'Everything to gain'

The Baltimore Sun

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Faced with the longest odds in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, Milan Brown made sure his Mount St. Mary's players understood these were odds, not laws.

There is nothing in the NCAA manual that says the 16th seed in any region has to lose to the No. 1 seed, even if it always happens.

So this week, when the 16th-seeded Mountaineers began preparing for tonight's first-round game against No. 1 seed North Carolina, their coach made his point.

"The first thing we said before we practiced Wednesday and every time we huddled up, I said nobody put their hand in here and say Mount - like we usually do - if you don't think we can win," Brown said.

Point taken.

The Mountaineers weren't predicting an upset over the Tar Heels (32-2) during yesterday's media session, but they weren't rolling over, either.

A No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 seed?

"It's going to happen sooner or later, so we just feel like if it's gonna happen, why not us?" mercurial Mount point guard Jeremy Goode said.

It has never happened in the NCAA, and this doesn't seem like the right time or place - North Carolina is not only the No. 1 seed in the East Regional, but also the No. 1 team in the country. Still, the scrappy Mountaineers (19-14) are not daunted by the task.

"We have nothing to lose, everything to gain," senior guard Chris Vann said. "When we step on the court every time, we feel we can win every game. So we're going to bring that to the game. And at the end, when the clock hits zero, we'll see."

Even North Carolina coach Roy Williams, whose No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks stumbled badly against 16th seed Holy Cross in 2002 before avoiding a landmark upset, believes a 16th seed will take down a No. 1 seed someday. He just doesn't want that day to be today.

As matchups go, this doesn't bode well for the Mountaineers: Nobody plays their game - the up-tempo game - better than the fast-breaking, transition-efficient Tar Heels.

"That's the dilemma," Brown acknowledged. "How much you're going to play the way you normally play and make some adjustments to combat a team that [runs well and] has better athletes."

The Mount wins with trademark defense. But after losing six of eight games and failing to break 60 points in four straight games, Brown decided to loosen the reins on offense and let the players run.

Since making the switch, the Mount has averaged 75.7 points and won 11 of 15 games. It takes a six-game winning streak into tonight's game.

"It's absolutely been huge for us," Brown said. "We knew we were playing good enough defense to win games, but we weren't playing good enough offense to win games. It happened after a home loss to Sacred Heart [on Jan. 19] that me and my staff were so tired of scoring 50-some points and allowing a team to score 62 and still losing."

Brown brought in his captains, drew up a few new plays for a quicker tempo, and rolled the dice.

"Pretty much the first thing I did was cut Jeremy Goode loose and told everybody else to keep up," he said.

Goode, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, leads the team with 14.5 points a game and shoots 44 percent from the field. He came to the Mount, ironically, from North Carolina country - Charlotte, in fact - and loves the up-and-down game.

"I think Jeremy is one of the fastest point guards in the nation," Vann said. "If he's ramming it down your throat, it's hard for the defense to step up. I think him pushing the ball [tonight] will keep Tywon [Lawson] on his heels. I think if he's on his heels, that would be good."

Goode says the change in offensive style in January wasn't as much a change in philosophy as it was a commitment to playing faster.

"[Brown] changed the playbook several times through the year so it would open opportunities for everyone," Goode said. "He drew up a couple plays, and a couple plays led to more and more plays. ... Once he did that, it's helped us out a whole bunch."

How the Mount plays it tonight is another story, though. However that is, Brown wants the Mount believing.

"I wouldn't do our program or our kids any justice if we went all this time believing in each other and them believing in me, and then I get to the stage [tonight] and don't believe we can do it."

History says it's won't happen. Brown doesn't believe history.

"We'll show up with a rock and a slingshot," he said.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

Mount St. Mary's (19-14) vs. North Carolina (32-2)

What -- NCAA tournament first-round game

Where -- RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C.

Time -- 7:10

TV -- Chs. 13, 9

What to watch -- As of Feb. 7, when the Mountaineers were 10-13, they were simply trying to salvage the season. Since an 83-75 overtime loss to Wagner at home, the Mount has won nine of 10 - including six in a row - to earn its way to Raleigh. ... The Mount is 1-11 all time against ranked opponents since moving into Division I in 1988-89 but has never faced the No. 1 team in the country. ... The last ranked team the Moun taineers played was Maryland on Jan. 4, 2005. The result was an 89-56 loss. ... The Mount is 1-17 all-time against Atlantic Coast Conference teams; the lone victory was in 1995 against Georgia Tech. ... Freshman guard Jean Cajou, the Northeast Con ference tournament Most Valuable Player, has scored in double figures in six of the past seven games. ... Sen ior guard Chris Vann went over the 1,000-point mark for his career at Emmitsburg in the 69-60 win over Coppin State. With 1,003 points, he ranks 38th all-time. ... North Carolina is a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourna ment for an NCAA-record 12th time, and the third time in four years. ... The Tar Heels are 21-1 in NCAA tour nament games played in the state of North Carolina, including 5-1 in Ra leigh. ... They have won 11 straight games and 14 of their past 15 since losing to Maryland on Jan. 19. ... Carolina has appeared in 130 NCAA tournament games, trailing only Kentucky (141). ... The winner ad vances to Sunday's second round against tonight's Indiana-Arkansas winner.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
54°