It took until the Northeast Conference championship game, but two things happened on Tuesday that had not happened all season: Mount St. Mary’s played Bryant and the Bulldogs lost on their home court.
Mount St. Mary’s, the 4 seed out of four teams in the NEC Tournament, first beat 1 seed Wagner on the road Saturday, then 2 seed Bryant in Smithfield on Tuesday, to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in school history.
The final was 73-68, sending the Mountaineers to Indianapolis where either the First Four or a national power awaits.
It felt wrong to watch the Northeast Conference Tournament championship game played in front of no one. We’re used to seeing 3,000 fans crammed into a glorified high school gym — students on top of coaches on top of media — while a future 16 seed gets to enjoy the night of its life.
But, pandemic or not, some things never change. Like the NEC title game being worth every second of your time. And even though Mount St. Mary’s led for the entire second half, the game was competitive for 40 minutes.
Mount St. Mary’s had four players in double-figures, but the story was 5’8 guard Damian Chong Qui, who played all 40 minutes, scored 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and handed out five assists. 18 of those points came in the second half, where his three-point shooting kept Bryant at bay early on.
Still, the Mountaineers were never quite able to shake the Bulldogs, who finally had a full roster after COVID protocols left them with just seven players in their semifinal game agains Sacred Heart. Bryant stayed in the game thanks to a 33-point, eight three-pointer barrage from Charles Pride and a 12-point, 12-rebound double-double from Peter Kiss.
Kiss fouled out with four minutes left in the game, but Pride kept Bryant close. The Bulldogs held The Mount to one field goal over the final five minutes while Pride hit a pair of threes and a layup with 16 seconds left that closed a 10-point deficit to two.
A missed layup on the ensuing possession and a few timely free throws from the Mountaineers closed it out, capping as much of a Cinderella run as you can possibly have in a four-team tournament.
Mount St. Mary’s will enter the NCAA Tournament with a 12-10 record and tracks to be a 16 seed when the bracket is unveiled. While you’re waiting to watch Dan Engelstad’s group play again, read up on Chong Qui. His story is far more remarkable than anything we could put in a simple gamer, so we can just end it here.
See you next week, Mountaineers.