SMITHFIELD, Ri. (WDVM) – Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball fell in a heartbreaker to Bryant on Saturday, 70-69, in the Northeast Conference Tournament semifinals, ending the Mountaineers season.
“It’s a tough way for our guys to lose,” said Mount head coach Dan Engelstad. “I wish it would have gone to overtime but I am just proud of our effort. That’s a really good Bryant team and our guys battled and had a chance to get a really good road win.”
The Mountaineers and the Bulldogs were tied at 62 with 3:12 remaining in the game – a score that held over the course of the next two minutes, until Bryant’s Charles Pride was sent to the line and made both free throws, giving his team a 64-62 lead with 52 seconds left on the clock.
Bryant, in a full court press, would come up with a steal on the next play that Pride converted, giving the Bulldogs a four point lead, before the Mountaineers answered with a Malik Jefferson floater that cut the deficit back to two.
Playing the clock, Mount fouled Bryant’s Hall Elisias who knocked down both free throws to extend Bryant’s lead to 68-64, but that four point lead would once again be diminished as Josh Reaves drained a three-pointer at the other end to make it a one point game (68-67) with 21 seconds remaining.
Mount would send Elisias back to the line where he would make 1-of-2 shots to give Bryant a 69-67 lead. With urgency, Mezie Offurum drove the lane and dished it to Jefferson who flushed it to even the score at 69, now with 10 seconds remaining.
Bryant’s Peter Kiss, trying to win it, drove the right side lane but missed the shot. There was a scrum underneath the basket for the ball which Pride came up with and was fouled with .08 second on the cock. Pride missed the first shot, but made the second which was the game winning point.
Mount heaved the ball up the court for one final shot, but there was not enough time, and the buzzer sounded with Mount falling to Bryant 70-69.
“I’m proud of our fight,” said Engelstad. “It’s hard to beat a team when you only shoot ten free throws and they shoot 29. It’s hard to win a basketball game. They put a lot of pressure on the rim, but I wish they would have let us play a little but more tonight.”
This is Mount third loss to Bryant this season, as the Bulldogs took both games in the regular season, but Mount can hang their hat on the fact that they held the Bulldogs to their three lowest scoring games in NEC play.
“Our guys bought into the defense this year for us. When we shoot the ball well, we are as tough as any team in this league. I thought we were in a rhythm to close this game out.”
Pride led all scorers with 24 points and 10 rebounds, but the Mount defense did a great job on Kiss, who entered Saturday’s game leading the nation in scoring averaging 25.1 points per game, holding him to 16 points on 7-of-18 shooting.
Jalen Benjamin led the Mountaineers with 16 points but was injured in the second half and did not return to the game.
“We’re used to Jalen being the primary ball-handler against pressure and he made some great plays tonight. He made some big shots and he was in a great rhythm, and to close out a game like that on the road, it helps to have a guy that can execute on and off the ball and make sound decisions. He’s a tough kid. If he could have played, [and] I know he wanted to, but that was a big turning point for us.”
On the actual injury that Benjamin suffered, Engelstad said he didn’t really see the play.
“I thought he got ran into, but I think there might have been some whiplash. I don’t know what the full diagnosis is, but he couldn’t get back in the game.”
Mezie Offurm was Mount’s second highest scorer with 14 points, four rebounds and three assists. Josh Reaves also had a nice game off the bench for the Mountaineers with 13 points, five assists and four boards.
Jeffeson and Nana Opoku each contributed eight points and combined for seven rebounds.
Mount St. Mary’s is now 8-8 all-time in the NEC Tournament semifinal round and are now 30-19 all-time in NEC Tournament games.
The Mountaineers finish the season at 14-16 overall, and 9-9 in conference.