Four becomes Two as NEC Championship matchup is set

Mount St. Mary's returns to the NEC Final for second straight year with win at Wagner on Saturday in NEC semifinals. (Photo: Bob Dea)

Mount St. Mary’s returns to the NEC Final for second straight year with win at Wagner on Saturday in NEC semifinals. (Photo: Bob Dea)

It was Semifinal Saturday in the 2014 Northeast Conference men’s basketball championship tournament. One game featured a team looking for a breakthrough in reaching their first NEC final after two years of heartbreak at home at this same stage of the tournament in Wagner with one team was looking for a return back to the NEC final after a amazing run last season and are coming off as dramatic a victory as you will find in Mount St. Mary’s. The other game featured another team who was upset-minded and looking to take down another NEC giant in Saint Francis (PA) against the long-time NEC powerhouse and this season’s front runner in Robert Morris.

I attended the first semifinal game at the Spiro Sports Center in Staten Island for Mount St. Mary’s and Wagner. For forty minutes, it was an intense game which figures high-flying dunks, big blocks, huge steals, clutch shooting, suspect decision-making and so much more. In the end, it was the Mount with who left Staten Island victorious with a 77-72 win for advance to the NEC Championship Game on Tuesday night.

This game was as good as a heavyweight championship fight from back in the good ol’ days. It started with both teams trying to deliver haymakers and Dwaun Anderson took all of 29 seconds to deliver the first punch, a one-handed reverse slam to open the festivities.

Then it was block shot on one end, a steal on another, a three on side and then an alley-oop on the other. The first four minutes in particular was like watching the Daytona 500 from a couple of weeks ago. Things seemed to be moving at over 200 miles per hour.

But as with an high-speed race, there is going to be a wreck and the Mount were the ones who were seeing their guys crash with foul trouble. Most notably, senior point guard Julian Norfleet who picked up three first half fouls. It that wasn’t bad, then backup point guard Khalid Nwandu picked up his third personal. Now, it was about survival.

Mount senior Rashad Whack who scored a team-high 21 points to lead them to victory at Wagner (Photo: Bob Dea)

Mount senior Rashad Whack who scored a team-high 21 points to lead them to victory at Wagner (Photo: Bob Dea)

The Mount did more than survive, they took over. Lead by seniors Sam Prescott, who had to play the point with everyone else in foul trouble, and Rashad Whack, who was in no other words sensational throughout this game, they closed the half out on a 8-0 to take a 35-31 lead at the break.

That run turned to a 16-2 run and all a sudden Mayhem had taken over going up by ten at 43-33. Yet, Wagner with four seniors of their own and the with the memories of semifinals losses at home lurking in their minds, fought back. Marcus Burton started off by getting hot and then it was Kenneth Ortiz time.

Ortiz started to show why the NEC coaches elected him three straight years as the NEC Defensive Player of the Year. He started doing what he goes best, turning up the pressure and get much-needed turnovers and steals and helping his team crawl back in it.

Unfortunately for Wagner, every time they made a run and got within a possession of either tying or taking the lead, the Mount held their own by making clutch shots, in particularly from Norfleet and Whack.

Yet, with a minute to go it was still a three-point game and Wagner twice got a chance to tie it but neither Marcus Burton who took a tough, contested three from the wing or Ortiz who dribbled himself into a good look, could knock it down and Whack ended up icing the another semifinal road win for the Mount and punched themselves a trip to the NEC finals once again.

“I’m just so proud of guys.” said a jubilant Mount’s head coach Jamion Christian after the win. “Our biggest strength as a unit is that we are really close together. Our guys really play for one another. We talked about being our time. I think our guys have done a great job all season long of accepting challenges. Wagner, wow, what a challenge, they’ve won nine games in a row. We gave a punch, they gave us a punch. We battled back. I think that was a great college basketball game.”

“First, I want to tip my hat off to Mount St. Mary’s. Those guys came in and played well against us, a team that has been playing really well defensively.” said a dejected looking Wagner head coach Bashir Mason after another early exit in the NECs. “That loss wasn’t because of a lack of effort on either team. Tonight, we just came up a little short.”

Wagner now sees the end of the college careers of four seniors with Ortiz, Latif Rivers who had a poor game with 2 of 14 shooting from the field, the NEC block leader Naofall Folahan and Orlando Parker. For the Wagner program, it is now three straight seasons as a two-seed which ends on their own home court in the NEC semifinals. It is a very bitter pill to swallow.

“It is really tough. Especially with the group that we have.” said Mason. “This group was built to get it done last year, to get it done this year. So it’s tough but as a coach I put it on me to figure out a way to get us past this point.”

Wagner's Kenny Ortiz fighting until the end but comes up short. Scores 26 points in his likely college finale. (Photo: Bob Dea)

Wagner’s Kenny Ortiz fighting until the end but comes up short. Scores 26 points in his likely college finale. (Photo: Bob Dea)

“It really hurts to not come out with a championship being here and falling short.” said Wagner senior Kenny Ortiz who scored 26 point in what is likely his final college game. “This is not the end of basketball for me, I’m pretty sure. I’m just going to learn from this and continue to play the way I play, play hard, play to win and keep pushing and not try to come short like I did here.”

Awaiting the Mount is one-seed Robert Morris who defeated the six-seed Saint Francis (PA) in the other semifinal at RMU, 60-57. SFU had a lead for most of the first half and the first two and a half minutes of the second before RMU went on a 13-0 run that got them back the lead and with help of 21 points from NEC Player of the Year Karvel Anderson and 18 points from junior Lucky Jones took control. A late 10-3 run by the gritty Red Flash got them back within one with 1:35 left but that was as close at SFU would get as RMU iced the win at the charity stripe.

RMU returns back to the NEC final after a one-year absence and they have now reached the championship game in five out of the last six seasons which is almost hard to fathom that kind of level of success.

The game between the Mount and RMU will be a rematch of last season’s NEC semifinals at RMU in which RMU was upset in a 69-60 defeat by the then five-seed. This game should be a great NEC final. Mount Mayhem versus RMU Crazy Eight. Only one shall be championship. It should be a good one Tuesday night.

Comments

  1. Dan, I did rewatch the last minute of the game and there is no doubt that the Mount had six players on the court during Rashad Whack steal and score around 27 seconds remaining in the game. Unfortunately, there really nothing that can be done about it now, almost a week after the fact. SFBK should have gotten technical free throws for the violation and probably had those two points taken off the boards but it is all water on the bridge. The refs and everyone else missed it while it happened live. Unfortunately, that is how life goes sometimes. It was a bad break for your Terriers.

    • Dan from Staten Island says:

      Yeah, Nellie! Knew there was no way the NEC would undo that result. The post-season is just too far along. That no one noticed that violation during the game is incredible. This whole incident just adds an exclamation point on what was probably one of the most entertaining and also one of the most disappointing seasons in the Terriers’ long history of college basketball. In true Brooklyn fashion, we’ll get ’em next year! If MSM wins this whole thing, they’re truly blessed!!

  2. Dan from Staten Island says:

    The late-breaking news, that MSM may have had six players on the court in the closing seconds of their win over St. Francis Brooklyn, just makes the season even worse for the Terriers. Inadvertent or not, isn’t that a technical foul vs MSM — with possibly foul shots to be taken by St. Francis? And likely to be taken by Ben Mockford, the Terriers’ best guy at the charity stripe?

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