EMMITSBURG — With under four minutes remaining, and Bryant refusing to back down — drawing within five — Elijah Long heaved a half-court pass to a hard-cutting Miles Wilson at the rim, attempting to dole the knockout blow. When the ball left his hands, immediate regret engulfed Long’s mind.
“I threw it up, and I swear, I told myself ‘I don’t know why I did this,’ ” Long said.
Bryant’s Adam Grant cut Long off at the last second, putting himself in textbook position to snag the dagger from the air, and then, who knows what would have ensued. But the pass pledged to Long’s instinct, sculpted by Coach Jamion Christian’s mantra of trust and valor, and Wilson finished the rest, punctuating a thunderous alley-oop slam to unglue the Knott Arena on Thursday night.
The sequence provided enough oomph for the Mountaineers to close out a 77-70 win over Bryant, marking their eighth straight win, the longest such streak in program history.
“It all starts with our chemistry,” Christian said. “It takes a lot of trust for Elijah to see (Miles) point, and then throw it. It looks like an incredible play, because it is, but more importantly, it’s about two guys on the same page. That’s communication.”
Thanks to LIU Brooklyn’s 67-63 loss to Robert Morris, Mount St. Mary’s (12-12, 10-1) now sit two games ahead of second place atop the Northeast Conference standings.
Long, a John Carroll alum, stuffed the box score with 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. Wilson, a freshman from Mount St. Joseph in Baltimore, finished with 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting.
The lead changed hands five times in the opening seven minutes before the Mountaineers ran off a 12-0 run to take a 20-11 lead. Junior Robinson (15 points) connected on a pair of 3-pointers and Wilson converted a 3-point-play during the stretch.
Bryant countered with a 7-0 spurt six minutes later to take a 29-27 lead and rolled into the halftime with a 38-37 advantage.
Mount St. Mary’s busted out a 14-3 run in the opening minutes of the second half to hold their first double-digit advantage of the night, 53-43, with 15 minutes to go.
After Chris Wray powered into the lane for two of his 11 points, which gave the Mount their largest lead, 58-47, Bryant slowly chipped away at the deficit.
Nisre Zouzoua (25 points on 6 of 9 from deep) drilled a 3 at the top of the key to start the Bulldog push, cutting into the Mountaineers’ lead, 60-52. Seconds later, Bokso Kostur converted a 3 from the left corner to make it 60-55, and then with under seven minutes left in regulation, Nisre scored five straight points to pose a one possession game, 65-62.
Long ensued with four straight Mountaineer points to push their advantage to 69-64. Two possessions later, the Long-Wilson alley-oop connection stretch the lead to seven, 71-64.
Nisre, the conference’s leading scorer at over 20 points per game, converted a 3-point-play and Marcel Pettway finished a putback to bring Bryant within three, 73-70, with 30 seconds to go.
Four free throws from Robinson and Long sealed the historic eighth straight win, and 11 of their last 12 since starting 1-11.
“Tremendous resilience,” Christian said. “Proud with how our guys performed tonight.”
Mount St. Mary’s, once again, found a way despite getting thoroughly outworked on the glass. Bryant outrebounded the Mountaineers, 31-23, including 17 second chance points on 13 offensive rebounds.
For the game, Mount St. Mary’s shot 59.6 percent (31-for-52) and a crisp 66.7 percent from inside the arc (24-for-36). They also converted 43.8 percent of 3-point attempts (7-for-16).
Wray hauled in 11 rebounds and tallied three blocks. Greg Alexander added nine points.
Mount St. Mary’s looks to keep the torrid pace up when they host Central Connecticut this Saturday.
“The thing is,” Long started. “we’re never satisfied.”