EMMITSBURG — Jamion Christian walked off the court at Knott Arena with his arm wrapped around Chris Wray, a player he wanted to help “grow up.”
Wray’s role heading into the 2016-17 season was relatively unknown. Christian was just trying to find a place for him in the organization.
On Saturday afternoon, Wray produced his third game-winning play of the 2016-17 season with an emphatic block on Wagner’s final shot to lift Mount St. Mary’s to a 57-56 win.
On Nov. 18, Wray jarred the game-winning dunk against George Mason in overtime, and on Thursday, his coast-to-coast lay-in at the buzzer propelled the Mountaineers (4-11, 2-0 NEC) past LIU Brooklyn, 67-65.
“He’s always the guy I believe is going to make the right play at the right time,” Christian said. “I have so much faith and confidence in him. I’m just glad the world is getting a chance to see it right now.”
Mount St. Mary’s leads Wagner 57-56 with 5 seconds left. Wagner with one last shot https://t.co/cBIRcj0tlX
— Kyle McFadden (@k_fadd) December 31, 2016
After trekking through the sixth toughest nonconference schedule in the nation, tussling with the likes of ranked West Virginia, Iowa State and Michigan, as well as Minnesota and Arkansas, Christian’s plan of shaping battle-tested mentalities is certainly working. Wray, a career 37 percent free throw shooter with a quirky offensive skillset, is the best example of this, coming off two game-winning plays in less than 72 hours.
“The schedule shows how much I believe in them,” Christian said. “I think people always worry, when you play a tough schedule, that you won’t be able to get confidence back. I don’t believe in that. Our environment that we create here is all about helping them establish confidence.”
“I think when you see us play in these close games, you see a lot of confidence out there. You see a lot of guys believe they can make the right play.”
Wagner (6-6, 1-1 NEC) inbounded the ball with five seconds remaining, running Corey Henson off a screen from the left low block to receive the inbounds pass on the right wing. Henson, a DeMatha grad, looped to the top of the key, where he exploded into the lane and attempt the game-winning lay-in.
Wray read Wagner’s game-winning bid to perfection and swatted Henson’s down the court.
“I saw on the clock what the time was, and I felt by the time that he shot it, it wouldn’t be any time left,” Wray said, who finished with eight points and 10 rebounds.
The Mount shook off a 2-for-14 shooting start to rattle off a 24-6 run to conclude the final 10 minutes and 22 seconds of the first half.
Both Mount St. Mary’s and Wagner shot lower than 30 percent in the first half, in a battle of “two teams that know each other well,” according to Christian.
The Mountaineers didn’t score until the 14:09 mark when Greg Alexander converted a three-point-play, hedging off a screen to finish a contact layup off the glass.
Miles Wilson sparked the momentous end to the first half by knocking down a 3-pointer out of a timeout to knot the game at 10-10. Less than a minute later, Junior Robinson’s three free throws pushed the Mount ahead, 13-11.
Robinson, who had 10 points, five assists and two steals didn’t make his first field goal until the 17:59 mark in the seoncd half, which pushed the Mount ahead, 35-18.
Henson (13 points) knocked down two long-range jumpers to bring Wagner within six and four points, 46-40 and 46-42 with under eight minutes to go. The DeMatha grad made it a two-point game with less than three minutes to go on a hard lay-in.
Will Miller responded with a 3-pointer from the left corner to give the Mount a 53-48 lead.
Back-to-back three’s from Blake Francis gave Wagner a 56-55 lead with 44 seconds remaining before Elijah Long’s two free throws sealed the Mountaineers’ fourth win.
Long finished with 12 points and three rebounds.
Mount St. Mary’s converted 14 of 17 free throw attempts in the first half and is riding a three-game win-streak when they travel to Bryant on January 5.
“We’re working toward the end goal,” Robinson said. “To win the NEC.”