMORE -- They were breathing heavy. Colin Shaw could hear it. And it didn’t take long for the Swarthmore 6-foot-3 senior guard to notice Keene State’s players trying to suck in air at Swarthmore’s jam-packed Tarble Pavilion on Friday night in the NCAA Division III Sweet 16.
The Garnet took a first half lead that they never relinquished on their way to a thoroughly dominant 82-58 Sweet 16 victory over No. 5-seed Keene State (28-2).
Swarthmore (27-3), seeded No. 7, now advances to the Elite Eight, where it will take on Nichols, an 86-68 winner over Stockton in the other Sweet 16 contest, on Saturday at 7:15 p.m. at Tarble.
Swarthmore forward Michael Caprise had 15 points in Friday's win over Keene. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL File)
The Garnet, who lost in the NCAA Tournament first round to Keene last year, reached their third Elite Eight in the last five years thanks to the balanced scoring from junior guard Vinny DeAngelo, who finished with a game-high 23 points, while getting 18 from forward Michael Caprise, 15 from George Visconti and 11 from Shaw.
Defense played a huge role.
The Garnet’s aggressive, running style and physical inside play, between Caprise and 6-7 senior forward George Corzine, bulled their way over Keene, outrebounding the Owls 47-34 and doubling Keene’s inside scoring, 48-24.
Entering the game, Keene was averaging 86.3 points a game. The Garnet held the Owls to a season-low 58 and for the only time this season under 60.
“(Keene) blew us away on film and we learned what they were all about last year,” Garnet coach Landry Kosmalski said. “I thought from our side our guys came in really locked in and ready to go. The whole week we practiced ready to play and you saw that tonight. It was a total team effort. Four guys in double figures, one guy with eight. Everyone off the bench playing well. Everyone helped prepare for it. All of the stuff we’ve been doing that no one has seen the last few days showed tonight.”
Swarthmore went into halftime with a 41-28 lead. At one time, the Garnet was up 39-22 with 2:56 left in the half after a Corzine layup. The real deciding factor came with 13:34 left in the half. The Owls’ Tahmeen Dupree had popped a jumper that put Keene up, 13-12.
It’s the last lead Keene had.
From that point on, the Garnet outscored Keene 14-0 during a 5-minute, 16-second stretch. Swarthmore’s pace and ball movement was too much for Keene to stay with. The Garnet shot 17-33 (51.5%) to Keene’s 11-32 (34.4%). The Owls also had issues landing beyond the arc, shooting 1-for-8 (12.5) in the half. Hunter and Brito combined to score 16 of Keene’s 28 first-half points on 6 of 13 shooting, leaving the rest of the Owls to shoot 5 of 19.
By halftime, DeAngelo had 17 points and Caprise 15 on a combined 11 of 17 shooting.
There was no threat after the half.
With 4:52 left to play, a Visconti free throw gave the Garnet a commanding 77-48 lead.
In the Owls’ 84-83 tournament win over Swarthmore last year, Keene’s two leading scorers, 6-4 sophomore guard Octavio Brito, and 6-7 senior forward Jeff Hunter, combined to score 45 of Keene’s 84 points on a combined 17 of 31 shooting.
On Friday night, Caprise and Corzine put the clamps on Hunter, who led Division III in double-doubles, and Shaw did a stellar job against Brito. Hunter and Brito combined to score 26 points on 10 of 23 shooting, and had to work for every point.
“It seemed like a lot of them were kind of getting tired, which is what we try to do, because our push is constant,” Caprise said.
Brito was a handful. He’s a rangy 6-4 and very athletic.
“It was a team effort and we always defend as a team,” Shaw said. “Brito has really good length and we had to make sure he didn’t have a lot of space. We had to make sure he was uncomfortable. That’s what we do. We try to play fast and we try and make people tired.
“They were breathing heavy. We have a good push. Vinny does a great job; George does a great job. We run really hard and we have really good depth. We pride ourselves on that. We have good depth and within the first 10 minutes, you saw that.”
Now it’s on to Nichols (26-5). The Bison have a 20-game winning streak and may actually be faster than Keene. They earned an automatic bid by winning the Commonwealth Coast Conference and got a game-high 34 points from 6-2 senior guard Jakigh Dottin in the Stockton victory.
The Bison play at even greater tempo than Keene.
Kosmalski says his guys will be ready.
“We’re going to play our game (against Nichols),” Kosmalski said. “I think it’s a little different (than Keene) because I think they play a zone and switching defenses, and I think sometimes that can slow the pace a little bit. But we like to play with teams that want to get up-and-down. It’s the way we like to play.
“Watching (Nichols) play for the first time in person, they’re very dangerous, they’re well coached. They have some depth and they’re athletic and versatile. We’re going to get ready tonight and tomorrow morning and try to keep it simple.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.