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Men's basketball: Mount fumbles shot for road win, falls at American

WASHINGTON - A year ago, a loss like this would have been devastating for Mount St. Mary's. While many of the players are the same, the coach is different, and the players' attitudes much more upbeat.

Even after the Mount dropped an eminently winnable game, 62-57, to American before 1,323 at Bender Arena on Thursday night, the coach was still positive, and the players were saying the right things, but sounding like they meant them.

With the Mountaineers down 59-57 with five seconds to go, Julian Norfleet took a pass as he was cutting toward the basket, then fumbled it, and the game was over.

MSM (1-2) had stayed with American (2-1) the entire game, falling behind 56-50 with 2:06 and putting up a fight that they think will help them as they get adjusted to new coach Jamion Christian's pressuring defensive system.

"If we continue to make progress and everything starts to click, games like this won't even be close," predicted junior guard Josh Castellanos.

The game was close. The Eagles led by seven in the game's early moments as the Mount was scoreless for nearly 4½ minutes at the start.

The first half was a strange one - statistically at least. American shot 71 percent, but led by just 29-26 thanks to 16 turnovers. MSM forced only seven more in the second half.

"They have such a tough team to pressure. I thought our pressure bothered them. We got 23 turnovers tonight. We just didn't get the ones we needed," Christian said.

Norfleet led the Mount with 14. Rashad Whack, who had 20 in Tuesday's win over Hartford, had 10. Castellanos had six points and six assists.

With 20.4 seconds to play, Castellanos drove and scored for a 57-all tie, then fouled the Eagles' Daniel Munoz, who hit two free throws with 12.5 seconds to play.

After a timeout, the Mount was going for the tying basket, and Norfleet couldn't handle the ball.

"My team did a good job of getting me open, and I didn't come through. I dropped the ball, and that was it," Norfleet said.

"No game ever comes down to one play," Christian said, defending the junior guard. "We're not where we are as a program without Julian Norfleet carrying the load. His unselfishness the entire year has been unbelievable. He's had to be completely unselfish, to take different shots. He's done that. He's going to have a great year because of that."

MSM has a quirky first two months.

After three games in six days, they don't play again for nine days, visiting Georgetown at the Verizon Center, then playing a third straight game in the Nation's Capital, two nights later against George Washington. They play just two home games in December, on the 7th against Navy and the 29th against UMBC. Mixed in is a seemingly impossible game against No. 1 Indiana on Dec. 19.

"I love the schedule," Christian said. "You've got to build toughness. There's no better way to build toughness than on the road. We've got some great opponents on the road. We've also got some beatable opponents on the road."

American was one of them. Its coach, Jeff Jones ,liked what he saw out of the Mount.

"Credit Mount St. Mary's. There was not a single easy possession the whole game," Jones said.

The Eagles' 6-foot-8 forward Stephen Lumpkins had 21 points and 11 rebounds.

For the third straight game, MSM was outrebounded. The 34-19 margin was glaring. The Mount's big guys, Kristijan Krajina and Taylor Danaher combined for three in 32 minutes.

As Christian changed out of his jacket and tie, he put a gray sweat suit on for the bus ride back to Emmitsburg, and exited the arena. He was talking with his assistants as he left, three games into his coaching career, confident that his team is going to be a force in the NEC.

"They're so committed to getting better, putting in the extra time. I've got no worries," he said. "We're going to be very good."

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