Mount St. Mary's didn't sound like a team that had just suffered a last-second, 46-45 defeat Saturday at American.
"Maybe I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy," MSM coach Jamion Christian. "There were just so many positives. … I thought we made a big step today."
Christian is, without question, a "glass-half-full" kind of guy. But there was some evidence Saturday that he might have a point.
His players certainly think so.
"We've got a great team. If we just build on this and get ready for conference coming up here in a couple weeks, we'll be fine," said junior center Taylor Danaher, who matched his career high with 12 rebounds. "I think we're even more talented than we have been in the past when we won the league."
A major reason the Mountaineers are so bullish despite a 3-6 start was on display for the first time Saturday in the person of Andrew Smeathers, a 6-foot-8 sharpshooter who transferred in from Butler about a year ago and was finally eligible to play.
It wasn't a particularly auspicious first half, as he drew two fouls in the first 3 minutes, 23 seconds and went back to the bench until after halftime. He had a solid second-half showing, though, hitting a pair of 3-pointers to share team-high honors with eight points.
Smeathers was philosophical about his Mount debut, and leaned on advice from assistant coach Ben Wilkins.
"He was like, 'You've waited two years to play a game, what's wrong with another half?'" Smeathers said afterward. "I was nervous. I think it showed with the two quick fouls at the beginning. But I have great teammates that helped get me through that.
"It's fun to play basketball again. Even though the outcome sucked, it was a lot of fun."
Christian said he wasn't surprised by Smeathers' performance.
"I thought he was going to get two fouls pretty quickly, honestly. He's a guy that hand-checks way too much in practice. I think Midwest basketball is so much more physical than East Coast basketball, and he got away with it a little bit at Butler," Christian said. "I thought he did a great job adjusting to the flow of the game."
Smeathers is part of a Mount team that barely resembles the squad Christian put on the floor the past two years. Gone are stalwarts Julian Norfleet, Rashad Whack and Sam Prescott, who combined to score more than 60 percent of MSM's points a year ago. Also gone, at least on Saturday, was the full-court pressing style Christian brought to Emmitsburg.
"We have such great versatility. We don't have to press and trap all the time," the coach said. "There's going to be some games where the press is great for us and we're going to turn people over [and] there's going to be other games where we're going to have to really lock down in the halfcourt. And that's what's exciting about our team. If a team plays big … we can rebound and play physical with them."
Perhaps the most obvious example of how different this year's Mount team is from last year's is that none of the five players who started Saturday at American was in the starting lineup last March when the Mountaineers faced Albany in the NCAA tournament.
Or perhaps it's that the Mountaineers experienced much of their success the past two years with a four-guard lineup that featured a 6-foot-3 power forward, while MSM was at its best Saturday with maybe the biggest lineup in school history, going 6-3, 6-7, 6-8, 6-11 and 7-foot.
Or perhaps it's as simple as the final score. The Mountaineers lost, 46-45, on a last-second score by the Eagles. But they wouldn't even have been in the game the past few years with so little scoring. They entered the game 1-12 under Christian when tallying fewer than 60 points.
The Mountaineers scored plenty the past few years, running and gunning under the offensive-minded Christian. They're averaging just 58.4 points this season.
"They're really hurting my ego," Christian said.
He was smiling as he said it. As long as the team wins, he doesn't care all that much what the score is. They haven't won as much as they'd hoped so far this season largely because of inconsistency in the backcourt. Byron Ashe, who essentially won the game against Norfolk State last week with a pair of 3-pointers in overtime, went scoreless on Saturday. Chris Martin, who had 19 points at Notre Dame, has eight combined in his past two games. And point guard Junior Robinson had only two points against the Eagles. That trio shot 3 for 17 from the field Saturday.
"I think it's more speaking about our lack of experience in the backcourt, not the lack of talent or understanding," Christian said.
Unlike in years past, however, if the little guys are struggling with their shot, maybe the 6-8 Smeathers can be the stabilizer.
"He's been great. It's really nice because all semester he's been kicking our butt on scout team, knocking down 3's, so it's nice to have him shoot for us instead of against us," Danaher said. "It provides some consistency, more depth to that guard spot. One more guy that can get off on any night."
Bob Blubaugh is the Times' sports editor. His column appears every Sunday. Reach him at 410-857-7895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.