Mount St. Mary’s last trip to Dayton ended in disappointment following a mighty comeback and near victory in the NCAA tournament.
The Mountaineers made sure this time was different.
Three years ago, the Mount had a chance to take the lead late against Albany before having its hopes of a postseason run in March dashed. On Tuesday at University of Dayton Arena, New Orleans battled the Mountaineers down to the final seconds and had a chance for a game-winning shot.
But a full-court pass by the Privateers never found its intended target. Chris Wray intercepted the heave just past midcourt and time ran out in Mount St. Mary’s 67-66 victory.
Mount St. Mary’s (20-15) advances to the Round of 64 to face Villanova, the tournament’s overall top seed, on Thursday in Buffalo.
“What an amazing game,” MSM coach Jamion Christian said. “A lot of fun out there. When you get games like that in the month of March, it always has a great outcome.”
Freshman guard Miles Wilson’s free throws with 1:04 to play put the Mount ahead 67-64, and the Mountaineers looked to be in great shape when New Orleans guard Christavious Gill was called for an offensive foul at the other end.
But the Privateers (20-12) came up with a turnover under the basket and drew a foul, giving guard Nate Frye two free-throw attempts with 34 seconds to go. Frye sank them both, cutting MSM’s lead to one.
New Orleans, questionably, decided not to foul MSM on the next possession. The Mountaineers killed much of the clock before Junior Robinson shot a 12-foot jumper that missed off the front of the rim. By the time New Orleans had the rebound and called timeout, there were only 2.6 seconds left.
The Privateers’ shot never materialized after a timeout to set up a play, thanks in part to Wray’s 6-foot-8 size and athleticism.
Robinson scored a game-high 23 points — the most for a Mountaineers player in an NCAA tournament game — and Wilson added 17 points and 11 rebounds. Junior forward Greg Alexander had nine points on three 3-pointers.
Frye led the Privateers with 18 points and forward Erik Thomas scored 12. Travin Thibodeaux added 11 points for New Orleans, which was making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996.
Mount St. Mary’s, meanwhile, notched its second Division I tournament victory and first since 2008.
“I wouldn’t have guessed once out of 100 times that we were going to play Villanova,” sophomore guard Elijah Long said, “but dreams come true and it is March Madness. So this is part of the madness.”
Gill sank two free throws with 1:48 to go, giving New Orleans a 64-63 lead. But Robinson drained a jump shot from 15 feet away at the other end, putting Mount St. Mary’s in front 65-64 with 1:25 to play. Robinson drove the lane and lost the ball momentarily while trying to cross over his defender, but corralled it in time to hoist a shot from near the free-throw line.
“I looked down, it was still there,” Robinson said. “I grabbed it and shot it. So that’s all we needed.”
Tevin Broyles missed a shot for New Orleans on its ensuing trip, and Wilson got his hands on the ball at the other end to draw contact and get to the line. He has missed two with 2:08 to play, but came through in the clutch this time.
Long, the team’s leading scorer at 15.4 points per game, struggled throughout the game but finally got on the board after a steal and a layup with 8:24 to go, and he added a nifty reverse layup on the next possession that put MSM up 58-53.
New Orleans stayed in it, and Frye’s three-point play with 4 minutes to go cut the deficit to 63-62, setting the stage for an intense finish.
The Privateers ended the first half on a 10-2 run and trailed 32-29 at the break. MSM led 30-19 before going cold down the stretch, missing four of five field goals (four 3-point attempts) and turning it over twice.
Thomas scored a pair of layups and Boyles added another one, and Thomas’ steal-turned-layup with 61 seconds to go trimmed the deficit to two.
Long didn’t score in the first half and played 10 minutes, picking up his second personal foul with 14:16 to go. Wilson filled the void for his teammate with 12 points and seven rebounds in the half. Thomas kept New Orleans close with 12 points and five boards.
Now it’s onto the Round of 64, where a Northeast Conference team has never won.
“Today we were able to find a way to be a little bit better in the month of March,” Christian said. “That’s all that matters.”