Mount St. Mary’s beats Saint Francis 71-61 to win NEC title
EMMITSBURG, Md. (AP) — Elijah Long scored 24 points, Junior Robinson added 22 and Mount St. Mary’s rallied past Saint Francis University 71-61 Tuesday night to win the Northeast Conference championship and earn an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Down 31-23 at halftime after going 0 for 10 from beyond the arc, the top-seeded Mountaineers opened the second half with a 22-3 run that included a pair of 3-pointers from Long.
Mount St. Mary’s (19-15) coasted from there. After the final buzzer sounded, the team piled over each another at midcourt to celebrate its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2014.
Fourth-seeded Saint Francis (16-16) reached the title game with a 71-70 semifinal win over No. 3 seed Wagner 71-70, a game decided by Keith Braxton’s 3-point shot at the buzzer.
There were no such heroics this time for the Red Flash, who got only seven points from Braxton in their bid to earn a place in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991.
Isaiah Blackmon led Saint Francis with 17 points. The Red Flash missed 10 of 17 free throws and was 3 for 16 from beyond the arc before hitting its last three attempts in the final minutes.
Hosting the NEC championship game for the first time, the Mountaineers drew a standing-room only crowd at Knott Arena. The fans started lining up outside two hours before the opening tip, and they stuck around long after the final buzzer.
Miles Wilson scored 15 points for the Mountaineers, who outscored Saint Francis 48-30 in the second half. The Mount went 3-0 against the Red Flash this season, winning the last games by a combined 29 points.
Saint Francis got off to a miserable start, going 3 for 11 from the floor with six turnovers while falling behind 17-8. The deficit reached 10 points before Jamaal King scored nine points in a 20-2 run that put Saint Francis in front 29-21.
At that point, an upset seemed possible. The second half, however, was altogether different.
After playing catch-up for the latter part of the opening half, the Mountaineers got six points from Long and five points from Robinson to pull even at 31. Minutes later, Wilson drilled successive 3-pointers and added a layup in an 11-0 spurt that made it 45-34.
The fans yelled and screamed the rest of the way, primed for a first-of-its-kind celebration on The Mount’s home court.
Saint Francis: The Red Flash finished .500, but can take solace in reaching the NEC championship game after starting the season 3-9.
Mount: Operating in relative obscurity north of Baltimore, the Mount is one of Maryland’s most successful teams. This was its fifth appearance in the NEC title game over the past decade.