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Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball punches ticket to NCAA tournament with 73-68 win over Bryant in NEC title game

SMITHFIELD, R.I. — Damian Chong Qui scored 21 points as the Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball team stunned Bryant, 73-68, on Tuesday night in the Northeast Conference tournament championship game and clinched an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

It’s the Mountaineers’ (12-10) sixth trip to the NCAA tournament, and first since 2017. Bryant (15-6), which entered Tuesday’s game undefeated at home this season and was the tournament’s No. 2 seed, has yet to make an appearance in the big dance.

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After the 5-foot-8 Chong Qui scored nine straight points, Bryant drew to within 54-53 on Charles Pride’s layup with 7:20 left. Mount St. Mary’s proceeded to go on an 11-2 run for a 10-point advantage with 3:27 left. Pride later buried consecutive 3-pointers, and his layup with 18 seconds left reduced Bryant’s deficit to 70-68. But Nana Opoku, a 45% free-throw shooter this season, sank a pair after being intentionally fouled and sealed the Bulldogs’ fate.

“That’s the best feeling ever,” said Chong Qui, a McDonogh graduate. “I’ve never won a championship at any level. This is the greatest thing in my life. I can’t even put it into words.”

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Opoku added 18 points, seven rebounds and five blocks, Mezie Offurum scored 16 points and Malik Jefferson chipped in 10 points and 15 rebounds for the Mountaineers, who shot 40.4% from the field and 22-for-31 from the free-throw line.

“This is something that you can’t even describe,” said Opuku, who was named the tournament Most Valuable Player and the NEC Defensive Player of the Year. “This is going to go down in the history books forever. It’s with the guys that you love and you’ve been hooping with for so long, there’s nothing better than this.”

Chong Qui shot 7-for-17 from the field, including 3-for-8 from 3-point range, and added eight rebounds and five assists. The Mount star, who scored 17 points in the second half, had accounted for 43% of his team’s field goals over the previous five games.

“We felt like the last month of the season was the playoffs, win or go home. And we stepped up,” Chong Qui said.

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Pride scored a career-high 33 points and finished a point away from scoring half of Bryant’s 68 points. He made eight of 12 3-point attempts, but the rest of the team went 0-for-13 from beyond the arc. Peter Kiss, Bryant’s leading scorer, finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out with 4:01 to play.

The game marked Mount St. Mary’s eighth appearance in the NEC championship game since joining the league in 1989-90 and first under coach Dan Engelstad, who took over for Jamion Christian in 2018. Mount St. Mary’s won the championship game in 1995, 1999, 2008, 2014 and 2017.

“There’s not many words to describe this moment,” said Engelstad, who hopes his team makes a run in the NCAA tournament. “It’s special seeing those guys celebrate in that manner with everything every team had to go through with this year. To see all the adversity they went through, and then to see them [win], it’s euphoric.”

NCAA Selection Show

Sunday, 6 p.m.

TV: CBS (Chs. 13, 9)

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