Unless you’re one of those people who hates fun, takes themselves way too seriously, and doesn’t consider the First Four part of the real NCAA Tournament, March Madness officially kicked off tonight.
In a close, thrilling contest, Mount St. Mary’s pulled off the first victory of this year’s Big Dance by a score of 67-66. The tandem of Junior Robinson and Miles Wilson was the key Tuesday night for Mount St. Mary’s, as they combined for 40 of the team’s points.
New Orleans started out hot, bolting out to a 10-5 lead early on before Mount St. Mary’s got to work with a stellar display of ball movement. The Mountaineers did an excellent job cutting to the basket and dishing it back out to open players like Robinson and Wilson for easy shots. The 13-1 run that ensued made it clear that Mount St. Mary’s was in control of this one early.
However, just as the Mountaineers seemed to be pulling away, the Privateers put together a run of their own. Due largely to Erik Thomas’s strength on the boards and his willingness to take and make jumpers, New Orleans closed the half on a 10-2 run, but still trailed 32-29 at the break.
In the second half, Robinson continued to dominate the game, finding good looks and coming up with a few steals. And, like many other junctions throughout this game, it looked like Mount St. Mary’s was finally going to obtain the breathing room it needed to close this one out.
The rest of the game was intense. Both teams kept it close, and there was even a point where a scuffle ensued between teammates Christavious Gill and Travin Thibodeaux. It was a moment that highlighted just how much emotion was present. Neither team wanted to go home before getting their shot at the defending champions.
In the final two minutes, we were treated to a great finish, with the teams trading buckets and the lead. The Mountaineers were able to obtain their first lead since early on in the first half, but they gave it up after a Robinson jumper.
After deciding not to foul the Mountaineers in the final 30 seconds, the Privateers had a chance to win the game by going the length of the court with 2.9 seconds left. The inbounds pass was intercepted, ending the game.
The solid offensive efficiency that both teams operated with (more so for the Mountaineers) belies the fact that it was an incredibly sloppy affair. If this was the only time you’ve watched New Orleans or Mount St. Mary’s all season, I’m sure you would not be blown away to discover that both teams are among the NCAA’s worst at holding onto the ball.
In the end, the teams combined for 30 turnovers with the Mountaineers outdoing New Orleans by coughing the ball up 16 times.
With the win, Mount St. Mary’s will go on to face the bracket’s top overall seed, Villanova. That game will take place on Thursday evening at 7:10 p.m. as the NEC champions attempt to overcome the odds and unseat a 1 seed for the first time ever.