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Late push lifts Mount St. Mary’s men’s hoops past Wagner into NEC tourney finals

Mount St. Mary’s needed some heroics in the final minutes ― a theme of late ― to rally past Wagner and advance to the Northeast Conference tournament finals with a 66-60 victory Saturday in Staten Island, New York.

The Mountaineers (11-10) built a nine-point lead midway through the second half before the top-seeded Seahawks (13-7) starting chipping away. Wagner put together 16-6 run to take the lead at 57-56 with 1 minute, 45 seconds remaining on a free throw from Will Martinez. MSM’s Mezie Offurum scored a layup with 32 seconds to go, then grabbed a rebound off a Seahawks missed free throw on the next possession and knocked down two from the line.

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Malik Jefferson and Damian Chong Qui added a pair of free throws down the stretch and the Mount capped its victory with a dunk from Nana Opoku.

Chong Qui and Opoku led the Mountaineers with 14 points apiece, and Jefferson added 10 points and 10 rebounds. Offurum filled the stat sheet with eight boards, seven points, and four assists. DeAndre Thomas scored 13 off the bench and was 7-for-9 from the free-throw line.

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Mount St. Mary’s won despite missing nine of 12 3-point attempts. The Mountaineers erased a seven-point deficit in the final minute last week to knock off Saint Francis in overtime.

Martinez poured in a game-high 17 points for Wagner, which had beaten the Mount twice during the regular season and finished 13-5 in NEC play. Elijah Ford added 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Seahawks. MSM had lost five in a row against Wagner and five of its last six in Staten Island.

Mount St. Mary’s, the No. 4 seed, moves onto the Northeast tourney title game March 9 at 7 p.m. against No. 2 Bryant, which took care of Sacred Heart 85-55 in the other semifinal. The Mount and Bryant had their regular-season matchups canceled because of COVID-19. The Bulldogs are making their first NEC finals appearance, while the Mountaineers last won a conference crown in 2017.

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