EMMITSBURG — Moral victories aren’t in fashion anymore at Mount St. Mary’s, where a first-year coach and a roster filled with freshmen and sophomores are still learning how to navigate through a basketball season.
The last five-plus minutes of Saturday’s game against St. Francis Brooklyn might be reason enough to reconsider.
The Mountaineers put together a furious comeback charge, one that ignited a Homecoming crowd of more than 3,000 inside Knott Arena, to try and post their second Northeast Conference victory in three days. The Terriers held on, though, and turned back MSM 74-67.
But not before the Mountaineers tried desperately to pull out a remarkable rally.
“Proud of our fight to get back in the game,” said Mount coach Dan Engelstad. “Hard to beat a very good team when you spot them as much as we did out of the gate. But I never doubted our fight. That’s one thing that our group does, is we’re resilient. We keep playing, we keep playing hard.”
Mount St. Mary’s (5-16, 2-6 NEC) trailed by 19 points early in the second half, and faced a 62-46 deficit with less than 5:30 remaining. That’s when things got exciting for the home team — sophomore Omar Habwe and freshman Vado Morse connected on six 3-pointers down the stretch, and the Mount made seven over the final 5:09.
When Morse drained a 3 from the top of the arc with 49 seconds to go, MSM trailed 70-67. And the fans got even louder when St. Francis Brooklyn committed a turnover on the ensuing possession.
The Mountaineers worked the ball around until Morse found himself open on the left wing for another 3, but his shot missed with 18 seconds to go and Glenn Sanabria snared the rebound for the Terriers.
Sanabria made two free throws at the other end to seal it for St. Francis Brooklyn (13-8, 5-3).
Rosel Hurley had 16 points to lead the visitors, while Sanabria, Deniz Celen, Jalen Jordan, and Stevan Krtinic had 15 apiece. Celen led the way with 10 rebounds, and Krtinic grabbed seven.
If the end of the second half was chalked up as a learning experience, Engelstad said, the Mount’s struggles in the first half might end up being more valuable to his team’s future growth.
“I felt like the game really freed up at the end and we started playing together,” Habwe said. “At first I don’t think we really playing together. I think we were making a lot of hero shots, trying to play 1-on-1 basketball. As the game went on, point guards started getting into the lane, finding us. We started pushing in transition, which really helped us out a lot.”
Mount St. Mary’s missed 13 of 15 3-point shots in the first half and trailed 42-27, then watched Hurley sink a 3 from the left corner to open the second half for St. Francis Brooklyn. After a MSM turnover, Celen scored from close range and the Terriers led 46-27.
Any rally at that point seemed fantasy, but Mount St. Mary’s chipped away — and 3-pointers started falling. Hawbe hit a pair on back-to-back possessions, followed by two from Morse for four in a row.
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With 3:11 to go, the Mountaineers trailed 66-58.
“The basket pretty much just opened up for us,” said Morse, who finished with a game-high 24 points and five 3-pointers. “The first half, it was a little struggle.”
The Mount put together a 21-8 run to trim St. Francis Brooklyn’s lead to three, but the home team couldn’t get any closer.
Habwe scored 12 points and freshman forward Malik Jefferson grabbed five rebounds, as did fellow freshman big man Nana Opoku (three blocks.
Jalen Gibbs, a sophomore guard, netted 11 points for MSM.
The Mountaineers defeated LIU Brooklyn, the reigning NEC champion, on Thursday, and were going after their third win in four games. Instead, they’ll have to regroup for Sacred Heart on Jan. 31 before hosting Saint Francis U on Feb. 2.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Engelstad said. “We want to try to fight back and get back into the mix in the NEC.”