Mount St. Mary’s back in the NCAA tournament with 68-55 win over Sacred Heart
FAIRFIELD, Conn. (AP)—Jim Phelan must be smiling.
Mount St. Mary’s is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since the coaching great handed the program over to his assistant, Milan Brown, five years ago.
Jean Cajou and Kelly Beidler each scored 15 points and the Mountaineers (18-14) beat Sacred Heart 68-55 Wednesday in the Northeast Conference championship game.
“In the back of my mind, I knew that bringing a championship home would definitely be great for me,” said Brown, who was an assistant to Phelan the last time the Mount went to the NCAA tournament in 1999. “But it’s going to put a smirk on his face too, even though I know he was so nervous that he didn’t watch the game.”
Phelan won 830 games in 49 years at Mount St. Mary’s.
Jeremy Goode added 13 and Shawn Atupem had 12 for the fourth-seeded Mountaineers, who have won eight of nine, including a victory over top-seeded Robert Morris in the semifinals.
Mount St. Mary’s students held up signs urging their team to “Win for Dustin,” and began chanting “Dustin Bauer” as the game wound down. Bauer, a senior at the school, was placed on life support after injuring his head in a fall from the first-floor landing of a residence hall early Sunday morning.
“If he was healthy, he would have been here,” said senior guard Chris Vann, a close friend of Bauer’s. “He was one of the ‘Mount Maniacs’ at the school. We did it for him, but we did it for us as well. It felt like he was the sixth man on the court.”
Brice Brooks had 18 points and Drew Shubik had 13 to lead Sacred Heart (18-14), which cut a nine-point deficit to 57-55 with just over three minutes left.
But Beidler hit a basket that stretched the lead back to four, and Shubik threw the ball into the hands of Mount St. Mary’s Markus Mitchell on the other end. Mount St. Mary’s scored 11 straight to end the game, most of those from the foul line.
The Mountaineers held the Pioneers to 29 percent shooting, including 2-for-19 from 3-point range.
“We consider ourselves the No. 1 defensive team in the conference and I believe this, right here, proved it,” Beidler said. “We played at their gym, everyone was thinking that they’re going to win and we came in and shocked everybody.”
It was a physical game. The two teams combined for 52 fouls, and the Mountaineers were 30-of-35 from the foul line.
Ryon Howard, who averages over eight points for Sacred Heart, fouled out with more than seven minutes left.
“It was called close,” Sacred Heart coach Dave Bike said. “They called it 25 to 27, sometimes you have to recognize that. You’ve got to control what you can control. We had a couple of opportunities to contain a guy, and we fouled him instead.”
Vann, who averages almost 15 points per game and is the Mountaineers’ leading scorer, picked up his third and fourth fouls less than two minutes into the second half. He came back into the game with about eight minutes to go, and immediately hit a jumper, his first points, to give Mount St. Mary’s a 50-42 lead, but finished with four points.
The Pioneers scored first, but hit one of their next 12 shots, and committed four early turnovers. The Mountaineers went on 13-2 run, and were up 13-4 with 12 minutes left in the first half.
The Mount led 28-19 late in the half, but Sacred Heart scored the last four points, the final two coming on a putback by Howard at the buzzer.
Sacred Heart started the second half on a 6-0 run, taking the lead on a three-point play by Shubik. But the Mount put together an 8-0 run to go back up 40-33.
The Pioneers were making their second trip to the title game. They lost a year ago to Central Connecticut.
Brown said he expects his team will be headed to Dayton next week for the “play-in” opening-round game.
“At this point I don’t care where we play,” Brown said. “We just want to keep playing.”