Five straight wins in December had to have a few people starting to wonder if Mt. St. Mary's would truly be a competitor in Northeast Conference play this season. Tuesday night's 64-59 win over one of the true darlings of the mid-major ranks Winthrop did a lot to answer those questions. Jeremy Goode's scooping spinning layup through the lane with 11.8 seconds left provided the final dagger, and the Mount dodged Chris Gaynor's three to tie it six seconds later, before Jean Cajou hit two free throws to seal the upset.
Chris Vann led a red-hot Mount shooting attack with five three-pointers. The Mount shot 9-of-14 from behind the arc.
The Mounties seized control midway through the first half, stretched the lead to nine midway through the second, and then withstood a ferocious Taj McCullough led rally. The Mount matched every Eagle haymaker down the stretch in front of a crowd of about 1,000 that lacked the regular student fury, but if you weren't at Knott Arena on Tuesday night consider it your loss.
With the Mount leading by four midway through the second, Jeremy Goode's steal seemed like it would extend the lead but the Mount failed to convert on the fast break opportunity and McCullough's step back three at the other end cut it to one. McCullough followed with a steal of his own, and his ensuing jam put the Eagles on top for the only time of the second half. Having fought back from down nine it appeared that momentum would be all the 5-5 Eagles would need.
But the Mount showed a resilence that it has lacked in recent years and a confidence that five straight wins will get you and outplayed the Eagles down the stretch.
Leading by one with 1:10 left, the Mount called a timeout with just seven seconds on the shot clock. Goode threw a perfectly executed lob to Sam Atupem who scored to restore the lead to three. Winthrop scored on a putback to cut it to 60-59 and the Mount needed one final score to get the victory. Again struggling to find anything the Mount called timeout with just about 20 seconds left. Off the inbounds Goode caught the ball ahead of the circle but was able to drive through the lane and score an improbable scooping left handed layup with just the right amount of english.
Winthrop entered with just a 5-4 record, but their #43 RPI rating is indicative of the strength of schedule they have played. In addition, they were rated 70 by Kenpom.com, 56 by Jeff Sagarin, 62 by David Wilson, and an average of 70 at Massey's comparision of computer rankings. This is the Mount's biggest non-conference win since winning in the Omni over Georgia Tech years ago.
I'm sure this is a major disappointment for Winthrop. But the Mount is a hot team that shot the lights out tonight. As of this posting there are not final numbers posted on the Mount website. But I think I heard on the postgame that the Mount shot 22-41 for the game and 64% during the decisive second half.
The victory ensures the Mount will goto Christmas with a winning record and a win on Friday night over Lafayette will ensure a winning record headed to 2008. It has been a long way back from 0-4 but the Mount has made it with the crowning gem coming tonight.