Complete with buzzer-beaters, comebacks, and upsets, the Northeast Conference Tournament has had plenty of drama.
On Tuesday, the conference will take center stage on ESPN2 when top seed Mount St. Mary’s hosts 4 seed Saint Francis PA for the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. The Mountaineers last danced in 2014, while the Red Flash made their only appearance in 1991.
How they got here:
Mount St. Mary’s struggled in its quarterfinal game against 8 seed Sacred Heart, trailing by five with under 10 minutes to play. But Junior Robinson scored seven points in the final two minutes and the Pioneers missed a three at the buzzer to send The Mount to the semis.
Thanks to Robert Morris’s stunning upset over LIU Brooklyn, the Mountaineers drew the seventh-seeded Colonials for a spot in the championship game. Once again, it wasn’t easy for the tournament’s top seed. Robert Morris led by double digits in the first half and by four at halftime. Mount St. Mary’s responded by methodically out-scoring Robert Morris 18-9 to start the second half to take control. Elijah Long played 38 minutes and scored 22 points to go with five rebounds and five assists to lead the Mountaineers.
Saint Francis’s road to the title game began in relatively boring fashion behind a blowout 100-78 win over Bryant in the 4-5 quarterfinal game. It was the Red Flash’s first 100-point game this season against a Division I opponent and their most lopsided victory since early January. That game turned out to be a warmup for one of the most dramatic finishes of Championship Week so far in their semifinal game against Wagner.
The score was tied at 65 with under a minute to play, when Corey Henson hit a three to put Wagner ahead. Nine seconds later, Jamaal King answered with a three of his own. Out of a Wagner timeout, the Seahawks worked the clock down and Michael Carey converted what looked like the game-winning layup with nine seconds left. Then Keith Braxton did this at the buzzer to keep Saint Francis’s season alive:
How Saint Francis wins:
Mount St. Mary’s has yet to see the real Isaiah Blackmon this season. Blackmon didn’t play in the first meeting this season between the two teams, then when they met again in February, he struggled, scoring eight points but going 0-3 from three. Since then, Blackmon is 13-23 from long range and is shooting nearly 50 percent from three this season. He’s played a key role in the Red Flash owning the conference’s best three-point percentage and the most efficient offense.
Of course, the Red Flash could shoot the lights out and still lose if they cannot contain the guard duo of Long and Robinson. Both are above-average shooters, get to the line with regularity, and distribute. It’s unlikely that Saint Francis can shut them both down — each had one monster performance in the two games against the Red Flash this year — but keeping one from going off would go a long way toward pulling the upset.
How Mount St. Mary’s wins:
Long and Robinson are spoken for. They can guide the team to victory if the Red Flash can’t keep them in check. But what else does The Mount have to do? The answer could lie in the game’s tempo.
Mount St. Mary’s is exceptional at forcing opponents to make mistakes on offense. The Mountaineers rank in the top 25 nationally in turnover percentage defense and have no problem speeding opponents up. They call it Mount Mayhem, and the goal is to prevent the other team from getting perimeter looks (or any good looks for that matter), while using their defense to set up good looks for themselves from outside. Considering how reliant Saint Francis is on the three, the Red Flash may have a tough time if the Mountaineers execute their gameplan.
How to watch:
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Prediction: They storm the court in Emmitsburg and The Mount dances again.