Kriskus rallies men past Keene State, 84-77, in ECAC quarters

Vytas Kriskus '12 (photo by SportsPix)

KEENE, N.H. – In an ECAC Division III New England men's basketball tournament quarterfinal tonight, the sixth-seeded Brandeis University Judges scored the game's last 14 points, erasing a seven-point deficit in the process, to defeat the third-seeded Keene State College Owls, 84-77. Junior guard Vytas Kriskus (Kvedarna, Lithuania/Holderness School) came off the bench to score eight-straight points in a span of 59 seconds to turn a 77-70 Judges deficit into a 78-77 lead as the visitors pulled away for the win.

Brandeis moves on to the ECAC semifinals, where they will face seventh-seeded Mass. College of Liberal Arts, who upset No. 2 Anna Maria, 80-76. Brandeis will play at top-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Judges, who advance to the ECAC semifinals for the first time since 1992, improve to 17-9 on the season. Keene State wraps its campaign at 17-11.

The Judges trailed at halftime, 39-30, and were behind by 11 at 47-36 after Keene sophomore Ryan Martin (Wayne, Maine/Maranacook) hit a 3-pointer 4:07 into the second. After Brandeis called a 30-second timeout, the Judges responded with a 14-0 run over the next four minutes. Rookie Youri Dascy (Fall River, Mass./St. Andrews (R.I.) School) and Kriskus each had five points in the string, with Kriskus's trifecta at the 12-minute mark putting Brandeis ahead, 50-47, for their first lead since the game's early stages.

The Owls' Anthony Mariano responded with a quick bomb of his own to knot the score at 50-50. After a handful of empty possessions, KSC's 6-10 center Rashad Wright (Agawam, Mass./South Kent) slammed home an offensive rebound to give the hosts back the lead, 52-50. Brandeis tied the game again at 54-54 at the 8:07 mark, but the Owls went on an 11-5 spurt over the next two minutes thanks to seven points from their star of the game Derek D'Amours (Agawam, Mass./Agawam). D'Amours capped the run with a 3-pointer with 6:10 left that gave Keene State a 65-59 edge.

Brandeis rookie Derek Retos (No. Attleboro, Mass./Brimmer and May School) answered from beyond the arc to stem the tide, but the Judges weren't able to quite get over the hump yet. They were within one at 67-66 with 4:28 left, when D'Amours hit on eight straight points for his team, including two trifectas, pushing the lead to 75-70 with just over three minutes left in the game.

The Judges committed turnovers on their next two possessions, but also got a stop, leading to a turning point in the game with 2:24 remaining. Still down by five, Brandeis rookie guard Ben Bartoldus (Hillsborough, N.H./Proctor Acad.) picked up his fifth foul of the contest, and Brandeis coach Brian Meehan picked up a technical foul arguing the call. With the opportunity to push the lead to nine points, the Owls hit just two of their four free-throw attempts, including a miss from Division III free-throw percentage leader Ryan Martin, just his fourth misfire in 103 attempts this season. Brandeis rookie Alex Schmidt (Dublin, Ireland/Fork River (Va.) Military Acad.) grabbed the rebound of a missed D'Amours freebie, setting the stage for the dramatic comeback.

After the rebound, Kriskus connected from downtown with 2:11 on the clock, cutting the deficit to 77-73. KSC took a quick trifecta of their own just 11 seconds later, and Schmidt again pulled down the board. Kriskus tried to dial long distance again and got fouled in the process. He canned all three from the charity stripe, slicing the deficit from seven to one in just 32 seconds. After the Owls called a timeout, D'Amours fired up another 3-pointer, and Schmidt grabbed his third-straight big defensive rebound.

On the other end, Dascy missed a lay-up that would have given Brandeis the lead back, but Kriskus was on the spot to put back the offensive rebound and give the visitors the lead for good, 78-77, with 1:12 left, capping his eight-points in 59 second string. Keene's Anthony Mariano was off target in his attempt to give the lead back to the Owls, and Dascy corralled the rebound this time with 57 seconds left. The Judges worked the shot clock down, and junior guard Tyrone Hughes (Dorchester, Mass./Taft School) buried a dagger from beyond the arc with eight seconds on the shot clock that made it a two-possession game, 81-77, with 30 seconds to go. The Judges hit three of four from the line to ice the game and take the seven-point win. Brandeis ended up shooting a remarkable 81 percent (17-21) in the second half to complete their comeback.

Dascy was Brandeis's leading scorer with a career-high 24 points. He hit 10-of-13 from the floor, 4-of-8 from the line and also led all players with seven rebounds. Kriskus, who has been plagued by injuries in the second half of the season, came off the bench and was right behind with 23 points, 17 coming in the second half. He hit 6-of-8 overall, 4-of-6 from deep and 7-of-7 from the line for his second-highest scoring output of the season and just his third game in double figures since the start of 2011.

Hughes also finished with 13 points, keeping the Judges in the game with eight in the first half. He had three assists and a career-high five steals to lead the Judges. Thanks to their tremendous second half, the Judges shot a season-high 63 percent from the floor (29-46) despite hitting just 48 percent in the first half (12-25). Brandeis also used a 35-23 rebounding advantage. They picked up their first win when allowing 70 points or more this season, but overcame a halftime deficit for the fourth time, including their third double-digit deficit.

The Judges' rally erased a remarkable performance for Keene State by D'Amours. The junior scored 37 points, including 21 in the first half. He shot 13-of-23 from the field, 7-of-12 from 3-point range and 4-of-5 from the line. Martin was the only other Owl in double figures with 12 points on 4-of-8 overall, 3-of-3 from downtown, and 1-of-2 from the line. He also had a game-high five assists. Wright led the Owls with four rebounds.