With a chance to clinch the Northeast Conference regular season title and secure home-court advantage throughout the conference tournament on Thursday night, Mount St. Mary’s couldn’t close the deal, faltering late to LIU Brooklyn, 72-68, at the Knott Arena.
Due to prolonged scoring droughts, and missed free throws (5-for-14 on the game), Mount St. Mary’s found themselves failing to execute when the game hung in the balance and succumbed to the No. 2 team in the NEC.
“Sometimes you get in those close games, and we just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch to win it,” Mount St. Mary’s coach Jamion Christian said.
The Mountaineers (15-15, 13-4 NEC) had a scoring drought that spanned from the 5:39 mark to the 2:03 mark of the second half that led to a five-point lead turning into a four-point deficit before scoring again.
The struggles at the free throw line wouldn’t go away. In the final four minutes of play, Mount St. Mary’s converted just 1 of 5 from the stripe, including Chris Wray missing the front-end of a one-and-one when the Mountaineers were trailing 56-54 with just over one minute to go.
The Mountaineers were also unable to convert at the line in key situations with chances to extend their lead throughout the game, which helped LIU Brooklyn (19-11, 12-5 NEC) keep pace.
“We missed a couple one-and-ones. We had a chance to stretch the lead to four to five, and when you’re playing good teams, you’ve got to do that,” Christian said.
The Mountaineers soared to a 12-2 lead early in the game, due to two 3-pointers from Greg Alexander, before Raul Frias made two 3’s on back-to-back possessions, sandwiched around a layup by Wray, to cut the Blackbird deficit to 14-8. Neither team seized any momentum the rest of the first half, as both teams struggled with stringing together successful offensive possessions.
Elijah Long electrified the Knott Arena on contested step-back 3 in the waning seconds of the first half to give the Mountaineers a 26-25 lead at the break.
After halftime, Mount St. Mary’s seemed poised to seize the momentum from Long’s shot, as they opened the half securing two steals and converting in transition for four straight points, before LIU Brooklyn called a timeout.
The Blackbirds didn’t back down, and never trailed by more than five in the second half.
After a layup from Mawdo Sallah with 5:39 to play, the aforementioned scoring drought ensued, as the Mountaineers missed their next four shots, as well as two free throws.
During this span, the Blackbirds took the lead when Iverson Fleming (game-high 21 points on 8 of 13 shooting) converted a layup.
Even after Wray missed the front-end of a one-and-one, he intercepted an errant pass that led to a fast break by Junior Robinson (10 points and six assists), but was blocked by a trailing defender with 39 seconds to play.
Fleming scored a tough layup with 13 seconds to play giving LIU Brooklyn a 58-54 lead. From there, the Blackbirds were successful on their free throw attempts, negating any chance of a late surge by Mount St. Mary’s even after a late 3 by Greg Alexander (10 points on three 3-pointers).
The Mountaineers, who desperately need a win over last-place St. Francis Brooklyn in order to lock up the regular season NEC title and home-court in the conference tournament, is focused on executing their game plan the coaches install during their preparation for opponents.
“We’ve got to follow the details, follow the game plan,” Wray said. “In this game we lost in the fast break and second chance points. This is stuff that we practiced.”