In the biggest moments, the ball seemed to find the smallest player on the floor.
Junior Robinson, all 5-foot-5 of him, scored six of the last nine points for Mount St. Mary’s and assisted on a late Chris Wray layup as the Mountaineers defeated Sacred Heart 76-73 on Wednesday Night at the Knott Arena.
“As he’s bought into winning so much, you can tell when he’s out there playing he really wanted this one tonight,” Mount St. Mary’s coach Jamion Christian said of his junior guard who finished with 22 points.
With the score knotted up at 67-all, Robinson spotted up for a 3-pointer that got nothing but the net. On the following possession, Robinson found Wray rolling to the rim for the assist. With the Mountaineers ahead 74-71, and with 52 seconds remaining, Robinson pulled up at the elbow and converted a midrange jumper to make it 76-71.
Robinson, the shortest player in Division I basketball, also contested the potential game-tying Sacred Heart 3-pointer with three seconds to play.
“It’s a great feeling, as they depend on me to [to make plays],” Robinson said of the team’s reliance on him in key moments.
Robinson’s efforts throughout the game helped to alleviate the offensive pressure of his backcourt partner, Elijah Long, who had the defensive assignment on Quincy McKnight, a player who, along with Long, was named as an NEC First-Team performer.
“As soon as I seen him getting hot, [I knew] I could try to focus on defense more on Quincy McKnight,” Long said.
Both teams played sloppy to begin the game, resulting in turnovers and an abundance of forced shots in the first four minutes of the game, as the score was 4-4 at the first media timeout.
With the Pioneers leading 13-11 with just under 11 minutes until halftime, an 8-0 spurt for the Mountaineers helped to bring their home-court advantage back into play. Robinson made a 3, then the patented Mayhem defense forced a turnover on the ensuing inbounds pass. Wray capitalized on the miscue with a layup before Robinson made his third 3-pointer of the first half.
Sacred Heart stayed in the game, never letting the first half lead to grow over eight points, and eventually found themselves down by just three going into halftime despite Mount St. Mary’s making five first half 3’s compared to their one.
The second half was a closely contested affair that saw neither team leading by more than three points the last 8:25 of the game.
Long, who scored 19 points, made a 3 with 13:06 to play to give the Mountaineers a 58-42 lead. The Pioneers countered with a 9-0 lead to give them a five-point advantage, and their largest lead of the night.
Mount St. Mary’s stayed within striking distance before Miles Wilson, who scored all 10 of his points in the second half, made an important 3 to tie the game at 67-all before Robinson took the game into his own hands in the final two minutes.
Despite Robinson’s impressive sequence, the Pioneers hung in the game due to two Mountaineer turnovers in the final 33 seconds. But Chris Wray, a 31 percent free throw shooter, sank a free throw with 1.5 seconds left to seal the win.
The Mountaineers dropped 11 3-pointers in the game, compared to just three from the Pioneers. The Pioneers held a 48-30 advantage in points in the paint, including their two forwards, De’von Barnett and Joseph Lopez combining for 35 total points.
Mount St. Mary’s will turn its attention to their semifinal matchup this Saturday at 2 p.m. against Robert Morris at the Knott Arena.
“These games in the playoffs are going to come down to the team that can execute the best,” Christian said. “and just find a way.”