Mount St. Mary's to play Albany on Tuesday in NCAA tournament first round

EMMITTSBURG — Julian Norfleet sat in the second row of Knott Auditorium, behind many of his Mount St. Mary’s teammates and coach Jamion Christian ready to find out where and who the Mountaineers would play in the NCAA tournament.

The senior guard sat back in his seat, with his head tilted to the right side, as cool as the blue Gatorade he was sipping. Just minutes before CBS anchor Greg Gumbel announced the news, Norfleet drew his focus to the huge projection screen at the front of the auditorium.

The selection show started, the main lights in the auditorium dimmed, and the spotlights from atop the stage bounced off the lenses of Norfleet’s stylish black-framed glasses, which he doesn’t wear on the court. Then the thumping of claps came from over 100 Mount St. Mary supporters, who put down their celebratory cookies and cupcakes to watch.

Shortly after the show started, it was announced that the Mountaineers were headed to Dayton, Ohio, to play Albany (18-14) on Tuesday at 6:40 p.m.

Norfleet’s reaction, compared to the rest of his teammates’ loud clapping, was more reserved, dominated mostly by his head slanting to the other side.

“I thought we were going to have a little bit of wait,” Norfleet said. “Just to go up there and see it happen right away was a great feeling.”

The majority of the noise came from the Mount St. Mary’s fans gathered to watch the show with the team.

“We have a community of fans that have done a great job this year supporting us,” senior guard Rashad Whack said. ”Through thick and thin, ups and downs, they stayed in our corner and still cheered for us.”

Even with the weight of an NCAA tournament game looming over those in attendance, Christian had his team and the community watch the entire selection show.

“I really wanted to give them an opportunity to sit down and enjoy the moment,” Christian said. “We’ll get to work tomorrow, but they are kids, and they should enjoy the moment as much as they can. And that was a big moment for them and something they will never forget.”

Christian’s assistant coaches, on the other hand, disappeared soon after the announcement, to begin scouting Albany. Christian and his coaches spent Saturday night identifying and scouting possible matchups. Now they can turn their full attention to the Great Danes.

“They play two post guys. They are one of the better rebounding teams in their league,” Christian said. “They shoot a high percentage from [3-point range], although they shoot a lot of 3s, and they allow their opponents to take a lot of 3s.”

Mount St. Mary’s ranks No. 11 in the nation with 8.9 3-point field goals per game, and they are No. 50 in the nation with 76.3 points per game. As a team, Albany shoots 44 percent from the floor.

“So it is an interesting matchup for us,” Christian said. “It really is going to be a battle of wills, of who does their style of play best.”

Sophomore guard Peter Hooley, leads Albany in scoring with 15.7 points per game on 40.3 percent shooting from the field, and 40.1 percent shooting from 3-point range.

“He is a really good shooter,” Christian said. “I watched his game against Bucknell earlier in the year. They do a really good job getting him off stagger screens, getting him the ball. They don’t score as many points, it’s in the lower 60s. So anytime I see that, I realize we’ve got to get the ball off the backboard and score.”

Another thing Christian learned from that game: “They lost to Bucknell, [and] we beat Bucknell.”

“If we can just play our tempo, our game, there may be an opportunity to outscore them. Or at least give our college basketball fans, for one night, a really fun game to watch.”

The team leaves campus at 7 a.m. Monday for a flight from Baltimore to Dayton.

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