After a historic run, No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s University (20-16) has been eliminated from the 2017 NCAA Tournament, after falling, 76-56, to No. 1 Villanova University (32-3). Over 50 students and numerous other members of the Mount community traveled to Buffalo, NY to support the Mountaineers.
The defending national champions came into the tournament as the overall top seed. This was the Mount’s second appearance in the Round of 64, since falling to the University of North Carolina, in 2008. No team seeded No. 16 has ever beaten a team seeded No. 1.
Sophomore, Guard, Elijah Long, gave his opinion, on the matter, saying, “At the end of the day, we all play basketball. It’s the same size ball [and] same size net. It’s just who wants it bad and Villanova is a great team and one thing they bring to the table is their heart. So, we just got to match that and I believe we’ll be in a good position to beat them or play down to the wire and we’ll see if we can break a bracket.”
The Mountaineers had millions of brackets on edge of the bust zone for 19 minutes, as they led the Wildcats for nearly the entire first half.
The Mount got onto the scoreboard first with, first year guard, Miles Wilson, making a jumper to put his team up, 2-0. After that though, neither team managed to put the ball into the hoop until 5 minutes had passed, when junior guard, Junior Robison, made a 3-point shot to move the Mount up, 5-0.
Blocks from both, junior forward, Chris Wray, and sophomore-R forward, Mawdo Sallah, were huge in keeping the Wildcats scoreless.
It wasn’t until almost 7 minutes had passed, that Villanova finally made a basket. However, Wilson made another 3-point shot to extend the Mount’s streak, 10-2.
The Mountaineer’s high pressure, full court defense, nicknamed, Mount Mayhem, had kept the Big East Conference champions, at 0/9 from behind the arc, until Villanova senior guard, Josh Hart, put one in with 12:05 remaining.
Using Hart’s basket as a catalyst, Villanova started to close the gap. The Mountaineers kept their lead until Hart made a lay-up to put the Wildcats up by one, with 46 seconds left.
Down, 28-27, against the most dominant team, the Mount had played all season, Wilson came in clutch with a jump-shot to take back the lead, 29-28 with 24 seconds on the clock. Though, with 4 seconds left in the half, Villanova made a lay-up to take its second lead of the match.
The Mountaineers would enter the break down, just 1 point. Powered behind the 13 points and 5 rebounds, Wilson had recorded, the Mount garnered 4 blocks, limiting the Wildcats to an 11.1%, 3-point accuracy rating.
After the break, the Mountaineers regained the lead off a quick lay-up from Sallah. However, the Mountaineers failed to score again for 5 minutes, while the wildcats woke up from their slumber and went on a dominating 13-0 run to put them up for good, 43-31.
From there, Villanova dominated the rest of the half. After the Wildcats led by as much as 26 points with 1:53 to go, the Mountaineers went on an 8-1 run, but it would be too large of a deficit to overcome.
The Mount’s, senior forward, Will Miller, made the last lay-up of the game, the season and his collegiate career, with 4 seconds on the board.
“It felt surreal. It wasn’t quite going through my head, but right after the last four seconds expired, it really sunk in. This was it, this was my career”, Miller explained. He expressed how he felt good about himself afterwards. That, “I made great memories [and] it was definitely bittersweet, but it was more of a good feeling than a bad feeling.”
Wilson ended the game with a team high, 23 points and 4 assists.
Even though, Villanova showed the Mount, why the Wildcats were the defending champions, Villanova’s Head Coach, Jay Wright, complimented the Jim Phelan Coach of the Year recipient, Jamion Christian, and his team after the game, saying that, “They really outplayed us. Jamion had them better prepared than I did and they played better. We just had bigger [and] better, athletes. They were a great team. I thought they were the better team tonight.”
Christian remarked that, “I am really proud of our group. I use that word, ‘proud,’ because they were tremendous [in executing] this game plan and just really, gave [Villanova] a real scare there, in the first half.”
He felt that, “Everyone got a glimpse of how good we can be. I thought we really dominated the pace of the game in the first half. I [also] felt like we squandered an opportunity to go into the half, up by one.”
The Mount will graduate three seniors this semester: Charles Glover, Miller, and Khalid Nwandu.
Glover, who has one year of eligibility left, says he plans to come back to the Mount to earn his Masters in Business Administration and expects to join the team for one more shot at the national title.
“It was a good experience and it was really fun, going to the tournament twice with my team. It was a once in a lifetime experience, that I can always talk about when I get older. I’ve been dreaming about this ever since I was a child. It’s like a dream come dream true” Glover stated.
Nwandu, the Pennsylvania native, finishes his collegiate career with a career high of 15 points. When he graduates, he says he will go back home and work at a sports complex.
“Of course, I’m going to stay connected to Mount St. Mary’s. It’s part of me, it’s my family. So, I’ll always come back to watch the younger guys, checking on them and seeing how they’re doing,” he added.
Nwandu describes the team he is leaving behind as tough, talented and special. He credits his coach for, “[Helping] me develop very well on and off the court by, just being mentally tough and fighting through adversity.”