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Preview: Nova v. Mount St. Mary's

By Dave Jarman
On March 15, 2017

Mount St. Mary's scraped by New Orleans on Tuesday night to move on to the round of 64. Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY

Mount St. Mary’s, the Northeast Conference champions, is coming off a nail-biting 67-66 win over New Orleans in the First Four Tuesday. As a reward, they will match up against Villanova, this year’s number one overall seed. Despite the odds of a No. 16 seed never beating a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the players seem to have the “why not us” mentality to make history.

“I mean, records are meant to be broken,” said guard Junior Robinson, who scored the go ahead basket with 1:23 left against New Orleans. “We have the confidence going into this game that if we take care of things the way we’re supposed to handle ourselves in the manner that we can, why not?”

His teammate Chris Wray, a 6’8" forward who leads the Mountaineers with 87 offensive rebounds this season, agrees.

“We have, everything to gain, and nothing to lose,” he said.

Head Coach Jamion Christian, feels the same way.

“I don’t really acknowledge pressure” Christian said. “We’ve tried to do a great job of doing that in practice every single day so I don’t know if pressure really exists in our world. We’re going to play freely because that’s how we play.”

The Mountaineers average 68.3 points per game through a few different styles. There are times where they play two post players in order to ball screen their opponents and dump the ball in the low post, but a majority of the time they play a four guard offense, which is similar to Villanova’s. 

“We are going to shoot 24 to 25 three’s a night,” Christian said. “We shot 36 percent from three this past year, which is a pretty high percentage. We are going to space you out and make outside shots.”

When Mount St. Mary’s spaces opposing defenses out on the perimeter, the floor is open and creates opportunities for their guards to score, particularly Robinson and Elijah Long.

Robinson averaged 21.3 points in the Mountaineer’s four postseason games and scored a game-high 23 against New Orleans, the most points by a Mount player in an NCAA Division I Tournament game. The 5’5" guard was trending on Twitter because of his performance and even NBA Hall of Famer Muggsy Bogues commented on how impressed he was of his play.

Long, on the other hand, averages 15.1 points per game and was named Northeastern Conference Tournament MVP after averaging 21.7 points per game and six rebounds.

“If they are able to attack the rim and we’re able to make about 15 threes tomorrow night, it will be a good day,” Christian said.   

Not only do the Mountaineers have a dynamic offensive attack, their defensive play is effective as well.

“On defense we are going to predominantly man-to-man,” Christian said. “We have some zone stuff in there, but I just feel like real men play man-to-man defense. We’ve done a great job that all season against many opponents.”

The Mountaineers like to put pressure on opposing offenses and force turnovers in order to get out on fast breaks and score in transition. Christian calls their style of defense “mayhem,” which is inscribed on the backs of their practice jerseys. 

“A little word that coach always uses is ‘mayhem,’ and it’s like a controlled chaos,” Long said. “It’s just trying to turn the other team’s ball over a lot.”

Through spreading the floor on offense, shooting the three and executing their ‘mayhem’ defense, The Mount have a unique style of play that has helped them win their conference and have a successful season.

“I just think we play really fast, really hectic,” Robinson said. “We take a lot of threes and defend the perimeter well, so our success is just playing, being able to play together and our love for the game.”

“Just fast breaks, a lot of fast breaks, alley-oop dunks, and just being able to play off each other’s energy,” added Long.

In order to make a deep run in March, the Wildcats are going to have to stick to their game plan and take one game at a time. The journey begins against “chaos” and “mayhem” Thursday night at 7:10 on CBS. 

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