Congratulations are in order for the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers and second-year head coach Jamion Christian for winning the 2014 Northeast Conference men’s basketball tournament and defeating the top-seeded Robert Morris Colonials on their home court 88-71 on Tuesday night.
The Mount rode the wave of their dramatic 19-point comeback win against St. Francis Brooklyn in the NEC tournament quarterfinals last Wednesday to two huge road victories to get themselves back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008. In fact, in Christian’s first two seasons as head coach of the Mount, they are now 4-1 in NEC tournament road games and have been to two NEC finals and now winning one.
The Mount got great balanced scoring from their entire lineup. NEC tournament MVP senior Rashad Whack lead the way with 20 points but they also got major contributions from the other members of the Mount’s “Big 3” with senior point guard Julian Norfleet scoring 17 and senior guard Sam Prescott scoring 15.
Whack was a terror on both ends of the court for Mount St. Mary’s and was well-deserving of the tournament MVP award. He scored 69 points in three games of this NEC tournament and help neutralized the opposition best scoring threat especially in the last two games in hold Wagner’s Latif Rivers and RMU’s Karvel Anderson to a combined 28 points on 10-31 shooting.
Norfleet started off hot from the field especially from beyond the arc, swishing open three-pointers. Prescott played the role of high-post facilitator to perfection. When he was open, he knocked down the elbow jumper all game long and then when the zone collapsed on him, he either found Whack, Norfleet or Will Miller for open shots or pass it down low to the open 7-footer Taylor Danaher for easy layups. They could not have played the RMU 2-3 zone any better. They seemed to find all the open spots and made every single open shot.
Danaher was impressive down low for the Mount with his nice hands and quick shooting. He was a perfect 6 for 6 in the game for 15 points. Jamion Christian inserted Will Miller to hit some open corner threes and that is exactly what he did, making 4 of 5 from the left wing corner. “Coach told me that the corner three would be open all game and they were.” said Miller in the post game interview on NEC Front Row.
So it is on to the NCAA tournament for the Mount as they will likely find themselves on Selection Sunday seeing their names coming up in the First Four bracket in Dayton. Their RPI is 216. Kenpom has them at 207. Their BPI is 221. They have a 16-16 record going into Selection Sunday. The First Four seems like an inevitability. Yet, they are riding a hot wave that might actually get them a win in that First Four game if they can get the right matchup.
Also, if Mount is capable of making some noise in the Big Dance, they might be more than some eyes at bigger mid-majors looking at Christian as a possible head coaching candidate. Although, I personally believe he needs some more time at the Mount. He still have things he has yet to prove. Can he build a consistent winner and not a team that gets hot in February and March? Can he recruit and retain talent? He has won mostly from a lot of players he inherited from when he arrived. I think these are legit questions which is why I believe he ultimately stays at the Mount for a while. Plus, it would be nice to see the NEC keep their young, talented coaches in the league.
As for RMU, what next for them? It seems like head coach Andy Toole might not be the hot commodity everyone was thinking he would be going into the NEC tournament. Toole is now 0-3 in NEC championship games with one being in his own gym. That still can’t take away from the amazing job he did this season getting a team of just eight players from mid-January on to go 14-2 in the regular season and get them to within a game of the NCAA tournament. Toole might still get some looks but he just won’t be THE hot name had he gotten his team over the hump.
RMU now heads for the NIT where more than likely, they won’t get the fortuitous break of hosting a first-round game against a national powerhouse and defending national champion like they did last season against Kentucky. After the loss to the Mount, it didn’t sound like the RMU upperclassmen wanted to keep playing if it wasn’t an NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, they don’t have much choice.
As for the roster, after the NIT they will lose point guard Anthony Myers-Pate and NEC Player of the Year Karvel Anderson to graduation. They will return Lucky Jones for his senior year and a solid group of returnees with Charles Oliver, Stephan Hawkins, David Appolon and Karon Stewart if they all return. They will likely have a huge class of newcomers coming in with several open scholarships likely available after their suspensions and a couple of players leaving the team. It will be another tall order for Toole next season if he does return to the RMU bench.
Congratulations to both RMU and the Mount for excellent seasons and good luck to them both in their runs at the NIT and NCAAs respectively. Now it is time to pull for the NEC and wish these teams a long and successful postseason journey.