EMMITSBURG — The faces looked different but the style of play was the same when Mount St. Mary's got on the court in front of spectators for the first time since last year's NCAA tournament.
Despite losing their top three scorers and unquestioned team leaders to graduation, on Wednesday during the annual Blue-White instrasquad scrimmage, coach Jamion Christian's Mountaineers still managed to fire up plenty of 3-pointers, force numerous turnovers and generally create mayhem as they did a year ago en route to the Northeast Conference title.
"That's Coach Christian's style. We've got the guys to do it, so we're going to keep playing like that and we're going to try to get another championship," said junior Chris Martin.
Martin is used to that style, having practiced with the team all of last year after transferring in from Marshall. The other transfer expected to be a big contributor right away is fellow junior Andrew Smeathers, who came to the Mount from Butler in the middle of the season last year. Illness kept him from practicing much with the team, so he's still getting to used to the way Christian likes to play.
"I've never played this type of style in my life," said the Indiana native. "The fullcourt pressing, running up and down, run-and-gun, the East Coast game as I call it, all the guys laugh at me because the midwest game is a lot slower. I'm really trying to wrap my head around this."
They both seemed to have a good grasp of the offense on Wednesday. Both hit three 3-pointers as MSM made 15 in the 30-minute scrimmage at Knott Arena.
Sophomore Byron Ashe led all players with 16 points, Smeathers had 15, Martin 14 and Charles Glover and Kristijan Krajina — both returning from ACL injuries — had 11 and 10, respectively.
Of those five leading scorers Wednesday, only Ashe was active for the Mount's NEC title run and subsequent loss to Albany in the first round of the NCAA tourney. The team that was so thin last year it had to use walk-ons extensively when injuries struck looks like it will go at least 10 deep in the rotation this season.
"They're going to have to split up the minutes — I don't know how they're going to do it," Ashe said. "The roster's so deep this year that everybody has to work really hard in practice. Because if you don't, you won't play. ... It's like a battle every day."
The Mount appears to be not only deeper, but also bigger and more athletic. The Mountaineers boast nine players listed at 6-foot-7 or taller and they looked quite capable of running the floor on Wednesday. Adding depth, size and athleticism was all part of Christian's master plan when he arrived at the Mount in the spring of 2012.
"When you research mid-major teams playing well in the NCAA tournament, they have a couple of common denominators," he said. "One, they're big on the wings and they can defend you. Two, they rebound the ball. And thirdly they can knock down outside shots. That's kind of been the formula we've been trying to build here.
"It's taken three years but that was the plan, to be there in the third year. We got there a little bit early because we had some great players who bought into what we do."
Christian's first two years produced a run to the Northeast Conference title game in 2013 and the fourth NEC championship in program history last spring. Much of that success was attributed to point guard Julian Norfleet, and fellow guards Rashad Whack and Sam Prescott. All three have graduated, however, taking their combined 46 points per game with them.
"Last year I learned a lot from the three seniors," Martin said. "We've got a different team this year."
The biggest different will be at the point. Norfleet was among the best in the NEC a year ago and it looks like Christian will turn to multiple players to replace him.
Ashe, who didn't play point guard in high school, Glover, who missed all of last season after tearing the ACL in his right knee during the preseason, and 5-7 freshman Lamont Robinson, who didn't play Wednesday because of a minor back ailment, are expected to contend for the starting job and minutes at point guard.
"I love our trio of guys," Christian said. "We're going to let that spot play out. I love the talent there."
The Mountaineers were picked to finish fifth in the preseason coaches poll. The players said they'll use that as motivation. Christian wasn't too concerned considering where his team was picked the past two seasons and how far those teams went.
"When we got here, the first year we were picked ninth and we ended up playing in the championship game. The next year we were picked sixth and went to the NCAA tournament," he said. "And so you look at and you do take a deep breath and say, 'Wow, that's a pretty amazing journey.'"
NOTE: The Mount opens its season on Nov. 14 at Arizona. MSM's first home game is Nov. 19 against UMES. The schedule also features games at Wake Forest, Seton Hall and Notre Dame.
Reach staff writer Bob Blubaugh at 410-857-7895 or email@example.com.