Mount finding a new way to win

Mount finding a new way to win
SOUTH BEND, IN - DECEMBER 09: Charles Glover #12 of the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers loses the ball during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Purcell Pavilion on December 9, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG - OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD ** (Michael Hickey, Getty Images)

The high-scoring Mount St. Mary's team that enjoyed so much success over coach Jamion Christian's first two seasons appears to be no more.

The Mountaineers are still doing pretty well against their Northeast Conference foes, they're just doing it in a different way, seemingly channeling an earlier era of Mount basketball when low-scoring, defensive games were the norm.


The Mount (9-10, 5-3 NEC) has won five of six by allowing the opposition to score just 53.3 points per game on 36.8 percent shooting, including 24.2 percent on 3-pointers. Saturday's 52-40 win over St. Francis (Pa.) represented not only thew fewest points MSM has allowed under Christian, but the fewest points the team has given up since 2004, when then-coach Milan Brown was preaching defense first.

The key to their defense has been their ability to keep other teams from making — or even taking — 3-pointers.

"Secretly, since I've been here, we've been one of the best defensive 3-point teams in the country in terms of not allowing teams to shoot 3s," said Christian, whose team has allowed 290 3-point attempts this season, tied for lowest in the NEC. "Our guiys just do a great job of it. We have a lot of long athletes."

The Mountaineers have the luxury of playing the 6-foot-7 Gregory Graves, the 6-8 Andrew Smeathers (when he is healthy) and even 7-footer Taylor Danaher out defending on the wing, but it isn't just those players Chrstian is talking about.

"You look at Byron Ashe, he's only [6-1], but he has the reach of 6-7. Khalid Nwandu [is 6-3], his reach is 6-6. So everybodys a little bit bigger than what their size looks like," Christian said. "Our guys do a great job of keeping the pressure on guys, and keeping them off the 3-point line. That's a product of us being able to defend the 3."

This is uncharted territory for the coach who came to Emmitsburg three years ago vowing to bring in an up-tempo offense that would allow the Mount to simply outscore the opposition, trading layups for made 3-pointers if necessary. The Mountaineers reached the NEC championship game in 2013 and won the league title last season.

But the team that averaged 70 points per game in Christian's first year while giving up 72 (on 51 percent shooting) and 76 points per game last year while allowing 78 (on 49.5 percent shooting), is scoring a mere 60.7 points per game this season and yielding 65.3 (on 45.8 percent shooting).

The change has been even more pronounced since conference play began eight games ago. The Mountaineers lead the NEC in scoring defense (allowing just 59.8 points per NEC game), field goal percentage defense, and 3-point field goal percentage defense.

The emphasis on defense has been by necessity.The Mountaineers are eighth in the 10-team league in scoring, averaging only 65.5 points per NEC game.

"Right now the shots are not falling," sixth-year senior Kristijan Krajina said Saturday, "so we have to focus more on defense and keep getting stops."

So the Mountaineers are finding a new way to win from the past two seasons, when they allowed some of the highest percentages of made field goal attempts in the nation, but won because they regular eclipsed 70 points. The Mount is 17-9 under Christian when scoring 70-79 points, 12-3 when scoring 80-90, and 4-0 when scoring more than 90. While their scoring has been down all year after having lost their top three scorers from the past two years to graduation, they have bottomed out recently, managing a total of only 172 points over their past three games for an average of 57.3 per game. But they won twice and lost the third in overtime after blowing a late seven-point lead.

"We just haven't been able to score the ball," Christian said. "We have some guys that are offensively talented. I think by the end of the day they'll be as talented as anybody we've had here. We had a chance to watch [now-graduated] Julian Norfleet, Rashad Whack and Sam Prescott at the end of their careers. Sometimes we rush to judgment, thinking that guys that are freshmen or sophomores are going to be at that level right away, but it's just not realistic."

Saturday's game, in particular, was reminiscent of the type of slow, half-court, defense-oriented game Brown used to win with last decade. The Mount took only 13 shots from 3-point range and forced only seven turnovers, but won anyway by going inside on offense and limiting the Red Flash to 2-for-20 shooting on 3-pointers.

"That's not usually the recipe for us," Christian said. "But if we can play lock-down, half-court defense, we'll be able to play with a lot of teams."


Smeathers, the team's leading scorer, missed his fourth consecutive game. Christian wondered how many other teams in the league could keep winning without their top scorer and said when Smeathers returns it will be "like picking up a free agent right before the trade deadline."

It's possible Smeathers will be back for Thursday's game at St. Francis Brooklyn. But while his absence has been felt on offense, the Mount's defense has gotten better as redshirt freshman Charles Glover has gotten more playing time. Glover had six points, three assists and a steal against St. Francis (Pa.) in a career-high 29 minutes.

"He does a lot of things well. He's a guy that can defend multiple positions," Christian said. "He gives us a great spark but we expect that from him. Our team scores when he's on the floor.

"Defensively he's great for us. One of the reasons we're good defending right now is because of him."

Regardless of whether the Mountaineers can return to their high-scoring ways, clearly they have bought into playing defense, the likes of which was rarely seen the past few years.

"We've been great in not allowing 3-point shots and defending the 3," Krajina said. "That's been our focus the last few weeks and we've been executing very well."

Reach staff writer Bob Blubaugh at 410-857-7895 or